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    Redefining the New American Family in the Current Recession

     By Trinette Hylton, Adjunct Instructor of the  Social and Behavioral Sciences, Department of Psychology

    The U.S. Census defines a family as ‘‘a group of two persons or more (one of whom is a householder) related by birth, marriage or adoption and residing together’’ (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998c). America has propagated this dynamic as the ideal family and thrown in 2.5 children for good measure. As the gold standard for happiness, this family structure has been extolled for its alignment with religious principles, as a foundation for a strong society, and the way to raise happy, healthy, socially correct children.

    Over the past 5 years however, we have seen major shifts in this ideal as family has become a term stretched to include a myriad of diversities. America has seen a major shift in not only its racial demographics but also with regard to shifts in who is present in the home. Simultaneously our recent economic downturn has contributed to the restructuring of households to accommodate those who have become unemployed as well as underemployed. Households with an extended family to include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. used to be considered only the transitional condition of the immigrant population. As the recent economic downturn saw millions losing jobs, Americans have utilized the multifamily strategy in order to survive. 

    More and more adults are returning home to their childhood room and it has become comedy fodder for everything from tv shows to political speeches. The reality though is that necessity has been the mother of this reinvention of the family structure and it is no laughing matter. Currently there are approximately 27 million workers—roughly one out of every six U.S. workers—who are either unemployed or underemployed. This is considered to be a conservative estimate as it does not include workers who have had to take a job that is below their skill or experience level. Unemployment is associated with higher levels of family breakdowns, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide.

    The impact on families has been tremendous. Men have experienced 82 percent of the recession's job losses which indicates the potential for an uninvited cultural shift as they find themselves taking on the role of house husband and stay-at-home dad while the wife emerges as the breadwinner.  In 2010, more American women were employed than men and as of last year, about 25 percent of wives out-earned their husbands. This impact of unemployment on the family structure increases the likelihood of stress and coupled with a shift in household power can cause depressive symptoms which can in turn lead to negative parenting practices such as increased and arbitrary punishment towards the children.

    When finances become so problematic that the children become affected they often report more distress and depressive symptoms. Depression in children and adolescents is linked to multiple negative outcomes, including academic problems, substance abuse, high-risk sexual behavior, physical health problems, impaired social relationships, and increased risk of suicide (Birmaher et al., 1996).

    For families struggling with economic impacts of the recession it is important to:

    1. Communicate with your partner about how you are feeling. It is understandable that shifting roles from or into the breadwinner can be confusing and even uncomfortable. Avoid the blame game and instead maintain a dialogue with your partner in which you express appreciation for each other’s new roles. It is important that children see mutual respect and admiration between their parents.
    2. Prioritize family. Spending time together as a family does not have to be a pricey adventure in consumerism. A simple trip to a local park with a picnic lunch is a great way to reconnect and enjoy what your tax dollars have funded. Never underestimate the joy of a walk around the block after dinner.
    3. Reinvent luxury. Eating off the good plates and using the nice silverware is free. Add music and the cloth napkins and your family will not feel they are being denied. Simple pleasures abound.  
    4. Take care of yourself. Make sure to get sufficient sleep and do not turn to drugs or alcohol as an escape.
    5. If you feel as though things are spinning out of control, seek help. There are often numerous community organizations that offer support groups and counseling.

    Our current recession has begun to show signs of improvement but its impact will continue as families struggle to overcome mounting debt and renegotiate familial roles. As America establishes its new normal for the family structure it’s important to realize that commitment, love, and respect continue to be the cornerstone of strong relationships, regardless of a person’s race, religion, or sexual attraction.

    References

    Census.gov

    Birmaher, B., Ryan, N.D., Williamson, D.E., & Brent, D.A.  (1996). Childhood and adolescent depression:  A review of the past 10 years, Part I.  Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 35,1427-1439


    About Trinette Hylton

     Trinette Hylton or “Professor Trin” as she is known to her students has been teaching in higher education for over 8 years, the last 4 of which have been at Kaplan University’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. 


    After receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Spelman College, Professor Trin taught Exceptional Education for the Orange County Public School system for 4 years before going back to school to earn her master’s degree in counseling and psychology at Troy State University. While serving as general manager for Prestige Sports, Professor Trin became a licensed insurance agent and wrote high end disability policies for professional athletes in the NFL and NBA before returning to her passion; education.

    Currently in the dissertation phase of her PhD, Professor Trin balances teaching online with being a mother, wife, and avid outdoorswoman. She can often be found fishing, hunting, and exploring local malls. Professionally, she does private consultations with small businesses as to how to improve production and performance utilizing social media, and consults with individuals and groups on
    work life balance.

    You may follow Professor Trin on Twitter @Professor Trin, and also on Facebook under Professor Trin.

     

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