The changing modern American family


Credit: Jeanie Naysmith (used with permission)

Ema Dorsey


Credit: Jeanie Naysmith (used with permission)
Baylee Gatlin posing with her mothers, Carla Gatlin (right) and Susan Ybarra-Telias (left). Credit: Jeanie Naysmith (used with permission)

The stereotypical family model of a mom, dad, 2.5 kids, and a white picket fence is becoming more of a picture of the past than an accurate description of the typical American family. The structures of families in the United States have been evolving and changing over the past 50 years. They are more culturally, religiously, racially, and stylistically diverse than they have ever been before, and Foothill’s families are no exception.

The Foothill Dragon Press surveyed 181 students from all four grades about their families. In the survey:

  • 78 percent said their parents are husband and wife
  • 1 percent said their parents are a same-sex couple
  • 12 percent said they live with a single mom
  • 4 percent said they live with a single dad
  • 2 percent said their parents are deceased
  • 2 percent live with someone other than their born parents

Counselor Debbie Freeman said she has watched these changes evolve throughout her life.

“I don’t think there’s such thing as a ‘normal’ family any longer. When I was younger, I only had one friend that was divorced. There was nobody that we knew of that had two moms or two dads, or anything of that nature. I had just the old 50s [and] 60s traditional family,” she said. “As I got older, divorce became more prevalent and people’s lifestyles became more accepted and in the open, things changed. I think it’s a good thing.”

Society’s views about the changes

As the modern family continues to evolve from the traditional family structure, the general public’s view of the ‘traditional family’ has shifted.

In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2011, the respondents were sorted into three different categories based on their opinions on the changes in families. Of the 2, 691 adults, 32 percent were rejectors, 37 percent were skeptics, and 31 percent were acceptors.

Some religious people are starting to bend their beliefs to the emergence of the modern family. Junior Jason Borrajo, who said he was a Christian, expressed how his views on the modern family differed from that of his family.

“I’m Christian, so my parents and my sister are like ‘ehh’ to [the modern family,] but personally I’m okay with it,” he said.

However, the standards of a loving family have not changed.

“I definitely feel that the definition of family has changed from when I was a young girl,” Freeman said. “Now, I think that there’s so many different types of families, but they are all families when you have that bond towards one another and love for one another.”

Not only have views changed, but it is also seen as generally unacceptable to criticize family structures that differ from the ‘traditional family.’

“To judge someone’s family is really rude,” senior Kayalin  Aken-Irby said. “I mean, that’s who they love and that’s how they’ve been raised, so I think that’s kind of a subject you have to be open to.”

Credit: Ema Dorsey/The Foothill Dragon Press
Credit: Ema Dorsey/The Foothill Dragon Press


Junior Baylee Gatlin has same-sex parents. Her mother, Carla Gatlin, also described how overall views have changed towards gay people in general from when she was a teenager.

“When I was growing up, gay or homosexual was not even mentioned. It was never a topic that was brought up or even considered,” she said over email. “Even though I knew I was different, there wasn’t an option. When my mother found out I was gay, she threw me out of the house. Nowadays, that rarely happens, and I think that is amazing.”

As family structures adapt and people become more accepting, the echo of the ‘traditional family’ of the 50s and 60s continues to fade.

“Now, when people say ‘oh, I don’t have a normal family’ they’re referring to the family stereotype of the 50s, but I don’t think there’s really such a thing as a normal family anymore.” senior Brianna  Houska said.

The younger generation has also just become generally more accepting and tolerant than previous generations.

“I was raised always going to church with my grandma and stuff, and I remember when Prop 8 was a big deal, and I remember they were speaking out against it at the church, and I was like, ‘whoa, bro. I don’t agree with that,’” Aken-Irby said. “I think that maybe that’s just a divide between the generations. I think that just the younger generations are completely more open to change.”

According to Houska, tolerance at Foothill is no different from other typical environments today.

“Everyone that I’ve come in contact with at Foothill seems really accepting, but there will always be a person or two, no matter where you go, who will disagree with what you choose to do with your life or whatever your situation is in your life. I don’t think Foothill people are necessarily more accepting than any other type of people,” she said.

Rising divorce rates

While 78 percent of students said that do live with a married mother and father, the next highest percentage was students who live with a single mother, at 12 percent. On the contrary, only 2 percent of students said they live with a single father.

Being raised by a single parent, especially a single mother, has become more common as divorce rates have risen. While it is often thought that having divorced parents can be detrimental to a child’s behavior and maturing, some recent studies have shown that being raised by a single parent can also be beneficial in some ways, as it helps the child learn responsibility and independence.

Since her parents’ divorce, Houska has been living mainly with her mother, who is now a single parent to her and her brother. Houska believes her independence has come more from learning from her mother as a person rather than from dealing with the divorce.

“I try to emulate her and I feel like I’ve gotten more responsible from trying to emulate how independent she is and how responsible she is as a single parent, but not because of the divorce itself,” Houska said. “I don’t have to rely on anyone else to get the stuff that I want to get done, done. [My mom and brother] are always there to support me and they’re really, really hardworking.”

With just the three of them, Houska said that everyone in her family is very close to one another.

“My family is very quirky,” she said. “My family’s really tight-knit. Me and my mom and my brother, we all have the same sense of humor. We’ll always just call each other and talk about random things or send each other pictures, even if we’re not together. Everyone in our family knows everyone’s secrets.”

Senior Alana Heavican’s parents are also divorced. Because of her mother’s job, she alternates between living with her mother and her grandparents.

“My mom and step dad actually work in the San Diego area. My step dad lives there full time, and my mom lives there half and half. She travels back and forth,” Heavican said. “When she’s in Ventura, I stay at the house I live at with her in a condo. When she is out of town, I live with my grandparents.”

 She used to worry about her family being different from the norm, but later realized that being “different” was not actually that unusual.

“I always felt kind of different because everyone else seemed to be living these normal lives; mom, dad, brothers, and sisters. When I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed that even if families seem to be one way, every family seems to have things that make it very different,” she said. “I kind of had to grow and learn to accept things and realize that just because it’s different, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, it’s just a different way of living and going about in the world.”

Heavican believes that her family circumstances have taught her to be more independent and adaptable.

“Due to my current situation, I’ve definitely had to learn to be more responsible and keeping on top of things. I think maybe it’s made me a little more accepting of other situations,” she said.

Couples getting married later

 Aken-Irby describes her family as “fun.” Irby’s parents were together when she was born, but were not married until she was three years old.

“I live with both my parents and my little sister, but it hadn’t always been that way. I didn’t move in with my dad until my sister was born,” she said. “I guess traditionally parents get married before they have kids, but I was three and I walked down the aisle at my parents’ wedding. My sister was one and she was holding my grandma’s hand, so I guess that’s kind of different.”

More and more couples are also choosing to have children before they are married, or to remain together with their children but never marry.

At Foothill, 77 percent said that their parents are married, while 37 percent said that they are not.

Aken-Irby said that her mom gave birth at a young age, and noted that it was “probably not planned.” However, her parents stayed together and successfully raise two daughters. While Irby has been provided with love and care in her family, she has witnessed the difficulties of her parents’ lives, something that she believes has given her insight and maturity.

“I know that in my case, not that my parents or my family is in any way bad, but the struggles that we’ve been through and kind of the places where they may have come short, has made me who I am and made me learn independence and maturing and providing for my little sister,” she explained. “It made me more successful, in a way, because of their lack of success.”

Aken-Irby believes that family structure does not always directly affect the child.

“It all depends on the kid, I think. I feel like more dependent kids tend to take up the traits of their parents, whereas maybe people who have more broken families or don’t agree with their parents’ lifestyles, go the opposite direction,” she said. “I don’t know if strength is what you’re built with, but how you respond to the situation definitely negates your outcome, whether you become the same as or the opposite of your parents, it goes both ways.”

Changing parent roles

The traditional roles of parents has also been evolving over the past few decades, the expectations of the mother and father blending together as more women have careers and more families have structures outside of the typical ‘mother-father’ roles.

Pew Research Center found that in 1970, of the 47 percent of couples in which their education levels weren’t the same, 8 percent more of the husbands had more education than their wives. However, in 2007, of the 47 percent with uneven education, 28 percent of the wives had more education than their husbands, of whom only 17 percent had more.

Of the surveyed students, 65 percent said that both of their parents have a job.

Baylee Gatlin’s family

Gatlin altogether has four mothers. Her original parents were Susan Ybarra-Telias and Carla Gatlin. They decided to have a child after eleven years together, and Ybarra-Telias had Gatlin through artificial insemination. When Gatlin was two-years-old, her mothers separated. Today Susan Ybarra-Telias lives with her wife, Jordana Ybarra-Telias, while Carla Gatlin lives with her girlfriend, Jeanie Naysmith.

Gatlin’s family type is becoming increasingly common; approximately three million same-sex couples have children. Same-sex couples are four times likely to raise adopted children than heterogeneous parents. Lesbian couples have an advantage over male couples when it comes to having a child; many do conceive children through artificial insemination.

Many of these changes can be attributed to evolving attitudes. As same-sex marriage has become legalized in many states and countries, it has been more commonly accepted by the general public, and there has been an increase in same-sex families. Of the students surveyed, only 1 percent- two students- said they belong to a family with same-sex parents.

Baylee Gatlin said that her two homes have two different atmospheres.

“Carla and Jeanie went back to college six years ago, so they’re passionate about learning and push me to do the best I can,” Baylee Gatlin said. “But they don’t get mad at grades as long as I’ve tried my best; they love that.”

Her relationship with Susan and Jordana Ybarra-Telias is a bit different.

“We’re friends. It’s gotten to a point where we live in the same house but like they’re not like hardcore strict parents,” Baylee Gatlin said. “They get happy when I get A’s and I tell them about school and stuff, but they’re not strict.”

 Baylee Gatlin noted that though she has four moms, there are few differences between her family and her friends’ families.

“I can still complain about my parents to friend and they have the same problems,” she said. “I still don’t get why people have prejudices against gay parenting. As cliche as it sounds, love is love, and [same-sex marriage] isn’t going away. It’s normal now.”

 Baylee Gatlin admitted that sometimes she is curious to what it’s like to have a father.


“I honestly couldn’t ask for better parents but sometimes I wish I had a dad to fit it or see what it’s like,” she said. “On Father’s day, I’m left out.”

Then she also added, “But on Mother’s Day, I’m all set.”

Domestic roles have combined and shifted as well.

All four of Baylee Gatlin’s mothers work, but the role of the homemaker varies. Susan and Jordana Ybarra-Telias both cook and clean, but Gatlin said domestic roles are divided between Carla Gatlin and Naysmith.

“Carla doesn’t like to cook, so she has Jeanie cook, but Carla likes to clean, so she does that,” Gatlin explained.

While claims against differing family structures are still prevalent, in most cases, the “modern family” so far has proved itself worthy of achieving a loving and nurturing family environment.

“As long as the children learn right from wrong, then that’s normal,” Freeman said, “and as long as there’s love and guidance there.”

What do you think?