Over the years, we've seen family structures move to less Leave It to Beaver and more Modern Family. In fact, a recently released Pew Research Center study shows that now, less than half (46 percent) of all children in the United States live in a home that falls under the former description of a "traditional" family -- households that consist of two heterosexual partners in a first marriage.
Today, more and more children are being raised by single parents (34 percent, up from 19 percent in 1980), gay parents, unmarried parents, two parents in a remarriage, by grandparents.... and for the first time in documented history, these non-traditional home settings outnumber the traditional.
So, how does this "new normal" affect the children?
Here's what I think: I believe that no matter what family structure children grow up with, all children have the same opportunities for successful, happy lives as long as their caregivers meet the following four critical needs.
1. You must meet your children where they are.
No two children are alike, and just because something worked for you as a child or worked for another child does not mean it will work for your child. I believe that when you acknowledge your child's individuality, when you truly listen to him, see him and meet him where he is emotionally, mentally and physically, then he will be ready for whatever steps he must take to grow and flourish.
2. You must keep your children safe.
When children feel safe, they are more likely to try new things, to grow, to make mistakes and to learn on their own within the cocoon of your security. By being there for them when they need you, you are showing them that they can rely on you, no matter what. This builds a relationship of not only love, but of trust, respect, and security. When your children feel safe and trust you, they are more likely to talk about their problems with you, come to you when they need help, and share the good, the bad and the ugly of their days with you.
3. You must socialize and culturize your children.
It is your responsibility to teach your children about the appropriate rules for life. In addition to teaching them manners, show them what it is like to be a good citizen of the world, to have empathy for others and how to navigate society by following generally accepted behavior while still maintaining their unique identity.
4. You must shower your children with love and affection.
You can never love your children too much. Show your children you love them by telling them each day, by showering them with hugs and kisses, by reading with them at night. When children know how much they are loved, they feel safe and less anxious. They are learning from you how to show love and affection to others, so that they can be intimate and trust their relationships with friends and partners.
These four pillars are common needs that must be met by all families in order for children to have the greatest opportunities for success. As long as there is a lot of love in the household, you meet children's needs, socialize and culturalize them, and keep them safe, then that is what counts.
Yes, the definition of a "traditional" family is changing. That doesn't mean the definition and importance of family is changing. As a society, we have to get real and deal with what we have, which is a very diverse range of family structures. We must operate within the "new normal," not discriminate against it. We must embrace it and move forward with a focus on our future: Our children.