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Donna M. Butts Headshot
Susan Dreyfus Headshot

Modern Family Relationships Support a Strong America

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Phil Dunphy, Modern Family's "cool dad" said, never be afraid to reach for the stars because even if you fall, you'll always be wearing a parentchute.

He's right. A parachute is a cloth canopy filled with air that allows an attached person to descend slowly enough to make a safe landing.

Today's modern families benefit from a parachute made stronger by another protective factor: more living generations than ever before.

This chute is woven not by parents alone, but by extended family such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and others who work together to allow all generations of a family to not only land safely, but also thrive.

In recognition of the International Year of the Family, which was first declared by the United Nations on May 15 20 years ago, the Alliance for Children and Families and Generations United set about taking America's temperature on family connections across generations.

Our report, "Intergenerational Family Connections: The Relationships that Support a Strong America," shared the results of a recent survey of adults 18 and older. Issued as part of the social work journal Families in Society's new survey series, Committing to Our Families, we found:

Family members are interdependent on each other and give of their time and financial resources.

We were struck by the degree to which family members reported helping each other financially to meet basic needs.

Of those surveyed, 61 percent said they give money for basic needs such as housing, food, clothing, and transportation with an annual average of more than $3,800. Second they contributed to medical expenses, with 41percent saying they contribute over $1,100 annually.

Family members give each other time too, with 74 percent saying they spend time giving social and/or emotional support. One in two help each other with transportation, six in ten give time for chores or maintenance, and four in ten give time for child care or caregiving.

Hispanic respondents reported they are significantly more likely to contribute money and time, and at higher percentages, in all support areas. Given our country's changing demographics and our rapidly increasing Hispanic population, this bodes well for strong American families for years to come.

Families are connected and care.

Family connections nurture resilience. Of those surveyed, 85 percent agreed their family members trust each other, and 87 percent indicated they support each other. In good and bad times, 88 percent reported they laugh together.

Technology can help families support each other and sustain connections.

While debate continues to surround technology like texting, instant messaging, social media, email, and video conferencing and its effect on personal relationships, families are embracing its benefits. Seven out of ten surveyed said technology has made it easier to support a family member. Of these, 56 percent said they use it to stay connected and 55 percent to communicate frequently. Only 7 percent said technology has made them feel isolated from one another.

All told, the vast majority of those surveyed said they were strongly connected with living family members.

Yet many of our public policies and work environments aren't designed to support the web of care and connections among all generations of a family that are essential for a strong America.

Policy makers, business leaders, and others need to do their part to support families. We call on decision makers and other leaders to strengthen the parentchute by supporting the familychute. Consider the following:

1. Create policies and practices that ensure equitable access to resources that strengthen family connections and resiliency for all income levels, but particularly for families with household incomes of less than $50,000.

2. Consider the factors in many Hispanic families that build family connections and explore how they might be promoted and adapted when designing supports for families that report less cohesion.

3. Enact policies and practices that support and ultimately grow the financial and time exchanges already happening in families across generations in areas such as health care, education, and caregiving in order to achieve the greatest social and financial impact.

4. Improve access to, and use of, new technology to strengthen connections between family members of all ages.

As we join others around the world celebrating the International Year of the Family, let's vow to support the familychute working to ensure a safe landing for all generations in our families.

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Donna M. Butts is the executive director of Generations United. Susan Dreyfus is the President and CEO of the Alliance for Children and Families.