On my radar: Mother’s Day in a modern family

2013-05-12 14:00

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mums out there. And to the married same-sex lesbian couples with children, happy Mother’s Day to both of you.

While the puritans saddle up and get on their high horses, the rest of us can be left in peace to contemplate the reality of the fast-changing concept of the modern family unit.

It is happening before our eyes and there is really nothing we can do about it. It’s called social evolution.

Before we even get into the same-sex marriage debate, the latest statistics for traditional married-couple households illustrate the enormous shift societies across the world are experiencing.

According to Future World, a global business and technology think-tank, married-couple households in the UK are now in a significant minority at 35% (down from 47% in 2010 and 51% in 2001), while the number of single adults heading families has risen by 6?million.

The report says the main reasons for this shift are the increasing social acceptance of not being married, coupled with the fact that divorce has become a simple formality.

In South Africa, the pattern is similar. Of the 15?million households counted in Census 2011, only a third were “traditional” families consisting of married parents and their children.

As for single-parent households and, in particular, households headed by women, that number has increased to 14% of the population – so a well-deserved Mother’s Day shoutout to those mums in particular.

But despite the disintegration (or reinvention) of the traditional family unit, moral values have, ironically, risen sharply. In the same Future World survey, they found that about 59% of heads of families feel they live a more moral and honest life today than they did in 2010.

Teenaged children have also apparently come to terms with these new arrangements, showing a significant increase in respect for parents (of 40%) compared with the 2001 survey.

As with all change, especially when the status quo is challenged, it is understandably the older generation that has difficulty adapting. On the question of same-sex marriage, many analysts have commented that in a few years from now, most people younger than 40 will wonder what the fuss was all about. But for now, there is a lot of fuss.

Same-sex marriage has become the “new” human rights issue in politics across the globe. Last month, following a two-thirds majority parliamentary vote in New Zealand to legalise same-sex marriage, France became the 14th country to pass the same legislation.

Opposition has been fierce, but as Time magazine journalist David Von Drehle observed about the American debate: “The verdict on same-sex marriage has been rendered by rapidly shifting public opinion and by the swing-vote politicians scrabbling to keep up with it. With stunning speed, a concept dismissed even by most gay-rights leaders just 20 years ago is now embraced by half or more of all Americans, with the support of young voters running as high as four to one.”

Same-sex marriage and, with it, a new, modern family unit, will eventually be the new norm, but in the interim, there will be many battles, as married lesbian couple Samantha and Kally Mabe have discovered. They were given the ultimatum by Secunda Highveld Christian School in Mpumalanga to either get divorced or remove their five-year-old son from the school.

The SA Human Rights Commission has reported that complaints involving this kind of discrimination at schools are on the rise. The journey from legislation to social acceptance is always a long and bumpy one.

In terms of popular culture, though, a different picture emerges. The award-winning TV sitcom Modern Family, which deals with new family units, including a male same-sex couple who have adopted a Vietnamese baby, has been nominated for no fewer than 92 entertainment awards, of which the series has won 29.

Ironically, Mitt Romney – a conservative Mormon Republican opposing gay marriage – has publicly acknowledged that even he is a huge fan of the show.

Go figure. Now in its fourth season, Modern Family is not only mirroring social change in the world, but paving the way for the acceptance of nontraditional family units.

In the Netherlands, Queen Beatrice has just abdicated in favour of her eldest son, Willem-Alexander. He is married to a former investment banker from Argentina, who is much loved by the Dutch. Just like the Colombian character Gloria in Modern Family, the new queen brings a touch of sultry South American glamour to an otherwise staid royal family. Her title will be Queen Maxima, which has a soap opera ring to it you just can’t make up.

As Oscar Wilde said: “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”

»?Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. Visit www.fluxtrends.com

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