Released March 24, 2003

FORUM SPEAKER URGES REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
OF CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN FAMILY
by David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG - Those who yearn for a time when the American family supposedly resembled Ozzie and Harriet may be better off hoping it can be as cohesive as reality television's "The Osbournes."

Blaming society's ills on an increase in single parents raising children and nontraditional families is short-sighted, said Tuesday's University of Southern Mississippi University Forum speaker. Stephanie Coontz's presentation, "The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms with America's Changing Families and the New Roles of Women," was an attempt by the renowned author, historian and family studies scholar to dispel myths associated with the nostalgia some have for a 1950s lifestyle.

"Of course two good parents are better than one," said Coontz, who also cautioned that the adjective "good" should be carefully examined. "Two cooperating parents are not always easy to

get."

Coontz said statistics show that poverty, teen births, teen violence and suicide among youth – issues many claim are connected to the decline of the traditional two-parent family – began declining in the 1990s at a time when single parents increased. She added that even now, more single, unwed parents have a partner helping with child rearing and that surveys show more divorced parents working to ease the stress of their separation on their children through cooperation and positive communication practices. Coontz claimed that, contrary to popular belief, other statistics show working women are as likely to spend as much quality time with their children as stay-at-home moms. "They don't neglect their children," she said.

Coontz also described as a "hidden benefit" of families with two working parents the increase in fathers engaged in hands-on child care. Coontz said studies show boys who have more contact with their father display more social-cooperation skills and girls are more likely to achieve in academic areas traditionally dominated by males, such as math.

Coontz pointed to the dark side of the alleged "good old days," including the 1950s and before, when the legal system turned a blind eye to racism and even domestic violence as a man's wife was viewed more as a possession than an equal partner. "Romanticizing the '50s is not really helpful," she said of attempts to cope with issues in contemporary society.

An increase in the rights of women and their economic power over time allowed them to not only escape dysfunctional and abusive marriages, Coontz said, but bring more prosperity to their families.

Coontz teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and is the national co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families. She is the author of six books on the history of the family, including The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (1992) and The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms With America's Changing Families (1997). Coontz has written for a variety of publications,

including the Washington Post, The New York Times, and popular magazines such as Vogue, and she has appeared on many television programs, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, and CNN's Crossfire. Coontz has also testified about her research before the House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families in Washington, D.C., and addressed audiences all over America and Europe. She is currently working on a book on the history of marriage.

Coontz's lecture was part of a series of events in recognition of Women's History Month.

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July 9, 2003 11:33 AM

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