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The American Family

The United States has many different types of families. While most American families are traditional, comprising a father, mother and one or more children, 22.5 percent of all American families are headed by one parent, usually a woman. In a few families in the United States there are no children. These childless couples may believe that they would not make good parents; they may want freedom from the responsibilities of child-rearing; or, perhaps they are not physically able to have children. Other families in the United States have one adult who is a stepparent. A stepmother or stepfather is a person who joins a family by marrying a father or mother.

Americans tolerate and accept these different types of families. In the United States people have the right to privacy and Americans do not believe in telling other Americans what type of family group they must belong to. They respect each other's choices regarding family groups.

Families are very important to Americans. One sign that this is true is that Americans show great concern about the family as an institution. Many Americans believe there are too many divorces, they worry that teenagers are not obeying their parents. They are concerned about whether working women can properly care for their children. They also worry that too many families live in poverty. In one nationwide survey about 80 percent of the Americans polled said the American family was in trouble. At the same time, when these people were asked about their own families, they were much more hopeful. Most said they were happy with their home life.

Unlike their parents, many single adult Americans today are waiting longer to get married. Some women and men are delaying marriage and family because they want to finish school or start their careers; others want to become more established in their chosen profession. Most of these people eventually will marry. One survey showed that only 15 percent of all single adults in the United States want to stay single. Some women become more interested as they enter their 30s.

One positive result may come from men and women marrying later. People who get married at later ages have fewer divorces. Along with the decision to wait to marry, couples are also waiting longer before they have children, sometimes in order to be more firmly established economically. Rearing a child in the United States is costly.

Some couples today are deciding not to have children at all. In 1955 only one percent of all women expected to have no children. Today more than five percent say they want to remain childless. The ability of a couple to choose whether they will have children means that most children who are born in the United States are very much wanted and loved.

How do problems arise in American families? One view is that American families do not have enough stability and that people move too much to have community roots. Of course, many American families remain for generations in the same town or even in the same house. At the same time the United States is a mobile, adaptable country. People are willing to work hard in order to advance in their jobs. Good workers are offered new opportunities in their jobs, sometimes in a different city. Families must make the decision. Do they want to take the new job in a new town? Or do they want to give up the opportunity?

The thousands of American families who do decide to move each year may face a difficult time adjusting to a new life. They leave behind a community that they know. They leave behind schools that they trust and friends and family members whom they love. They leave behind a church or religious group. They leave behind a web of supports that helps to keep a family strong.

In a new town children and parents can become lonely. This loneliness strains a family. For example, the area of the United States where people move the most often, the Southwest, also is the area with the greatest number of divorces. Some children and parents, on the other hand, mature from meeting new people and living in a new place. These experiences can bring families closer together.

In a perfect world families would have no problems. Parents would know how to rear their children to be responsible adults. Americans and others throughout the world are trying to learn what makes strong families. Perhaps families can learn how to solve their problems. Researchers at the University of Nebraska have found some answers. Strong, happy families share some patterns whether they are rich or poor, black or white.

Strong families spend time together. After dinner, for example, happy families may take walks together or play games. Strong families also talk about their problems. They may even argue so that problems can be resolved before they get too big. Members of strong families show each other affection and appreciation. Members of strong families are also committed to one another and they tend to be religious. Finally, when problems arise strong families work together to solve them.

  1. Answer the following questions:

    1. What is the traditional type of family in America?

    2. What other family types does the American society have?

3. Why do many Americans consider the family to be in trouble?

4. What does the delay in marriage usually mean?

5. Why are Americans thought to be mobile? What does moving about the country usually cause for the family?

6. Is it important for a family to be strong?

  1. Explain the following words and phrases or give synonyms:

Child-rearing, a stepparent, the right to privacy, to show great concern about, live in poverty, single adult Americans, delaying marriage, established in the chosen profession, to be more firmly established economically, to have community roots, adjusting to a new life, a web of supports, affection and appreciation.

  1. Talking points:

    1. Why is child-rearing difficult? Speak about responsibilities in different types of families.

    2. Analyze different kinds of problems in the American family. Are they similar to the problems in Russian families?

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