The ideal american family Essay


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            Unfortunately, the ideal family, I believe, was transformed some time in the nineteenth century due to the great many changes taking place in the American society. So, it becomes hard to describe the ideal American family today. In fact, it’s difficult not to cringe when we hear our children refer to today’s families as dysfunctional. And, for the most part, they appear to be.  However, times have changed.  Years ago, mommy stayed home to take care of the children while daddy went off to work to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.  Together they sat at the dinner table, dressed up, and discussed the day that passed.  Pretty idealistic, but not always the way it appeared to be.

When an exchange student came to America, they marveled at the simplicity of the life Americans led, and sometimes with envy.  They were impressed with the tight family circle, the lightness of attitude and the playfulness that in other countries may have seemed offensive.

Not so today. In this day and age, mommy and daddy are off to work leaving the children to, in part, take care of themselves. There is little time for conversation, morning or night and on the weekends there is the rush to get everything done that was not completed during the week.

            But, that doesn’t leave the International exchange student less impressed. What they are still impressed with is the American’s devotion to individualism. In essence, they find these people regarding themselves as responsible for their own destiny and not as a member of a family or group to reach that destiny.

            Today, the exchange student looks upon Americans as autonomous and self reliant. They have a desire for success as it counts as merits to their lives. Because of this, there may be an indication of coldness towards others, as competition is prevalent. Initially, the student may notice that the American family lives mostly by schedules.  As a result, they may seem hurried, unable to relax and enjoy themselves simply because they tend to believe they should always be doing something.  Americans also tend to believe they should be doing something most of the time, which often result in outside family activities, such as baseball, football, and other sports that bring the family ties together and tighter.

So, it is hard to define the ideal American family in today’s world because the “Leave it to Beaver” days are long gone, if they ever existed. Today, the ideal family is one that is there for each other, even though they hardly see one another due to the pressures of life.  The ideal family is one that prays together and plays together and the little time that they have for that is well appreciated and imprinted in their lives as a cherished memory.

             In contrast, as in my own nationality, Chinese people place a great deal of effort on family, bringing extended families into one unit.  So, although the emphasis is on work and supporting the family with little time to listen and encourage their young, they are united in that this ‘extended family’ joins in to talk and offer advice, encouragement or consolation in place of the parents when necessary.  This large extended family, with several generations and immediate families all living under one roof, provides child care and the care of the elderly.

And for the modern twenty first century Chinese family, many qualities of life, traditions and family values are maintained, as well as the close family unit. There is a strong bond between parents, children and other family members. It is fundamental that Chinese men continue to maintain a dominant position in the family regarding decision making, however, Chinese women are fast become equal as they contribute their income to the family and the family business as well as the men.

            Many elements of traditional China survive and are interwoven with modern arrangements.  Family members demonstrate a tremendous respect and deference for each member, especially those in the eldest generation.  Children are cherished.  Marriages and deaths are marked by rituals that display the importance of continuing the family lineage.  The next generation is seeking to make its mark in China. (Primary Source – Twentieth Century Chinese Family)

            Our family fits into the ideal family mode, for our family.  Our customs and traditions are the same as they have been since we were children, even though some of us remain in our parent country.  Families are an integral part of life in Hong Kong and family members are committed to upholding family honor through loyalty, respect, and obligation.  However, somehow we maintain a family sense even while our lives continually change.  It a strong foundation and we remain conscious each member of our family’s needs and aspirations.

            In America the ideal family is what each individual family makes of itself.  Everyone is different, therefore, why shouldn’t ever family be different? And even though many consider the American family dysfunctional at times, aren’t we all dysfunctional with our own idiosyncrasies in life?  We hear it everyday.  “What happened to the American family?”  Nothing.  They are just going with the flow of change as is the Asian, black and Latin families.  If we expect life to be similar to the fifties and sixties, we may have to rethink our expectations.  It won’t happen and I’m not so sure we’d want it to happen.  We like our changes and our constant acceptance that life will always change.

            I’m reminded of a paragraph I read in “looking for work, by Gary Soto” that read like this:  “This was the summer when I spent the mornings in front of the television that showed the comfortable lives of white kids.  There were no beatings, no rifts in the family.  They wore bright clothes; toys tumbled from their closets.  They hopped into bed with kisses and woke to glasses of fresh orange juice, and to a father sitting before his morning coffee while the mother buttered his toast.  They hurried through the day making friends and gobs of money, returning home to a warmly lit living room, and then dinner.  Leave It to Beaver was the program I replayed in my mind.”

            Didn’t we dream of a family like that?  Haven’t we all thought that this was the ideal family life with the woman wearing dresses and high heels all day and the dad in shirt and ties.  We remember the children with the perfectly neat bedrooms and the ‘golly gee’ attitudes.  And then, we are reminded that this was indeed a fictional show. Life wasn’t really like that. We have and had too many problems to maintain an attitude of perfection like that.  And must we be reminded that this was indeed a family show that was fictional? Besides, why on earth would the ideal American family want to be that way? I think we are happy with change. I believe that change helps us grow, and growing often means restructuring of the family unit.  This doesn’t make us any less a family and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have an ideal family.  It just means that we do what we can with what we have.  The ideal family is anyone’s family. Not the one from the fifties and sixties that was portrayed on television. Not the one that the Cunningham’s have, (Happy Days) but probably more like the one Rosanne has. (Rosanne)

            Each one of us has our own ideas on an ideal family, so I believe it is unfair to describe the one family that is considered ideal. Yours is and mine is.  They can’t be compared and they are totally different.  Mine may have an International flavor to it, but it all comes out the same.  Family means caring for one another and being there when needed whether we’re sitting next to one another or a thousand miles away.



Office of International Programs – University of Pennsylvania


2006, July – – Chinese Culture

2004, January – Brookfield High School, Brookfield CT:  Primary Source – Chinese Family in the Twentieth Century


            Looking for Work by Gary Soto

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