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.