16913 Germantown Road
Germantown, Maryland 20875-0320
The Postmodern Family
Presenter:Rev. Amy Russell and Min Kyung Kim
Sermon Date:Sun, 11/12/2006
I. Modern Life- Amy
My parents lives were centered around raising a family. My father’s job was to provide financial support and my mother’s job was to do the daily care. But both of them were focused on getting this large family raised right. We went to church on Sunday, visited our relatives in the Midwest on holidays, and went to Deep Creek Lake for vacations. There were no adult vacations for my parents alone. No day care. Most of our parent’s free time was focused on caring for us.
Modern life created a definition of family life that included a father, a mother, and some children who lived together in a child-centered world. Suburbs created in the post-war era reflected this lifestyle. There were sidewalks for walking baby buggies and riding bicycles. Most single family houses had fences around them for children to play. Quiet tree lined streets held the promise for these nuclear families to raise their children in a safe, clean, and usually segregated environment. This was modern life for white, middle class Americans.
II.Postmodern life- Min
Hanna spent first two years of her life with my husband and I since our flexible work schedule has allowed it. She came to work with me on backpack and slept in the backpack while I worked. If I had work that I could finish at home, I would bring that home to work while she was napping or doing other things. When she could play on a computer, she did so by labeling the long list of my pictures from work, and she did so better than I.
It was great!
However, one day I realized that Hanna did not have time to interact with other kids out side of her daycare because she came with me to work. She did not learn some of the basic table manners (do we need this?) because that was not provided at the daycare. She did not have clear understanding of how to share her feelings. She also did not have time to finish her homework because she went work with us and went out to eat at the restaurants with us and then had to go to bed!
I realized that it was time for me to be in her life rather than she being in mine.
Now I make sure that we spend more time at home and have Hanna’s friends over for play. Her needs could not be scheduled in my daybook! She could not let me know what went wrong with her friends when I had time to listen, and I had to find these things out 6 months after it happened! The time that she came along to my work and socialization was actually taking her childhood away from her. I thought we needed some balance in Hanna’s need to be a child and our needs to work outside of home. I think the balance of the needs can be achieved by understanding individual family members and the differences in family make up (don’t I have such a postmodern view?). You will see what I mean more clearly when Amy talks about the definition of modern and post modern life.
III. Definition of Modern and Postmodern family life and the description of changes in family life in postmodern family
Modern thought is represented by beliefs in a universal understanding by humans of their world. There were three major foundations of modern thought that continued their development throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They were the belief in human progress in history, the belief that there is an universality to nature which humans could explore and discover, and the belief in regularity or predictability of natural laws. (Elkind, p. 18) These beliefs helped humanity to develop scientific laws which most of our science is based upon today. It also helped to develop societal and governmental structures such as democratic forms of government which are based on the idea that humans can govern themselves with reason giving individuals an equal voice. The foundation of modern thought has enabled society to move forward with scientific knowledge and reason, allowing humankind to advance toward a free world community. At least that is the belief of modern thought.
However, recent thinkers have questioned the universality of modern thought. Post-modernists have questioned whether there are universal principles which apply across cultures to create a world wide democratic community. David Elkind defines post-modernism as “a critical attitude toward the values and beliefs of modernity, including such cherished notions as rationality and individual freedom.” (Elkind, Ties That Stress, p. 16)
Another post-modern sociologist Foucoult, says the “Truth” is a cultural production and knowledge is embedded in social context. Every individual sees the world differently based on their cultural, societal, and ethic view and there never will be a universal view of world that we can share to create a universal community. (Elkind, Ties that Stress, p. 17)
Historical Description of Changes in Family Structure
In the twentieth century, it was industrialization that created the structure of the modern nuclear family. Jobs in industry for male breadwinners allowed women who had children to stay home and raise children. At first, women and children all worked in the factories and mines. But as societies began evolving to see the role of children different from the role of adults, laws began to prevent children from working before a certain age.
As jobs in industry start offering a living wage for men to be able to support a family, that was when the modern family was born. Women were expected to stay home to raise children, men were expected to provide financially for them.
This dream of the “modern nuclear family” however, was only obtainable primarily by white middle class and working class families. Minorities and poor classes of people could never attain this dream and many of their women continued working to help support the family.
Western society believed that this modern family was the ideal one for raising children. The Western culture believed that this nuclear family structure should be exported along with democracy to developing countries. Since Western countries were convinced of the moral superiority of this construct, they imposed this pattern when they invaded and settled in other countries. There are examples of treaties where land titles are only granted to male heads of households. Europeans mine-owners in Africa reinforced this family pattern by only extending health benefits to the nuclear families of workers when these workers considered their families to extend beyond these definitions. (Stacey, p. 41)
However, this definition of a modern nuclear family was unstable because it depended on the availability of jobs with liveable wages for men. When these jobs were not available, and women had to return to work, some in society pointed to this as creating unstable families.
Historically, there are many factors that led to a shift away from this modern familial structure. First, the two world wars caused opportunities for women to work while men were away at war. The second world war created opportunities for women in factories in non-traditional jobs.
After the war, prosperity was driven by pent up demand in families who had survived the depression and the war and were now able to start buying consumer goods. Prosperity in the nation allowed the modern family to prosper.
But later, when economies were not as strong, one income families were not as possible. Birth control began to become available and was made legal in the seventies. Abortion became legal in 1973. Women began to receive more education and started developing professional careers. Technological advances meant that people needed more education and there was a shift away from industrialization to post industrial technological jobs. Immigration caused a mix of cultures to be prevalent in our cities.
IV. Social and Cultural effect on family- Min
This postindustrial social restructuring had effects on the employment opportunities of former working class women. Driven by decline in real family income, by desires for social achievement and independence, women expanded jobs in service, clerical, and new industrial occupations (also known as helping professions such as educated working class). This massive reordering of work, class and gender relationships during past several decades turned modern family life into postmodern family life (p 32-33 Stacey).
I do not think the option of going back to the modern family life is the solution for the problems generated in post-modern life. The social and economic changes in our lives are now with us, and we can find ways to make postmodern life work for us by being open to the differences and by accepting others. Yet, we do need to understand who we are and what are our values and what is the life that we want to live.
The imbalance that has produced the shift from modern to postmodern family life described earlier can be harnessed to balance post-modern life by addressing the issues at the social level. Balances in the family will come about only when there are corresponding changes in the social institutions that impact upon the family life. I think we are at the very beginning of this stage where we can identify the imbalance produced by the changes in our postmodern life and find a solution to bring back the balance in our life where the needs of all family members could be met.
I think the process of finding ourselves and our values is pretty difficult because of our busy daily lives and the demands on our time and resources. Some of the imbalance generated from modern to post-modern society has been addressed by the creation of social institutions such as day care and family friendly restaurants. The formation of good day care has enabled mothers to pursue their career and in certain ways to establish themselves to achieve what they want in their lives. However, this can only be achieved when there is social support and understanding of altered family life with diverse values and family units brought by this fast changing and economically unstable world.
I am sure the issues of post-modern life will continue to create new challenges and questions for us to deal with.
Sociological changes create shifts in family life- Amy.
Sociologists such as David Elkind point to the shift from a child-centered family in the modern family to an adult-centered family in post-modern families. The demanding nature of adult’s work schedules have pushed families to have less and less time to spend with their children. Children have their own schedules as well. Many children spend a great deal of their time in day care centers as young children and as teen-agers dividing their time between many extra-curricular activities as well as their own after school jobs.
The changes in family structure due to divorce, remarriage, adoption, foster families, blended families, full time nannies raising children, and many other social changes have shifted family boundaries, rules, and values. There is no longer a modern family where two full time parents focused on the children sit down and create clear and consistent boundaries. One wonders if such a family ever existed. Certainly family values advocates want us to think this is how so-called “intact nuclear families based on Christian values” operate. But if it was ever the case, it certainly doesn’t exist frequently in today’s world.
Parents who do have consistent values and boundaries often have to deal with care providers who may not share the same kind of values and may not enforce parent’s boundaries and rules. Children hear inconsistent stories about how to treat other people, how to manage money, what to aspire to in life, what kind of values they might develop. They certainly hear certain kinds of values espoused on the television which seems to have become a kind of all day baby-sitter. These values are not necessarily the ones that parents would choose.
Knowledge about how the world operates, about sex, crime, and drugs, about the difficulties in marriage- all of these things that were hidden from view in the modern family are now openly aired on television and in children’s circles. Whether parents like it or not, our children are no longer protected from knowledge about the real world. Post-modern families need to deal with how and what to teach their children all about these very adult topics alone.
Howerver, we as Unitarian and Universalists can do better. This is why we think so.
VII. The impact Unitarian Universalism can have in the post-modern world - Amy
The challenge of the post-modern family is to find a balance between competing interests in adult’s lives and their children’s lives and to find consistent values that can be reinforced within a loving community. Our Unitarian Universalist congregations offer communities where principles such as individual respect, fairness, acceptance of differences, spiritual integrity, democratic community, and working toward a world community are taught in our children’s religious education program and fostered within our community.
A liberal religious community encourages children to ask questions about the discrepancies that they see in their lives. Discrepancies between what they see on television, what they hear at school, and what they hear from their parents. Children are encouraged to explore their ideas about the world and how it works with adults who are open and accepting of differing views. Children begin to form their spiritual beliefs and ways of seeing themselves within the universe from an early age. Religious education that is based on developmental stages help them to be able to explore concepts geared to their intellectual framework. Curriculum that is designed to encourage questions, not force answers is based on a postmodern view of the world as a place where there are no right or wrong answers.
An open and tolerant community where children see single parent families, two parent families, same sex parents, grandparents raising children, children of multi-ethnic backgrounds different from their parents- all these various rainbows of families all accepted and loved teaches them that they are accepted and loved. No matter who they are.
A community where a child may learn a prayer to God, a Native American ritual using stones and twigs, a silent meditation, or a rational explanation of the universe- with all of these presented as equally valid is a place where a child learns to think for him or herself.
This loving, open, and accepting community offers our post-modern families a haven where values are discussed openly and people often disagree. And that’s the way it should be. Our Beloved Community becomes a sanctuary for seeking a balance to the constantly changing, confusing world we live in.
Here are some questions that these sociological changes raise:
Questions that are raised by shift to Postmodernism - Min