Culture is powerful and pervasive. Culture can be hard to see. It is like oxygen: it gives us life but also has the power to take it away.
The word “family” is a cultural one. For some, it is series of parent-children relationships connected by common ancestors. For others, it is anyone they choose, the people who breathe life-oxygen into their days.
Now, the notion of family has waxed and waned throughout western culture. Interestingly, today’s families are more like previous generations than we might like to admit. We are seeing an increase in multigenerational homes throughout areas where single generation homes had formerly dominated. In America especially, there is a trend of young adults returning to the nest with their grandparents not too far behind. Our culture has come to accept this as truth rather than anathema. Yet, at the same time, more and more people are choosing to live in ways traditionally contrary to our culture. Studies suggest that the younger generations are skeptical of the sexual, gender, and normative considerations that their parents held. For example, I know a great number of people in relationships that my parents would not understand: polyamorous, monogamous, and asexual committed relationships, “truples,” multi-parental units, and everything in between. All of it is capable of health and success so long as there is love present.
Perhaps this familial gray area is the natural process of cultural shifts. Unlike the sexual and gender revolutions of the past, the familial revolution seems to be a natural response to the releasing of cultural taboos. But in another sense, this revolution is like every other shift in our history: people are sharing their truths with the world. As more people share, more still are learning to open their minds to new and useful conceptualizations of culture.
Another consideration may be that our understanding of family is reflected in the society in which we live. Previous generations subsisted on the patriarchal paradigm in which one man supported a family. This economic reality influenced cultural signals and shaped the larger culture around the single family economic unit. We can see this in past generations’ veneration of a “nuclear family” and the cultural denigration of outliers. The family unit was the engine of the American economy. As globalization has shifted our economy and as the ability for one breadwinner to support a family fades, we are witnessing a shift in what is deemed culturally acceptable. Now, we are beginning to welcome a buffet of relationships and contexts to promote an adaptive, flexible, modern economic family unit. This modern family unit fits the modern economic imperative: it is changeable, personal, and user-friendly. This modern family reflects the people it comprises and should be understood and celebrated as such.
For some, that is scary. Much like with globalization, there is a fear of losing something essential. That such a shift would bury and suffocate the traditional family.
However, the future is bright and full of love from where I’m standing. I want to breathe deeply.