TIME Family

Why Not Having Kids Makes Some People Crazy

Ray Kachatorian—Photographers Choice

It's less about the children and more about thwarted dreams

The great, worldwide, international jury is still deadlocked over whether having children makes people happier or not. On the one side, there are chubby fingers and first steps and unbridled joy and on the other side, there’s sleep, money and time. But an intriguing new study from the Netherlands suggests that not having children only makes infertile women unhappy if they are unable to let go of the idea of having kids.

It sounds obvious, but here’s the twist: women who already had children but desperately wanted more had worse mental health than women who didn’t have kids and wanted them, but had managed to get over that particular life goal. So it’s not just whether they had kids that made people depressed or content, it’s how badly they wanted them.

The study looked at more than 7,000 Dutch women who had had fertility treatments between 1995 and 2000. They were sent questionnaires about how they were doing and what caused the infertility and whether they had kids. Most of them were doing fine, except for about 6% who still wanted children even a decade or more after their last infertility treatment.

“We found that women who still wished to have children were up to 2.8 times more likely to develop clinically significant mental health problems than women who did not sustain a child-wish,” said Dr Sofia Gameiro, a lecturer at the School of Psychology at Cardiff University in Wales. True, the women who had kids but had undergone fertility treatments for more were less likely to have mental health issues than those who didn’t have kids, but they were still there. The kids hadn’t cured them. “For women with children, those who sustained a child-wish were 1.5 times more likely to have worse mental health than those without a child-wish,” wrote Gameiro. “This link between a sustained wish for children and worse mental health was irrespective of the women’s fertility diagnosis and treatment history.”

The women most likely to be laid low by wanting a child were those with less education and thus probably fewer options for fulfillment. Similarly, if the fertility issues were on the husband’s side or if they were age related, women were more likely to be able to get over it, possibly because they felt there was nothing they could have done. Those most set back by their inability to conceive were those who had started young and found that the problem was with their reproductive system, not their spouse’s, women who in the ancient days might have been called “barren.”

“Our study improves our understanding of why childless people have poorer adjustment. It shows that it is more strongly associated with their inability to let go of their desire to have children. It is quite striking to see that women who do have children but still wish for more children report poorer mental health than those who have no children but have come to accept it,” said Gameiro.

The paper, which was published online on Sept. 10 in Human Reproduction, recommends sustained psychological counseling for people who did not conceive after fertility treatments and a lot of frank talk about the possibility of failure during the treatments. The author also throws some shade on those “I-can-do-anything-if I-try” types (cough, Americans, cough). “There is a moment when letting go of unachievable goals (be it parenthood or other important life goals) is a necessary and adaptive process for well-being,” said Gameiro. “We need to consider if societies nowadays actually allow people to let go of their goals and provide them with the necessary mechanisms to realistically assess when is the right moment.”

TIME Love and Money

Wealthy Kids Are More Affected by Divorce Than Poor Kids

wealth family divorce
Getty Images

And study says it's not just because they suddenly have less money

Children of wealthy families that come apart have a bigger spike in behavior problems than children of poor families who experience the same thing. But wealthier children benefit more from being incorporated into stepfamilies than poorer children do. So says a new study in the latest issue of Child Development, which also noted the kids’ age when parents separate plays a key role, with the most vulnerable stage being from 3 to 5 years old.

The study was conducted by researchers at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., and the University of Chicago, using a national sample of nearly 4,000 children from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Researchers divided the kids into three groups by income and studied the effect of a change in family structure on each group.

“Our findings suggest that family changes affect children’s behavior in higher-income families more than children’s behavior in lower-income families — for better and for worse,” says Rebecca Ryan, assistant professor of psychology at Georgetown University, the study’s lead author.

Why do children of high-income parents act out more after separation than children from low-income parents? Ryan isn’t sure. “To be honest, our study finds most conclusively that they do act up more, but says less about why that might be.”

But she has some guesses. The first is that dads, who are usually the breadwinners, often move out of the home so there’s a big dip in household income. Or it could be that the kids have to move to a new neighborhood/school/friend group and the instability takes a toll. Or maybe less-wealthy families don’t take it so hard. “Parental separation is more common among lower-income families,” says Ryan. “Parents and children may perceive family changes as more normative, more predictable, and, thus, less stressful.”

However Ryan says, it’s not just about the money. “Changes in income itself did not seem to explain the increase in behavior problems, which surprised us.” Moreover the changes in behavior were only noticeable if the kids were younger than 5 years old. “We found no effect of parental separation on children ages 6 to 12,” says Ryan.

Another surprise was that wealthier kids older than 6, who were blended into stepfamilies had improvements in their behavior. Ryan and her crew first noticed this when she did a prior study back in 2012, but was still surprised to have those findings confirmed. That study also suggested that parental separation affects kids whose parents were actually married more than those who were cohabiting.

Ryan cautions that the differences between kids whose parents were separated and those who were together was not as strong as the differences among low-, middle- and higher-income families. “These results suggest that many factors other than family structure influence children’s behavior, particularly for children in low-income families. For them, the quality of the home environment, regardless of family structure, mattered most to social and emotional well-being.”

She even wades a little into the debate on whether fixing marriage will help fix poverty or whether you need to fix the poverty to have a shot at saving marriage. She’s on the side of the latter. Programs designed to save marriage, she says, will not be as effective as programs that “enhance the quality of the socio-emotional or educational environments in the home.”

TIME Books

5 Things You Might Not Know About Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss, Aug. 11, 1967
From the Aug. 11, 1967, issue of TIME TIME

From TIME's 1967 profile of the beloved author

Dr. Seuss, who died in 1991, is back in the news with the release Tuesday of the new book Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories. The book contains four stories that were published in Redbook in the 1950s, where the celebrated The Cat in the Hat author had a regular column.

In 1967, TIME sent a reporter to cover a summer program for kids at the La Jolla Museum of Art in California, which also starred Theodore Geisel, better known then and now as Dr. Seuss. “If you don’t get imagination as a child, you probably never will,” he said, explaining the need for the program, “because it gets knocked out of you by the time you grow up.”

In honor of his lesser-known stories, here are a few lesser-known facts from that 1967 story:

Dr. Seuss wasn’t necessarily for kids.
The career-making images that TIME cited? An advertising campaign for Flit insecticide.

Dr. Seuss’s wife helped him develop his stories.
Their marriage was financed, TIME reported, by a “cartoon of egg-nog-drinking turtles” that Dr. Seuss sold to Judge magazine in 1927. (Sadly, she died only a few months after that 1967 profile was published.)

Dr. Seuss had no formal art training.
He walked out on “a high-school art teacher who refused to let him draw with his drawing board turned upside down” and that was that. For non-art education, he went to Dartmouth and Oxford.

Dr. Seuss’s early vocabulary was inspired by school curricula.
Many books meant to teach kids reading used standardized lists of basic words that should be known by students of various ages, and Dr. Seuss’ work — despite the fantastical nature of the stories those words created — was no exception. He stopped using the lists when he no longer found them adequate, “because,” TIME explained, “today’s television-viewing children have an expanded vocabulary.”

Dr. Seuss worked on an Oscar-winning animated short film.
Dr. Seuss’s Gerald McBoing-Boing cartoon won the Academy Award in 1951. You can watch it here:

Read the full 1967 profile of Dr. Seuss here, in TIME’s archives: The Logical Insanity of Dr. Seuss

TIME Family

After Ray Rice Video, Twitter Takes a Stand With #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft

Ravens running back Ray Rice is planning to address the media at 3 p.m. Friday for the first time since he was charged with knocking
Ravens running back Ray Rice, right, and his wife Janay made statements to the news media regarding his assault charge for knocking her unconscious in a New Jersey casino, on May 5, 2014, at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, Md. Kenneth K. Lam—Baltimore Sun/MCT/Getty Images

Twin hashtags go viral, leading to widespread public sharing about domestic violence

The recently released video of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice punching his then fiancée and current wife Janay in an Atlantic City elevator, then dragging her out unconscious, prompted many red flags — about the NFL’s handling of the incident, about the Ravens’ ill-advised defense of their player and about how domestic violence is handled in general.

But one of the main questions doing the rounds was directed at Janay Rice (formerly Janay Palmer) was why she married him in spite of the abusive relationship. Well, Twitter provided the answer, with the hashtag #WhyIStayed.

The hashtag was created by writer Beverly Gooden, who was physically abused by her former husband for over a year. In a post on her website, Gooden explains that it’s not always that simple. “Leaving was a process, not an event,” she writes. “And sometimes it takes awhile to navigate through that process.” Gooden also expressed the hope that the hashtag will help people “find a voice, find love, find compassion, and find hope.”

And the responses were overwhelming. Twitter users even took the conversation a step further, responding with the hashtags #WhyILeft and #WhenILeft sharing the moments when they finally decided they had had enough.

The stories of abuse weren’t restricted to women, either.

Thanks to Twitter, it doesn’t look like this conversation is going to die down anytime soon.

TIME Family

Honey Maid Ad Celebrates Families Changed by Divorce

The graham-cracker maker says divorced families are blended but not broken

First it was family diversity, now it’s families affected by divorce. Honey Maid, the graham-cracker maker with the hot-button ads, has a new marketing campaign that sends this message: “Just because a family has broken up doesn’t mean they are broken.”

Last spring, Honey Made released its first installment of the much-discussed “This Is Wholesome” ad campaign that included same-sex and interracial marriages and had right-wing conservative groups complaining. In its new ad, “#NotBroken,” the company celebrates families that have been reconfigured through divorce.

“Of the 73 million American children under the age of 18, 1 in 10 is currently living within a stepfamily environment,” said Gary Osifchin, senior marketing director of biscuits for Mondelez International, which owns Honey Maid.

At a time when 42% of American adults are members of a “blended” family (i.e. have at least one steprelative) according to the Pew Research Center, Honey Maid’s strategy could be a winning one.

“We’ve seen an overwhelming response to the ‘This Is Wholesome” campaign and we feel that it is critical to continue sharing stories and advertising that truly reflects our consumers,” Osifchin said.

The ad has been released in advance of National Stepfamily Day on Sept. 16 and Honey Maid is encouraging people to use the hashtags #NotBroken and #ThisIsWholesome to highlight themes raised in the ad.

TIME Family

Why Being Second Born Can Be a Royal Pain

Meet the family: It's that little one on the right you have to watch out for
Meet the family: It's that little one on the right you have to watch out for JOHN STILLWELL; AFP/Getty Images

An open letter to George's Number Two: regal or not, second-borns can get a rotten deal

Dear Pending Prince or Princess:

First of all, the other seven billion of us are just thrilled to hear the happy news that you’re on the way—in a gender yet to be announced and with a name yet to be determined. I realize you’ll have your hands full for the next several months doing things like, well, growing hands, so I don’t want to burden you with too much right now. But before long you’ll emerge into the world and meet your royal Mum and Dad—and guess what? You’ll have a royal big brother too.

I know, I know, sorry to break it to you. You were kind of hoping you’d be the first and, if it were at all possible to arrange it, the only. Well, welcome to the club, kid. From one Number Two to another, here’s a frank admission: it’s a lousy gig—except when it’s great.

Every first child will always be a family’s crown prince or princess, which is all the more relevant in your family because the whole crown thing is for real. As a rule, first-borns are more serious than later-borns; they work harder, are better students and their IQ tends to be about three points higher than that of second-borns. They are also much more inclined than later-borns to go into the family business—which, yes, in your case is kind of the whole point. You should get accustomed to hearing your brother and you referred to as “an heir and a spare,” which is a term you won’t understand at first, then you will, and will go on to loathe for the rest of your natural life.

There’s a reason all this is true—and in commoner families too, not just yours. Think of your clan not so much as just Royal Family, but as Royal Family Inc. Moms and Dads have a finite supply of hours, energy and money—though in some families (we’re not pointing fingers here) there’s a little more of the latter than in others. The point is, your parents pour all their resources into the first product to come off the assembly line (let’s call it, for example, George v. 1.0). By the time the next one rolls along (let’s call this one You v. 2.0) there’s no getting that early investment back. This is what’s known to business people as sunk costs, which you’ll learn about at Eaton and Oxford and will later get to forget about because your exchequers and ministers will see to such things. The point is, in both a family and a company, sunk costs lead the board of directors (Mum and Dad in your case) to value the first product more than the second, whether they realize it or not.

This is an arrangement that suits that first product just fine, which is why big brothers and sisters tend to play by the rules. Your job—and the job of any littler royals who may come along after you—will be to try to upset that order. It’s why later-borns tend to be more rebellious and to take more risks than first-borns. You’ll be likelier to play extreme sports than big bro George. Even if you and he play the same sports, you’ll choose a more physical position—a baseball catcher, say, instead of an outfielder. (Baseball is…never mind. Ask someone in the royal court what the soccer and polo analogy are.) In the event you ever become Ruler of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of other Realms and Territories around the world—and you’re fourth in line for the job, so don’t start getting measured for the cape yet—you’d be a more liberal, less conventional monarch than your big bro will be.

Later-borns are more inclined to be artists too, and if there is a comedian in the family, it’s likeliest to be the very last-born. This makes sense, since when you’re the smallest person in the nursery, you are in constant risk of getting clocked by someone bigger—sorry, no royal dispensation on that rule—so you learn to disarm with humor. You also may find you’re more empathic and intuitive than George, since you similarly have to know how to suss out what people are thinking in order to get your way—what scientists call a low-power strategy, rather than the big sib’s high-power one.

There are other perils that come with being a number two, not least figuring out ways to get yourself noticed, and it’s best to go about that one carefully. One day, ask your Uncle Andy about a special friend of his named Miss Stark—and if you really want to get a laugh, call her Auntie Koo. Ask Uncle Harry to show you pictures of his recent visit to a Las Vegas hotel. On second thought, don’t, but do remember that there is only a narrow window available to you for being photographed naked—you’ll get a grace period of about 12 months after you arrive. Uncle Harry exceeded that by a teensy bit.

The point is, you’ll have to figure out ways to be special, to make a difference, while staying off of TMZ and out of the tabs. The upside? Well, you know that thing about big sibs having a higher IQ? That’s because they mentor and look after the little sibs, which isn’t half bad (trust another Number Two’s word on this one too). And if more kids come along, you get to be the mentor, which is its own kind of wonderful. The downside? Then you’ll be a middle child. And I hate to tell you kid, but that gig stinks no matter who you are.

But all that comes later. For now, enjoy the quiet, brace for the noise, and travel safe.

–A Friend in the Colonies

TIME People

The Royal Baby’s Relations: William, Kate — And Shakespeare?

TIME, July 5, 1982
From the July 5, 1982, issue of TIME TIME

The new baby will also be a descendent of Count Dracula's

With Monday’s news that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their second child, it was Royal Baby Fever all over again. But, though big brother Prince George is recent history’s most famous recipient of such fervor, he’s far from the first. When father-to-be Prince William arrived on June 21, 1982, TIME commented that even the most anti-royal publications — like the French Communist paper L’Humanité — were glad to celebrate the news.

And TIME was no exception to that rule, as seen in the birth announcement above. The magazine, in its longer story about the news, commented on the as-yet-unnamed baby’s likely nomenclature — “George,” his future heir’s name, was the odds-on favorite; “William” had 5-to-1 odds and “Elvis” was a longshot at 1,000-to-1 — and well-documented lineage. Some history buffs had hoped the baby might be named “Arthur,” after that most famous British king, but pulling a sword from a stone would be unnecessary:

His lineage is exhaustively, and sometimes imaginatively, chronicled, and dazzlingly diverse. The boy who will be the 22nd English Prince of Wales is descended not only from William the Conqueror but also from Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon King, who died fighting William at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and from Llywelynap-Gruffydd, the last native Prince of all Wales. Other ancestors include Count Dracula and King Cole, Genghis Khan, as well as Vladimir Monomakh, Great Prince of Kiev in the 12th century, Charlemagne, St. Louis (King of France), and on the Queen Mother’s side, a plumber’s daughter named Mary Carpenter. The pre-Norman Anglo-Saxon Chronicle maintains that he is a descendant of Woden, the Germanic god who gave his name to Wednesday. He is related also to Shakespeare (perhaps), Melesende, Queen of Jerusalem, the Danish Kings Sweyn Forkbeard and Ulf Sprakalegg, George Washington, Jimmy Carter and a 9th century buccaneer named Rollo the Ganger. Nevertheless, he is the most purely British heir to the throne since James I. Some genealogists, sounding like truth-in-labeling analysts, noted happily that he is all of 58.8% British.

Which means that the new baby will also be a descendant of Count Dracula’s and a relation of Shakespeare’s and George Washington’s.

And, with few details about the new baby available yet, it’s also possible that the new baby will be something different, too: a girl. Though royal-baby-watchers in the ’80s got their fill of the lineage of Ulf Sprakalegg, that’s been an element missing from the royal baby mix for six decades, and one that observers even then were eager to see.

The birth of a healthy, wanted baby anywhere in the world is always cause for rejoicing,” wrote a TIME reader in a response to the magazine’s coverage of Prince William’s birth — but something was still missing. “The maudlin delight that the new royal baby in England was male is sickening,” she continued. “England’s greatest decades have always been in the reigns of its Queens.”

Read the full report on Prince William’s June 21, 1982, birth here, in TIME’s archives: Rejoice! A Prince Is Born

TIME Family

We Need to Stop Guilting Parents into Cooking Dinner

Happy family dinner images like this may be doing more harm than good for working families Klaus Vedfelt—Getty Images

A new study suggests that the emphasis on family dinners may be more stressful than beneficial.

On the highway of hallowed institutions, there are few so venerated as the family dinner. Maybe reading aloud to your kid, breastfeeding and playing catch come close, but those have a limited lifespan. The family dinner is the church at which all parents, especially moms, are expected to become regular and lifelong worshipers.

Studies have repeatedly shown that kids who eat en famille are less likely to be overweight, more likely to eat healthy foods, have reduced incidence of delinquency and have better grades, mental health and family interactions. The evidence appears to be pretty overwhelming: cook for your kids and eat with them or they’re doomed. You’re consigning them to a life as chubby little lowlifes with a D-average and no self esteem. It’s not much to ask, right?

Problem is, the plurality of kids today are being raised by people who work outside the home. That means somebody, having put in a solid eight or so hours, has to drag his or her weary derriere home and then get his or her Martha Stewart on. Takeout, as all right-thinking parents know, is not at all the same thing as a home-cooked meal. Which is also not the same thing as an organic, locavore, humanely raised, fairtrade, low in fat, salt and everything else except labor meal. A meal which will no doubt be greeted with an aghast face and a whiny demand for plain pasta.

So a new report that suggests the benefits of the home cooked family meal may be outweighed by the pressure of providing said meal should be welcome. Researchers from North Carolina State University interviewed 150 families and found that the whole whip-up-something-for-dinner directive is more like a whip-a-very-overburdened-horse for many families and utterly impossible for others. “Cooking is at times joyful, but it is also filled with time pressures, tradeoffs designed to save money, and the burden of pleasing others,” says the study, which was published in the summer 2104 issue of Contexts.

“The emphasis on home cooking ignores the time pressures, financial constraints, and feeding challenges that shape the family meal. Yet this is the widely promoted standard to which all mothers are held,” the researchers write, adding that it is moralistic, rather elitist and unrealistic. “Intentionally or not, it places the burden of a healthy home-cooked meal on women.” The researchers found that particularly among low income women whose inflexible and inconsistent work schedules prevented them from being able to be home for meals, let along cook them, the scoldy tone of the family dinner table fetishization crowd added unnecessary stress.

My go-to meal strategy is getting my husband to cook, since it involves fire and is therefore a very manly activity. Nevertheless I find myself having to prepare a couple of meals a week. (My second go to strategy, “international toast,” which involved toasting all the leftover crusts of different sorts of bread hanging around the freezer and serving them with eggs, no longer fools my kids, alas.) So you’d think I’d welcome the news that it’s probably better sometimes to skip it. But I don’t. Being both a breadwinner and an international toastmaker can be a drag, but it’s an even bigger to drag to be told that it’s not worth it.

I’ve put a lot of time and effort into making dinner—and making everyone eat the results. It’s stressful to discover that that’s probably too stressful to bother with. So I’m going home to cook dinner. But in act of protest against the forces which hold women to an impossible standard yet again, I’m probably not going make anything very good.

TIME Family

Why I Don’t Eat With My Kids

Who invited those two? The 'family dinner' ain't all it's cracked up to be
Who invited those two? The 'family dinner' ain't all it's cracked up to be GMVozd; Getty Images

The curative properties of the nightly family dinner have been greatly overexaggerated

I love my daughters, I really do, more than I can coherently describe. I love my dinner hours too — not nearly as much, of course, but I’ve been on familiar terms with dinner for a lot longer than I’ve been on familiar terms with my children. Frankly, I don’t see much reason to introduce them to each other.

It’s not that my wife and I don’t eat with our daughters sometimes. We do. It’s just that it often goes less well than one might like. For one thing, there’s the no-fly zone surrounding my younger daughter’s spot at the table, an invisible boundary my older daughter dare not cross with touch, gesture or even suspicious glance, lest a round of hostile shelling ensue.

There is too the deep world-weariness my older daughter has begun bringing with her to meals, one that, if she’s feeling especially 13-ish, squashes even the most benign conversational gambit with silence, an eye roll, or a look of disdain so piteous it could be sold as a bioterror weapon. Finally, there is the coolness they both show to the artfully prepared meal of, say, lemon sole and capers — an entrée that is really just doing its best and, at $18.99 per lb., is accustomed to better treatment.

All of this and oh so much more has always made me greatly prefer feeding the girls first, sitting with them while they eat and, with my own dinner not on the line, enjoying the time we spend together. Later, my wife and I can eat and actually take pleasure in the experience of our food. But that, apparently, is a very big problem.

We live in the era of the family dinner, or, more appropriately, The Family Dinner™, an institution so grimly, unrelentingly invoked that I’ve come to assume it has its own press rep and brand manager. The Family Dinner™, so parents are told, is now recognized as one of the greatest pillars of child-rearing, a nightly tradition you ignore at your peril, since that way lie eating disorders, obesity, drug use and even, according to a recent study out of McGill University, an increased risk of the meal skipper being cyberbullied.

O.K., there is some truth in all of this. Sit your kids down at the table and talk with them over dinner every day and you have a better chance of controlling what they eat, learning about their friends, and sussing out if they’re troubled about something or up to no good. But as with so much in the way of health trends in a gluten-free, no-carb, low-fat nation, enough, at some point, is enough.

For one thing, the always invoked, dew-kissed days of the entire nuclear family sitting down to a balanced, home-cooked meal were less than they’re cracked up to be. Ever hear of the Loud family? Ever watch an episode of Mad Men — particularly one that plays out in the Draper kitchen? Welcome to family dinner in the boomer era.

Much more important, as a new study from North Carolina State University shows, the dinner-hour ideal is simply not possible for a growing number of families. The researchers, a trio of sociologists and anthropologists, spent 18 months conducting extensive interviews with 150 white, African-American and Latina mothers from across the socioeconomic spectrum, and an additional 250 hours observing 12 lower-income and poor families to get at the truth of what’s possible at mealtime and what’s not.

The first problem, the moms in the study almost universally agree, is that it is always more time-consuming to prepare dinner than you think it will be. Michael Pollan, the ubiquitous author and food activist, has written, “Today, the typical American spends a mere twenty-seven minutes a day on food preparation, and another four minutes cleaning up. That’s less than half the time spent cooking and cleaning in 1965.” To which I say, huh? And so do the moms in the study.

“I just hate the kitchen,” said one. “I know I can cook but it’s the planning of the meal, and seeing if they’re going to like it, and the mess that you make, and then the mess afterwards.” Added another: “I don’t want to spend an hour cooking after I pick [my daughter] up from school every day.” All of that sounds a lot more familiar to me than Pollan’s rosy 27+4 formulation.

Even if prep time weren’t a problem, dealing with the scheduling vagaries in two-income households can require day-to-day improvisation that makes regular, predictable mealtimes impossible. One couple studied by the NC State researchers worked for the same fast-food company in different parts of the state. Both parents often don’t know the next day’s schedule until the night before, which means inventing dinner plans on the fly and often calling on a grandmother for help. That kind of scrambling is part of what the researchers describe as “invisible labor,” work that is every bit as much a part of dinner as preparing and serving the food, but is rarely acknowledged.

Finally, there is the eternal struggle of trying to prepare a meal that everyone at the table will tolerate — a high-order bit of probability math in which the number of acceptable options shrinks as the number of people who get to weigh in grows. “I don’t need it, I don’t want it, I never had it!” declared one 4-year-old in one observed household. Parents throughout history have dealt with that kind of reaction with all manner of wheedling, bargaining and here-comes-the-airplane-into-the-hangar games, to say nothing of one mother in the study who simply turned a timer on and told her child to keep eating until the buzzer sounded.

Again, none of these problems diminish the psychological and nutritional value of a family sitting down to eat a home-prepared meal together — but perhaps that meal should be an aspirational option, not a nightly requirement. The family-dinner ideal, the authors write, has become “a tasty illusion, one that is moralistic and rather elitist … Intentionally or not, it places the burden of a healthy, home-cooked meal on women.”

With that said, I shall now open some wine and grill my wife and myself some salmon. After all, the girls are in bed.

TIME Family

There Is No Longer Any Such Thing as a Typical Family

THE SIMPSONS: The Simpson Family.  THE SIMPSONS ™ and © 2013 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Fox

It has been displaced by a vast array of different living arrangements, a new study confirms

Pretty much everyone agrees that the era of the nuclear family, with a dad who went to work and the mom who stayed at home, has declined to the point of no return. The big question is: What is replacing it? Now a new study suggests that nothing is — or rather, that a whole grab bag of family arrangements are. More Americans are in families in which both parents work outside the home than in any other sort, but even so, that’s still only about a third.

University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen, the author of The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change, released his new study on Sept 4. He identifies the three biggest changes in family life in the past 50 years as the decline of marriage (in 2010, 45% of households were headed by a married couple, whereas in 1960 it was close to 66%); the rise of the number of women in the paid workforce; and the whole stew of blended, remarried and co-habiting families.

Families headed by single moms‚ whether divorced, widowed or never married, are now almost as numerous as families that have a stay-at-home mom and a breadwinner dad — about 22% and 23%, respectively. There’s been a marked in rise in people living alone and in unrelated people living together.

This is a huge change from the 1960s. “In 1960 you would have had an 80% chance that two children, selected at random, would share the same situation. By 2012, that chance had fallen to just a little more than 50-50,” says Cohen. “It is really impossible to point to a ‘typical’ family.”

To make his point, Cohen has created a chart, with what he calls a “peacock’s tail” of changes from 1960 to now, fanning out from a once dominant category:

Sources: the 1960 US Census and the 2012 American Community Survey, with data from IPUMS.org.

As you can see, about as many children are being taken care of by grandparents as are by single dads. Co-habiting parents, who barely registered in 1960, now look after 7% of kids. Meanwhile married parents who are getting by on just dad’s income are responsible for about a third of the proportion of households they were responsible for in 1960.

And the diversity goes deeper than the chart suggests. “The increasing complexity of families means that even people who appear to fit into one category — for example, married parents — are often carrying with them a history of family diversity such as remarriage, or parenting children with more than one partner,” says Cohen.

All of this is important Cohen notes, because policy is sometimes based on a one-size-fits-all model, which is no longer viable. “Different families have different child-rearing challenges and needs, which means we are no longer well-served by policies that assume most children will be raised by married-couple families, especially ones where the mother stays home throughout the children’s early years,” writes Cohen.

He cites social security as one policy stuck in the past: legal marriage and the earnings of a spouse determine retirement security for so many people. “A more rational pension system for our times would be a universal system not tied to the earnings of other family members,” he says. He also thinks universal preschool is long overdue, now that so many children’s mothers are out working.

And what of same-sex parents? Why aren’t they in Cohen’s chart? Because, although they get a lot of the attention, there simply aren’t enough of them to register yet. According to Cohen fewer than 1% of kids belong in families of this category. Even that figure may not be accurate, he says, because “at least half of the apparently same-sex couples in census data are really the 1-in-1,000 straight couples in which someone mismarked the sex box.”

Gotta love statistics.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser