The family in the United States must first be seen as families. While there is a patina of similarity that is viewed worldwide as an American cultural interpretation of the family, it is not true that American families either act or want to act in these stereotypical patterns. The variety and adaptability of family relationships is a particular strength of this family system. The roots of this diversity are found in the many cultures represented by immigrants to the New World, the vast regional differences in climate, economy, and specific migrations, and innovations and integrations of separate families and sub-cultural groups.
Definitions of the family have several functions in the professional study of families, the design and implementation of programs and treatments, education and training of specialists in family studies, and the political and policy discourse and evaluation of the impact on families of different strategies. In the broader society understandings of families are based on personal experiences, media portrayals, and institutional regulation. Theoretically, much attention has been given to the issue of definition in family studies in the United States, as well as internationally, especially in the last 15 years. Some aspects of the debate reach everyone in terms of social and economic support and recognition. Exploring a number of conceptual choices in proscribing what is meant by the term family, it is possible to leave out groups that are behaving as families or to include households who only share space, not family ties and support. “The fluid quality of the word family makes it especially useful for political propagandizing and as a residual variable in societal studies”. If anything, this political discourse has become more intense in the United States, and the implications have become more critical to the health and well-being of individuals and families.
Cultural and Historic Influences on U.S. Families
U.S. families have had many innovative alternatives and historic social movements, and experimental and reform groups have been created for social change in the modern society. In the early 19th century, there were new communities that featured new family roles and structures and forged different relationships between men and women. These groups introduced “new patterns of religious and social life” and forecast “radical social change, community formation and sex-role organization” in alternative ways. More recently, small communal households were founded in the 1970s, perhaps as many as 45,000, and so-called open or multilateral families were started, with a few surviving today. The history of such groups as the Shakers, the Oneida Community, the Amish, and regional and social organizations, such as women's clubs, benevolence, missionary, evangelical, abolitionist, temperance, and labor movements, including family and gender alternatives, have considerable power in the rhetoric of family functioning and values today. Some historic experiments and survivals such as the Oneida Community and the Shakers are known now mostly as landmarks and curiosities having tourist interest. In contrast, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, sometimes known as the ...