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What's in Store for the Family?

January 01, 1986|DOUG BROWN and DENNIS McLELLAN and LYNN SMITH and LIZ MULLEN | Times staff writers

Back in the days of Eisenhower, "Ozzie and Harriet" and Hula Hoops, sociologists described the family as "two members of the opposite sex who co-habitated and had children as a result of that cohabitation," says Roberta Berns, a professor of Human Development at Saddleback College.

Since then, the family has undergone a force-10 shock--splintering and regrouping in endless combinations of ages, sexes and relationships.

"The new definition of a family is two people or more living in the same household, and those two people could be mother and daughter, man and woman, mother and grandmother or any combination," according to Berns, author of the textbook "Child, Family, Community."

To find out what's in store for these families, View surveyed a variety of community leaders and experts, asking what they believe to be the most significant issue facing Orange County families in 1986.

Many responded with the problems that have captured headlines in recent years: child care, child abuse, stress, communication and chemical addictions. Others had more surprising observations. Here are some of their predictions:

Roberta Berns, professor and chairwoman of the human development department at Saddleback College and author of "Child, Family, Community" (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985): "There will be more pressure for employers to meet the needs of the changing family," said Berns, referring to dual-career families and single-parent families. Other estimates differ, but she said that only 7% of American families have the traditional structure with the male breadwinner and the woman staying home and raising the children. "But the interesting thing is that the figures are reversed for the top executives of top companies; 93% of them are traditional. They're the ones who have to be educated."

In addition to providing on-site child care, car pools or flexible work schedules, some employers, Berns said, have also offered child care in a benefits package and some have banded together to provide sick-child care. Others are considering letting promotable employees choose the timing of their promotions so that it is convenient for the entire family, she said. Berns also suggested that employers consider counseling services for parents under stress, parent education classes during the lunch hour and family recreation services and parties.

"The structure of the family is changing," she said. "Whether we like it or don't like it, that's the way it is. A lot of people say it should be the way it was, but you can't deal with shoulds. You have to deal with what is."

Martin Benson, artistic director of South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa: "The thing that comes immediately to mind is the disappearance of the neighborhood as an institution." The problem is significant for Orange County families, he said. "A major part of what we like to think of as the American Dream, the family-owned home, is getting to be a virtual impossibility. Certainly many people, particularly actors, can't afford to live in Orange County full time. They'd like to, but there's no way they can do it.

Benson said he lives with his son, who is 16. "I am fortunate to live in an old part of Huntington Beach where all my son's friends live within a block or so. There's a real sense of community. We all know each other."

Whenever he has to travel, Benson said, parents in the neighborhood are always willing to keep his son for a few days. "I wouldn't have that in any other community."

Alta Yetter Gale, Orange County labor market analyst for the California Employment Development Department: "I think about job security. People want to know they have income to take care of their families."

Next year, economic growth will continue at a moderate pace, notably in the service and trade industries, she said. But some layoffs of some middle-management and blue-collar workers in manufacturing might be expected, she said.

There are now 57,000 unemployed people in Orange County, Gale said. It is a low percentage, but "each one of those people is 100% unemployed. It's not a comfort to them to know lots of other people have jobs.

"For them, especially the newly arrived immigrants and those in the lower end of the job scale where there's a lot of turnover, it's really tough when they don't have savings to tide them over between jobs."

Tim Timmons, pastor of the 8,500-member, nondenominational Christian South Coast Community Church in Irvine and author of "Maximum Marriage" and "Hooked on Living": Substance abuse and the deterioration of the family "are critical issues right now. People haven't made a commitment to be a family. They've got the time; they're just not making it."

Timmons said many people are walking on the edge of the success dilemma--trying to decide whether to spend more time at work or more time with their families. Timmons added that "even though the woman may be working, the dad sees himself as (just) the paycheck" and still isn't doing his share as a father and husband.

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