The following article posted today on the news.com.au site reports on the changing face of family life in Australia.
FAMILIES may still be the fabric of society – but these days they often look very different to the traditional married couple and kids.
One in four families are now classified as “non-intact”, according to a report entitled Families: Then and Now from the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
That’s up from just one in 10 families in 1980.
The most common type of split family is single parent households, most often a divorced or separated mother and her offspring.
But the term also covers households where all offspring are stepchildren to one or both parents, as well as “blended” families where at least one child is the product of the current relationship and at least one child is from a previous partnership.
The number of babies born out of wedlock has also skyrocketed in recent decades.
Unmarried parents now account for one in three births, compared with about 10 per cent of births in 1980 and just 5 per cent in 1960.
Prof Alan Hayes, director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, said the make-up of a family mattered less than what went on within it.
“The form of a family has changed quite a bit, but what’s more important than the form is how families function – whether they’re places in which people are safe and children are protected, well-nurtured and developed well,” he said.
Prof Hayes also said the rise in divorce and emergence of blended, step and lone-parent families was only to be expected as people’s lifespans lengthened.
“The dynamic has changed a lot and partly that reflects the incredible increase in life expectancy,” he said.
“When you go back to the 15th and 16th century ’til death do us part’ wasn’t such a long time, but of course these days ’til death us do part’ is a very long time.”
The number of couples divorcing once their children left school was a worry.
“What’s already a concern is the break-up of relationships later in life and the financial impact of that, particularly on women,” he said.
“These things are often linked to the age of the children. People often stay together for the sake of the children while they’re still dependent.
These changes are, of course, no surprise to those in churches and schools who work with families on a regular basis. Ministry that assumes mum, dad and 2.5 kids is no longer appropriate in many settings. A fluid understanding of family is necessary, together with an appreciation of God’s grace and power at work in a wide variety of family types. I like Diana Garland’s various thoughts and writings on this point.
Interestingly, the Australian newspaper reports on the same statistics from the AIFS but from the opposite angle. Their article is titled “Family unit survives obituaries as it surfs social change” – they focus on the 72% of families that remain “intact” rather than the 28% defined as “non-intact”. A much better way to look at it, methinks!