What is the Traditional Family? by Jaylon Williams

I am neither a historian nor the academic that Carson is, but I have written some and have presented on the topic of family and marriage. I am employed at a nice size public university in the Northeast. I met Carson at a conference a few years ago and have served as a guest blogger here. While Carson is recovering from surgery, I will be at the control of this blog. Feel free to leave a thought or comment.

Marriage is one of the oldest institution in human history. According to the Judaic-Christian Bible, Adam and Eve became aware of their nudity after disobeying God’s instructions. Some scholars believe that Adam and Eve’s relationship marks the birth of physical and emotional love. Like Adam and Eve, many of the couples I have studied in a historical and present sense are drawn together by emotional and physical attraction.

Unfortunately for many of us today, we have allowed politicians to espouse slogans such as family values and protecting the family and marriage to the point that we are not clear why the definition of family has changed. Today, almost 60% of all American marriages end in divorce. Dating back to the 2004 election, conservative Democrats and Republicans played the vote card by blaming the demise of marriage and the family on gays and lesbians. Gary Glenn, a prominent member of the  traditional family movement in the U.S. state of Michigan, has described the movement as “…a burgeoning alliance of white evangelicals, conservative Roman Catholics and African-American Protestants for whom gay marriage is like abortion: non-negotiable.” (Wiki)

Actually, many sociologists marked the 1960s as the point at which family and marriage changed. Still, this is too simple. In western society, marked by the dawn of the industrial revolution, social scientist have noticed a shift in the family as we have passed through various historical periods since: 1890, 1920, 1930, 1960, 1970, 1980, and 2000.

I do think it is important that we as a society look at the family as a way to measure and reflect our attitudes about race, religion, sexual identity, and tolerance. Sociologist tell us that many of our beliefs are shaped by the family. If this is true, the ideal family I believe is starting to take place when many will argue that we have entered  into a new age of the changed family. Here is an article from USA TODAY I enjoyed.

Here are the Numbers:

  1. 75% of the couples I counsel (religious and non-religious) lived together before deciding to marry.

  2. Couples tend to marry within their race and class status — though this has changed a great deal.

  3. Education continues to be a a major factor in formulating the family unit. I read a few years ago that this factor has replaced religion among protestants but not to the same length with Catholics, Jews, and Muslims.


29 thoughts on “What is the Traditional Family? by Jaylon Williams

  1. Pingback: divorce » Blog Archive » What is the Traditional Family? by Jaylon Williams

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  3. I agree with this observation, though I think we often underestimate the conservatism parents play in the true development of the family. Most parents were raised at a different time from when they are bringing up their kids.

    I do think we are seeing the vanishing of the “traditional family” unit. This is not a bad thing.

  4. ‘Most parents were raised at a different time from when they are bringing up their kids’ is a true statement but I have found – by far – that youth of today are more conservative than their parents.

    As a child of divorce, I waited until I was finished with my education and established in “real life” before I chose my mate all the while most of my college friends were either married in or soon after school and as they grew into different people they grew out of their marriages.

  5. I really must agree with random reader. My experience has pretty much been the same. But, I suspect random reader is a female whiich makes a difference. As women become more independent and secure in themselves, they tend to marry at a later time. Putting career over family.

    Because of this, I suspect mothers raise kids in a more conservative light. Maybe I am wronge here?

  6. I would like to see a conversation about how the family – parents in particular – are failing, and failing badly, in this generation. As a parent myself, I am astounded at the incredible lack of patenting that I see in my daughters’ peers. It’s as if we’ve gotten to a point in society where we’ve abdicated so much of our parental responsibilities to outside entities – schools, in particular – and these same schools are SO reluctant to instill values and character education in our children because parents (the very same ones who aren’t doing their jobs in the first place) shout and bluster that the schools have no right to raise our kids. It frustrates and frightens me that that we’re losing touch with our own children at such a young age, and I see only bad for the future if this continues.

  7. I think it is a generational thing. We assume that kids are getting worse while the reality is that they are not any different than I when I was a teen or college going student. As adults we become more like our parents.

    I agree that schools do not raise students. To me that is scary.

  8. I think it is up to schools to shape aspects of students’ ideological development. I see it as my job to make sure students see the problems that exists in a society that supports racism, classism, sexism, and a number of other ugly adjectives.

  9. Oh, and given that actual school doesn’t start until a child is 5, their parents better have done some raising before that. I realize that sentence was poorly constructed, but the fact remains that there is a lot to be learned behaviorally and such before a a kid even starts school, you know, things like don’t hit, don’t cut in line and such. I appreciate the role school plays in the shaping of our youth, but it should be an outlet for learning and working through one’s ideologies primarily, not primarily a place where behavior is taught. Not that there isn’t some social learning that takes place through school, but if it’s not started and reinforced at home, it won’t take root. The families, “traditional” or otherwise have to be the people who are shaping the morals of the children.

  10. How do you feel now? How did the surgery go?
    This post on family is interesting. I like this painting where two 13 yr olds are depicted. In those days getting married at that age was pretty common and children were nothing but small adults.

  11. Kristi,

    “I appreciate the role school plays in the shaping of our youth, but it should be an outlet for learning and working through one’s ideologies primarily, not primarily a place where behavior is taught.”

    I agree, though I think attitudes and beliefs should be influenced by school socilization, as Jaylon noted. As for the blog, Jalon is making sure he does not have to delte any comments since I really do not moderate.

    Frumteacher – I am doing much better. I am spending this week at home and will return to campus next week.

  12. Eddie, I’m so pleased to hear that you’re doing well!

    Ms. Cornelius just posted an entry about a thwarted uprising in – get this – a THIRD GRADE CLASSROOM:

    While I agree with Kristi that parents should have done some parenting before kids even GET to school (and I agree, though only to a certain extent, with Teacherwoman when she says it’s generational; we really ARE turning into our parents), I also see a trend in hands-off parenting and make-me-feel-good-about-myself teaching. I’m astounded by the number of COLLEGE students I see who will actually tell me – to my face – that I CAN”T record failing grades for them (well, in actuality, they say I “can’t fail” them, without realizing that THEY’RE the ones failing them, but that’s a rant for another post). There seems to be a pervasive culture of being gentle and caring with students, to the exclusion of discipline and hard work. I don’t think THAT”S generational.

  13. So, how is the “traditional” family being defined in this piece? I’m not quite sure what the author is advocating for, if anything. It turned into a “whose job is it to raise kids” discussion, but I have a real interest in knowing if the two-parent model of family is being looked down upon here or if we’re talking about a broader definition of “family” or what. The author (Jaylon) stated some facts, but I didn’t understand what conclusions he was drawing from those. Maybe I’m trying to make a broader piece more conclusive than it was intended.

  14. Kirk,

    You have a great point. I am not advocating for anything except for the fact that we in society have moved very slow at understanding the complexities involved with this change. It seems that we try to simplify why the dynamics of the family have changed by allowing politicians to use what I call false “ploys” to explain this. In fact, the family has been changing for decades.

    Today we have two people who marry but bring in kids from maybe a previous marriage before their newly minted one. This, I suspect, is what our new age has brought. Historically, this is the most complex the family unit has ever been. I often think that we allow ourselves to get caught in topics such as gay marriage and adoption when the reality is easily more complex than that.


  15. Thanks for the reply. Here are some random thoughts:

    1. I believe the ideal family is still one man & one woman raising children (or not if they choose not to have children). Men and women are different and it is those differences that combine to make them a good parenting team.

    2. The high divorce rate has nothing to do with gay and lesbian people. If politicians have made that link, it is obviously a faulty one. The high divorce rate is a complex issue all its own, but its origins are largely in people’s expectations being skewed by a culture that promotes selfishness and instant gratification.

    3. We as a nation need to promote an ideal in terms of marriage & family. That being said, we also must embrace the reality of that ideal often not being present and in turn, embrace the complex needs of today’s families with compassion and understanding. The bottom line is that children need lots of love and lots of boundaries. Some parents give a lot of one without the other. Both are necessary for healthy growth.

    4. The No Child Left Behind Act is ridiculous in its framework. The reason we have more dropouts in this country than ever before has far less to do with poor educators and poor schools and much more to do with the disintegration of families. Where one-parent homes are the norm, the dropout rate is significantly higher. We as a nation need to make sure we make maintaining and creating healthy families a VERY high priority. The consequences of not doing so are already evident.

  16. Kirk,

    How can I disagree with such a well articulated comment. Are you a psychologist? I really like what you had to say.

    • I recently had a class on the traditional family (ESL reading assignment) and I gave students this problem: let’s say you have parents who get along and stay married. Great. BUT, what if your parents do not get along? What if they have tried counseling? Which would be better for you? A. Stay together until you’re out of the house. B. Stay married, but have a girlfriend/boyfriend outside the family. C. Divorce and live separately. All of them said C. (Of course they might change their minds later, but that was the gut reaction) In an age where families stayed together “no matter what”, trouble brews in that family anyway. It’s the people, not the structure of the family that matter. Three of the students said that they would not get married until after 30 when they would know themselves better and be more stable. They set a date rather than saying “When I find the right person.” Love and boundaries is a great framework. I post this just as information. I’m sure there are other options for the couple that I hadn’t thought of. I kept it simple.

  17. It is ridiculous to try to “describe” what is or is not a family. For one times have changed, people change, views change, and ideas change. A family is what you make it. You don’t have to be gay, strait, married, blood, etc. The problem with the way most Americans think is…they think the way government wants them to think. The govt. says, “This is what a family is and this is what we expect” and as brain washed as we have become we are like “okay…that is what a family is”. Well in my opinion, NO IT IS NOT! This is one of those discussions where you will only find yourself talking in circles, b/c in my opinion there is no answer.

      • dido. im trying to do a research paper ” traditional family vs. the non traditional family” its a pursaisive essay and im advocating for the traditional family, but i cant seem to think of another argument for the traditional argument..ideas?

  18. Pingback: Top Posts « The Professor

  19. In my view a family is a specific group of members where many peoples of different ages used to live together.i m agree with the brandis views but in my country family means the blood relations people used to live together.

  20. Pingback: GetGetReligion: Chick-Fil-A-ting the Traditional Family | Mark Silk

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