Reviewing ‘family roles’

William T. Robinson, Jr.

I guess it is true that virtually nothing stays the same, and it is quite evident when you look at the picture of the revolving American family. The face and roles of the American family is now considered atypical for the most part with a broad spectrum of inclusions, which entertains a myriad of different lifestyles and expectations. Personally speaking, one’s values and expectations cannot be expected to be the norm according to who you look at or talk to. The truth of the matter is that it is rather complicated and confusing for many with the impending changes taking place. Respecting everyone’s right to be happy and define their own independent personal relationship or union has stifled and even confused some to the point of trying to redefine what they thought made up a family unit. There don’t seem to be any defined boundaries and established rules that are etched in stone by today’s masses.

Older people are totally lost and bewildered while the younger people are more open and acceptable to these changes gravitating toward personal choices. It was so much easier for us older people when family roles and expectations where well defined and followed for the most part. These established roles were traditional and taught and mimicked from early childhood to adulthood for the most part with little deviations.

The typical family had a mother and a father consisting of a male and a female. This union worked together raising children instilling love, structure, guidance, education, and spirituality. The father was considered the head of the family and (for the most part) the breadwinner. The mother took a more domicile position in caring for and nurturing the children. The children were taught to become independent, productive individuals leaving their parents’ home to work or go to college upon graduating from high school. Boys and girls had defined roles where boys were basically athletic and macho and girls feminine and ladylike. While there were exceptions to the rules, for the most part, individuals followed their learned and expected roles.

The role of the African American family is historically unique here in America from its White counterparts. The Black family has had to fight to stay intact. During slavery, African American families were often dismantled and sold to discourage unity—or as a form of punishment. After slavery the Black man found it hard to maintain or support his family economically, often having to maintain jobs that separated him demographically from his immediate family. In several African American families, economic pressures on the part of the Black man made it necessary for the Black woman to become the major breadwinner—and often the single parent in the household.  The difficulties faced by a Black man trying to provide for his family became a divisive tool destroying the Black family as we once knew it. Now a single Black woman heads most Black households. The physiological emasculation of the Black man in providing for his family has played a major role in the dismantling of the Black family. It is a well-known fact that America has made economic opportunities more available and profitable for the Black woman than the Black man.

Changing family roles once traditionally defined is a choice by many individuals. But the role reversals could also be a devised scheme imposed by systems and bureaucracies. Families are changing due to many factors, which encompass sexual preferences, lifestyles, spirituality, economics and diversity. I don’t know what the future has in store, but choices seem to be the mantra for changing family roles for the good—or the bad. Our children will be the most affected by these impending changes. Let’s hope their adaptability will aid them as we exercise our choice in redefining our family roles.