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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The 21st Century American Family

A Return to the Past?

Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.” Our family tries to live by our principles and constantly strives to do better. We try to be the change even in a down economy.

Recently NBC Evening News did a feature on the changing dynamics of the American family during this recession. More and more nuclear families are returning to the extended model either with grandparents moving in with children or vice versa or grandparents helping out with childcare to alleviate expensive daycare costs while still living in their own home. We are doing some of all of the above and apparently are not alone.

My husband and I had planned to be retiring about now, but instead we have half the children living at home. I’ve written about Amy, my adult daughter who has Down’s Syndrome. We’ve chosen to keep her at home because we can’t imagine having her anyplace else. Her personal care provider money helps to off-set the extra money for a tutor and water aerobics classes. My middle son, who is a teacher, his wife and a very nearly five-year-old grandson live with us. It allows our daughter-in-law to be home with our grandson and saves childcare. She helps take care of her sister-in-law, too. The children pay rent which will become a nest egg for them when we finally do sell our house.

My oldest son is a graphic designer who’s struggling to make a living. Two and a half years ago he quit his job for an advertizing company and began to work from an office at home, but the jobs are drying up. In the past he’s made extra money selling thrift store and auction finds on eBay and has gone back to that, although things aren’t selling as easily as before the recession. My daughter-in-law has had to take more days of work as a court reporter, but they can’t afford the daycare for their four-year-old to allow her to get her transcripts typed and rock a four month old baby. Enter yours truly, Grammy, and I now I get to hang out with our granddaughters twice a week. I’m not a fan of daycare anyway and I’m happy to be able to spend time helping to raise our grandchildren.

My youngest son is twenty-five and currently living with his father. His dad travels a great deal, but we are glad he has a job and our son house sits when he’s not at his own job at a yogurt stand, which he was very lucky to get in this economy. He's looking for a better job, but we are not holding our breath.

I’ve already written about our garden and our attempts to continue as organic as possible of a lifestyle and our commitment to supporting local producers. My oldest son and his family are also putting in a garden this year and both households are following in the footsteps of my youngest who had a garden last year. By shopping Costco and dividing up bulk items between households we get the benefit of buying in bulk without the actual bulk.

Extended family ties provide important social and economic advantages in terms of shared labor, socialization of children, and support. It would seem that many families, whether through choice or necessity, are returning to an extended model and rediscovering the benefits of multiple hands and hearts.

I was raised an only child who felt a great longing for a big family so our situation, the lack of money notwithstanding, suits me fine. We were already an extended family when the stockmarket took a nose dive. Our grandchildren are being raised around their grandparents with bushels and bushels of love and attention. Our children may be struggling a bit, but so far it’s only character building, not a disaster, and they know that they have many arms to catch them. As my daughter-in-law said when she first heard about my husband’s impending loss of job, “We have each other. We’ll be all right.”


Kim Thompson said...

The last line of this post says it all Stephanie!

Stephanie Frieze said...

Yes, in deed, Kim. That does say it all. I feel sorry for young people who are far flung from their extended family and were too young to remember the recession of the '80s. We feel blessed to have most of our children near us and to know that all of them have a roof over their heads. I saw a piece on Oprah about the middle class folks who are showing up in tent cities. The scary thing is that we are likely in the beginning stages of this thing.

Lorraine Hart said...

I've spent a lot of my adult life living co-operatively and have a large "logical" (as opposed to biological) family from it that delights me.

It's true, your last line says it all. We will be alright because we have one another. Remember....

Hard times makes us stronger,
Freedom makes us bolder
And, if we stand
Shoulder to shoulder,
We cannot fall.

Stephanie Frieze said...

Lovely quote, Lorraine! Words for everyone to live by, especially right now.

JosephMcG said...

Thank you, Lord, for giving us our families...
thanks Stephanie for telling it beautifully like it is!

M. Sugimura said...

It's your positive attitude as well as your story that makes it all worth reading and then pondering. It's quite clear that it will take the productive contributions of everyone whether in our families of origin or those that we make to bring us the options that will get us through what's coming down the pike.

Most inspiring!