When my parents were young the concept of family was different than my concept of family today. I believe that often times the environment we grow up in is what we mimic when we get older. My mother was taught that a nuclear family was what was expected of her. She did not grow up with divorce or a family outside the box. However, my reality was much different then hers. Today many families break the traditional concept of what family is in North America. With a 50% divorce rate, there are more single-parent families and blended families. Family dynamics have changed and women now make up a major portion of the labour force. Even the gender norms are being bent and changed to represent gender as more of a spectrum rather then a binary scale. Marriage is no longer essential so more and more couples are living common law. Same-sex marriage is now legal in Canada so the idea of have two dads or two moms has completely stepped outside the idea of the traditional nuclear family and has changed gender role expectations.
I grew up in a very blended family. We like to call it the tribe because it is so big and extended. I like to use my family as an example of a modern family because I think it best represents how, though the make-up of family has changed, the value of family has not. My Mom has had 3 husbands in her lifetime. I have 2 half sisters who were from her first marriage who I grew up with but I never considered them to be anything less than whole sisters. I was born into my Mom’s second marriage of 15 years. I now have a step-dad of 10 years and counting. We have multiple sets of grandparents between the three of us girls and our Dads. My aunts and uncles have also been remarried and have children with different marriages but we all consider each other to be family.
Growing up in my house meant you had a working Mom and Dad. It meant that you went to daycare, sometimes spent days at different parents’ houses and lots of times had your entire family (yes, including all the Dads) all in one place for birthdays or holidays. In my family we have many different cultures, religions and political view points. You could call us the United Nation of families. Even though my family looked vastly different then my friends’ families, it was my “normal”.
I grew up learning a different set of gender norms. For me, having both parents work was normal and for this reason I believe I will be a working Mom. Newman refers to the fact that, “once women have children marriage decreases their earnings because many mothers choose or are forced to reduce their hours at work”. Though, it may not have always been easy, my Mom was able to maintain a full time job while being a full time Mom. My family puts a huge emphasis on education for both the females and the males. For this reason all the grand kids have pursued post-secondary education. I have a gay, Jewish sister but in my family all cultures and sexual orientations are accepted so I am now accepting of the same thing. I watched my Mom and Dad share housework based on efficiency and convenience so I have learned that the man does not always need to be the breadwinner and the woman does not always need to bear the brunt of the housework. I watched my parents mutually respect each other so I will expect that in my future relationships. I grew up as a girl who was not only allowed - but encouraged - to play sports and pursue my passions. My Mother raised us girls to have a voice, stand up for ourselves and learn self-sufficiency. Her teachings were not necessarily common when she was growing up, but has made it common for my sisters and I. The differences in the way my Mom and I’ve been brought up show how gender norms and family norms have changed.
My Dad is a single Dad. When I stayed at his house he cooked, cleaned, did the laundry, made my lunch and got me to school. He takes on all the roles because he has to and because he grew up knowing how to be independent. He broke gender norms by being one of two dads in my elementary school’s parent council. Parent council was often made up of stay at home moms but my Dad made a point of staying involved in my education. He broke a stereotype that Dads take on less of the household chores because he is the only one there to do it.
There are still gender norms in my family that are traditional - such as my parents always want to meet the boy we’re dating before we go out with him. We have been taught the importance of marriage and commitment and maintaining family connections. To me, the concept of family has changed in North America. I believe 50 years ago there was a bigger emphasis on traditional gender roles and division of labour but the goal of family was still to be loving and have a place called home. I look at my family and though we aren’t an example of a traditional family, we are still a place where behaviors are taught a learned. I come from a family of strong women and noble men who have taught me about being your authentic self and giving others the respect to allow them to do the same.
Guest blogger: Kidlet