Research Paper By Cornelia Guenzel-Dahinten
(Family/Parent/Marriage Coach, SINGAPORE)
How modern families face challenges unheard of only 50 years ago
Modern families in the 21st century look very different to families of the mid 20th century. The changes are due to various influences and structural changes, which I will look at in this paper.
These changes often leave the individual family members and indeed the family as a whole without appropriate role-models or support.
I will look at the individual roles of the family members, the change of childhood and specific changes to family structures.
I will then discuss the occurring challenges, such as a lack of role-models, childcare, the professional life of the parents, finances and the relationship between the parents and between the parents and their children.
This will be an examination of the western family and most likely not relate to different cultural backgrounds. The set up of a family, with all its expectations and values, highly depends on the cultural background of the family and its individual members.
Can coaching assist the modern family and what could be the value?
The Challenges of the modern family
I want to reflect on the challenges faced by the modern family and the opportunities coaching can provide to support their journey. Diverse components and forms of modern families often result in stress, being stressed and more stretched than ever before, as those “new” additional challenges can be a source of uncertainty.
While I do not want to address dysfunctional families, I want to draw attention to the functional but challenged family in need of support to find and define a solution to become functional on a more satisfying level and satisfying in their own means. This is where I see the value of coaching for the modern family.
Over the last centuries we have moved from modern thought patterns of direction, order, coherence, stability, simplicity, control, autonomy, and universality to post modern ideas of fragmentation, diversity, discontinuity, contingency, pragmatism and multiplicity. This also has implications on the “realisation” of the self and hence how families and relationships function and which shared goal they are focusing on.
Until the mid 20th century a marriage intended to be an economical union as well as a reproductive union.
Families now – after social developments, particularly in the 1970s – often have the goal of self-fulfillment and happiness, which may or may not include children.
In this paper I want to focus on families with children only.
Let’s start with the individual positions within the family and their potential challenges.
The roles of a modern woman, in the modern western world may include some or all of the following:
Every person starts out with being herself, an individual with her own history, dreams, desires, goals, priorities, vision and so forth. These perspectives have changed dramatically with the changes of social structures and the meaning of self over that last 50 years.
Having dreams, desires and goals has almost become a pressure, in which we have to perform, specifically when looking at the educated part of society.
A pressure to find yourself, to know your purpose and then do something meaningful to fulfill a life’s purpose. Often the pressure to be happy is also part of this idea. Yet, happiness in the absence of unhappiness is often not easy to achieve, as emotional experiences often need their counterpart to be identified as such. Being happy is much easier after having felt unhappy before.
The work of finding oneself is very much a post-modern development and definitely a development of an affluent environment.
I mention this as it does play an important part in how couples relate and interact during a marriage or relationship. It also vastly influences the willingness to have children and how children will be raised. In a coaching process of a modern family, the notion of self and the goals of the woman in the family will most likely play an important part for the different family members to come to a conclusion on how they would like to live and interact.
When a woman is entering a relationship an additional role is added to being herself – being a spouse.
Being a wife to a husband used to have a relatively straight-forward description: make your husband happy, cook something nice, entertain guests, make the house look pretty, bare and raise children. There are plenty of book from the 50s on how to be a “good wife”.
Social changes and shifted gender perceptions have changed this dramatically. Depending on the cultural background women are more or less expected to be “the support” of the husband and men are more and more expected to share the workload of the home. Women are not merely an addition to their husbands, with relationships today usually having the focus to being mutually satisfying.
The understanding of partnership in a marriage has changed also with the increasing numbers of women going into higher education and entering the workforce.
Marriages have become institutions in which both sides bring rules, expectations and culture to the table.
The role of the women in a partnership, nevertheless will take some time and investment from her side. This will be important for the coaching process.
When children are born into the family, she will also become a mother.
Whether the women want to stay at home, go back to work, or take a defined period of time off work, will often depend on the financial situation of the family, but is also highly connected to the notion of self and the arrangements of the partnership of the parent couple, as well as childcare options.
Most likely, the role of being a mother is the role, which will take a big chunk of time of a mother’s available hours and will also most likely mean an intense emotional involvement.
The expectations from other people on how to parent, the expectations of herself, her own experiences as a daughter and her parenting goals will influence the way she will parent.
In this modern age, women often enter a conflict when they become mothers, the conflict of having too many roles on ones plate without the hours available to be all these roles to a satisfying degree. There is often an uncertainty, whether to keep all existing roles or skip one of the roles to the benefit of another role.
Coaching can help these mothers to become clear about their true values and priorities, their “baggage” and how to maneuver the demands of a modern society with the goals and values they have for themselves.
The single mum
For whatever reasons a woman will end up a single mum, her situation will change dramatically, as she faces the challenge of having no one living in the same household, to share her parent role with.
Not long ago, a single mum would have lost her husband to war or death of any other kind. Divorce was a rare thing to happen.
In the 21st century divorce in most western European countries levels around 30%, in the UK, US and Scandinavia even nearly 50%.
This development has high implications on the general look of society and the challenges families are facing.
Coaching can be a great opportunity for single mums to organise their very tight schedules and challenges, work on ways to support her emotionally. Of course every single mum will be challenged for different reasons and the coach will follow her lead.
75% of divorces women do enter new relationship after divorce.
The “patchwork” mum
Relationships become more complicated in subsequent relationships due to the presence of children and partners from previous marriages. Coaching can help these relationships to align and improve communication patterns.
Traditionally women, will have given up their professional life after getting married or latest after becoming a mother.
Today, most women in the western world will have a profession, which will play an important part in her life. This importance will depend on her choices of becoming a stay at home mum, re-entering the workforce after taking time out as a mum, going back to work after only a very short break or adapting her professional life to the needs of her family by changing her profession or the framework of her profession.
The choice of staying at home or going back into the workforce often depends on the financial situation of the family and very often on the social pressures the woman finds herself in. In many western societies women will be frowned at if they choose to stay at home with their children, particularly amongst women who have had higher education.
The number of women in the workforce has risen dramatically over the last 6 decades (Figure 1), utterly changing the role of women altogether. However, equal rights and equal pay are still not a reality for most professions and countries.
Depending on her choices, it is often quite challenging to be all of these roles in one person. Coaching the woman of a modern family can assist in defining a road and mind map for the decisions she has to make and how she wants to live her roles after those decisions have been made.
We can also coach her through the implementation process of her decisions.
Often times the woman does not have a role-model for her decision in her immediate family and did not grow up with a woman who lived the life she is living. This lack of role-models often creates a vacuum of knowledge and experience. The coaching process can support filling this vacuum by using the “inner wisdom” of herself.
The roles of a modern man, in the modern western world may include some or all of the following:
Just as women, naturally, men are also faced with a change of social structure in postmodern life. When at the beginning of the last century it was enough to be a breadwinner and support his family, just as women, men have many roles and expectations added to this today.
Today, a men, just like a women will often also hunt for happiness and self-fulfilment, which requires time and energy. Just as mentioned above the notion of self has also changed for men in very similar ways. Finding your purpose, being “happy” and fulfilling your dreams as opposed to get a job that will earn enough money to support a family, never mind if you like it or not, then get married and have children.
The opportunity to do what one wants to do and be happy is also a challenge to many people who are not clear about what that may be.
The coaching process can assist in finding an answer to those questions within oneself.
Sociology has observed that with better education, better health care and more equal rights laws, fertility rates decrease. At the same time, female employment increases and brings with it more women who are able to support themselves independently hence, dependency on men decreases.
This in turn gives more importance to notions of romantic love, mutual understanding and mutual support, all of which lead to the male having closer contact with his female partner during their shared life. This is a dramatic change to the role of the husband.
If men grew up without a father or a relevant alternative role-model, their understanding of what it means to be a husband may have been compromised.
A coaching process can support a man to become clear of what he wants his role to be and how he is planning to put it into practice.
Higher involvement from the father in the parenting process, have been shown to increase paternal responsiveness to infant cries, which may help new fathers become attached to their newborns.
Between 1948 and 2001 the number of women in the workforce has nearly doubled from 33% to over 60%. Fathers are now more involved in parenting processes then ever before, faced with the transition from a traditional role of being the breadwinner and main disciplinarian to often multiple undefined roles.
Psychological research across families from all ethnic backgrounds suggests that fathers’ affection and increased family involvement help promote children’s social and emotional development.
In summary, the modern day father can contribute to his children’s health and well-being by maintaining a healthy relationship with the other parent even in cases of divorce; providing emotional and financial support, appropriate monitoring and discipline; and most importantly by remaining a permanent and loving presence in their lives.
The coaching process will support a father to identify his role and how to put his plan into practice.
While most fathers traditionally had the role of the sole breadwinner, father of the modern world also increasingly choose to be stay-at-home dads.
Taking some time out as a father and re-entering the workforce is in many countries now an option. Most men have never thought about or seen others take such a step and are confronted with a decision process for which they do not have current role-models. There is a common fear of disadvantage and stigma attached to this option.
Working dads often have to travel far more then in previous decades but are nevertheless expected to play an important role in family life. This double function, just as for women, often proves a challenge.
Some fathers may even consider to either change their profession, job or professional frameworks to suit family life.
Coaching offers the great opportunity to reflect on these decisions in a non-judgemental environment, finding the answer from within.
Until the 20th century partners married for money, the idea of a love-marriage is relatively new and often gets the expectation of fairy-tales and forever lasting “in-love” emotions. Marrying your best friend only started to be an expectation in the 70s.
The foundation of any family with children is the relationship of the parents.
As the implications of divorce and the adverse effects on the children (please refer to Figure 3) are something most parents would whish to avoid, I would like to take a moment to look at certain parameters of relationships important to support modern families. One has to keep in mind that a functioning relationship between mother and father, even after divorce is to great benefit for the development of their joint children.
Families are often multi-cultural in their set-up. Starting from the individual personalities of the partners to the more complex differences of the merging family cultures and ultimately the merger of two or even multiple national or racial cultures (if one or both partners come from mixed cultural backgrounds) combined.
Growing diversity and the changing roles within families, often leave the couple without meaningful role-models for neither of their roles.
Compared to more traditional marriage agreements, which have often been on the grounds of economic reasons.
Powerful questions to consider when coaching diverse families will include those questions raising awareness on the individuals understanding of intimacy, partnership, family values and rituals.
Coaching can give meaningful support during this process.
But not only diverse families can benefit from a coaching process. Families from the same cultural background or even families who chose to set up more traditional roles are surrounded with a mass of confusing information and often the break down of traditional support networks.
All families can benefit from coaching by working on understanding the different positions of the other members of the family and working on defined goals and visions.
The role of children has also changed substantially over the centuries. With an increase of women in labour and therefore a decrease in fertility, the focus on the fewer children of a family has intensified.
Modern families focus more and more on early education outside the family, with rising pressures of performance.
Children often seem to be the indicator of a parent doing their “job” well.
Expectations on child performance, behaviorally and educationally therefore intensify too.
A modern family often seeks support to become aware of what it is they want for their children, as increasing options tend to cause confusion.
The internet is full of advise offering often conflicting information. There is increasing pressure on parents to “do the right thing” and plenty of experts who claim to know what exactly “the right thing” is.
Literature, social media forums and the break down of communities all add their part to the confusion.
Modern parents often want to do things differently to their mostly authoritarian up-bringing, searching for advice and role-models outside the extended family.
Coaching can help the family to become clear on what it is they want for themselves and their children.
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES or shall we say challenging opportunities?
With more equal rights in the labour market for men and women and the resulting increase of women in the workforce, women have more opportunities to address the needs of self-fulfillment. That is, IF the woman’s fulfillment is her work.
Surprisingly most feminist literature seems to believe a women’s fulfillment must always be found in work.
In my view this is the opposite extreme of the pendulum to what we had before, when women were forced to stay at home.
In affluent and well educated parts of society this force turned into forcing women into the workforce, even if her individual fulfillment may be to stay at home and care for her children.
So, yes, there are more professional options for women, even if she has children but those come with a price.
Is it just an add-on responsibility to the duties of a spouse, housewife and mother? Or are there other ways a family could construct the family settings to incorporate all the several roles of a woman and a indeed the man.
A similar challenge has arisen for new fathers. Many countries offer the option to take paternity leave, though as mentioned above this is still connected to stigma.
Whatever path the parents choose together, several challenges must be considered.
Childcare and specifically valuable, non-damaging childcare is not easily available and costly. With a breakdown of the extended family for many parents, the option to leave the children with the grandparents may not exist. Where this option exists, it may not be desired by both or one of the parents or indeed the grandparents.
The financial situation of the family and the professional position of the husband may not actually make it an option to have the women stay at home. When in previous decades most jobs would support a family, today, this is not always the case. Living costs and job insecurities, as well as changing divorce laws may force women into the workplace without it being a choice.
Increasing opportunities of separation and divorce give men and women the chance to revise decisions from the past, but it also creates a challenge to the institution family.
As the reason of marriage has changed from function to Love, so has the expectation toward the resulting relationship often changed from expecting to make it work, to expecting to stay ‘in Love’ and connected automatically.
With an increase in divorce rates, there is also an increase of the patchwork family, with many challenges to itself, resulting of the ever more complicated relationships that arise from it.
A coaching process will always work on a vision for the family and then explore what that vision “needs” to become a reality.
Coaching the modern family
Coaching the modern family has many dimensions and opportunities which arise from unprecedented situations, hence a lack of role-models and an over supply of “solution” literature.
The modern family is faced with a strong focus on self-fulfillment and an increasing number of diverse roles to the individual members of the family.
This complexity is often difficult to manage from within.
Coaching can be a great opportunity to seek the help of on uninvolved external party to build a road map through this “jungle”.
Any coaching process, will be led by the client who is seeking support. Nevertheless, I believe it is helpful for the coach to stay tuned to the historic developments of the institution family.
This will often help to find tools, which will shed light on the different mindsets, roles and expectations of the family members, to gain a more complete insight of the situation and supporting the client to move forward.
This is important as our underlying beliefs about how things “should” work are based on the culture and experiences we were raised with.
Tools for the modern self
Questions that will raise awareness on what self-fulfilment will look like for the individual member of the family. Setting out a vision of what the client would like his self to be.
Which values and priorities and which underlying beliefs play a role in different decision making processes.
Tools for the modern couple
Modern relationships often suffer from a lack of a joint mission and a misunderstanding about each other’s “common sense”.
We can use tools, with which the couple can use their insights about themselves for alignment, to build a joint mission.
As well as tools which will help communication on a daily basis.
Tools for the modern Parent
Working to resolve conflicts rather then avoiding them – coaching toward awareness.
- Mindfulness – staying focused on the present moment, enjoying the positive to gain stamina for the more challenging moments.
- Journaling – reviewing positive thoughts to create a positive mindset and negative thoughts to reflect on and find alternative more empowering perspectives.
- Quality time – how can more quality time be created?
- Set of rules and boundaries – helping the family to come to a shared set of rules and boundaries that respect the needs of all the members of the family.
- Learn how to and communicate emotions – using “I feel” statements to keep communication channels open.
There are plenty of more tools a coach may use to support a family on their journey of a joint mission. I cannot mention them all. The tools mentioned above are just named to give an idea of what the coaching process could look like.
Each coaching process is highly individual and the above paper is meant to raise an understanding of the different challenges modern families are facing. It is not meant to be a conclusive all including guideline.
Childhood in History – Pat Thane – http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/24504_Ch01.pdf
Major trends affecting families in the new millennium – Western Europe and North America – Robert Cliquet http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/family/Publications/mtcliquet.pdf
Shifting to 21st century thinking – Postmodernism http://www.shiftingthinking.org/?page_id=53
 Shifting to 21st century thinking – Postmodernism http://www.shiftingthinking.org/?page_id=53
 In many western countries e.g. Germany, husbands will not have to support the woman financially after a divorce, but only his children.