We urgently need a debate about the best ways of supporting families in modern America, without blinders that prevent us from seeing the full extent of dependence and interdependence in American life. As long as we pretend that only poor or abnormal families need outside assistance, we will shortchange poor families, overcompensate rich ones, and fail to come up with effective policies for helping families in the middle.
Extended families have never been the norm in America; the highest figure for extended-family households ever recorded in Americanhistory is 20 percent. Contrary to the popular myth that industrialization destroyed "traditional" extended families, this high point occurred between 1850 and 1885, during the most intensive period of early industrialization. Many of these extended families, and most "producing" families of the time, depended on the labor of children; they were held together by dire necessity and sometimes by brute force.
Almost all scholarly research carries practical and political implications. Better that we should spell these out ourselves than leave that task to people with a vested interest in stressing only some of the implications and falsifying others. The idea that academics should remain "above the fray" only gives ideologues license to misuse our work.
There is a lack of collective support or social support for working people in America. We're told, "You can be, as an individual, anything you want to be, but it must be at something else's - or somebody else's - expense."
Families have always been in flux and often in crisis; they have never lived up to nostalgic notions about "the way things used tobe." But that doesn't mean the malaise and anxiety people feel about modern families are delusions, that everything would be fine if we would only realize that the past was not all it's cracked up to be. . . . Even if things were not always right in families of the past, it seems clear that some things have newly gone wrong.
Women are told that we can have the most exciting, glamorous, demanding, rewarding careers ever but we also have to be constantly sexy and sexually interested, and when we have children we have to spend more time with our kids. Of course you can't really do all three of those things at once, so we feel this tremendous stress.