All in the Family: A family slide show album from Away We Go to anything goes

Slide 1: The Journey Begins

In Away We Go, 33-year-old Burt Farlander (John Krasinski) and 34-year-old Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph), an unmarried couple, discover they are going to have a baby. But if home is a haven in a heartless world, then their small exurban Colorado ranch house—one step up from a trailer—with a primitive electrical system and a window patched with cardboard is no haven.

Slide 2: But what is a family?

Nor do Burt and Verona have a community—friends and relatives—to help them raise their child, to help them be parents. Verona’s parents are dead and Burt’s parents, in the pursuit of self-actualization, are moving to Antwerp, Belgium, abandoning their first, yet-to-be born grandchild. So Burt and Verona hit the road—traveling to four states and one province in search of a place that they can call home, where they can become a family. Burt asks Verona: “Are we nuts?” Verona replies, “We’ll look around. We agree we need to be near some kind of family some friends—something, some connection, someone we know.” But what is family?

Slide 3: First Comes Marriage

Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina begins with what may be one of the most-quoted opening lines in literature, “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. ” In the 1935 film Anna Karenina, Anna (Greta Garbo) and her husband Alexei (Basil Rathbone) are unhappy. Burt and Verona think that they can be a happy family if they have a support network. Writing in the Times of London, Stephanie Coontz, the preeminent family historian and author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage observed: “Even the best-matched couples need to find gratification and support from sources other than their partner. When they don't … they have less to offer each other and fewer ways to replenish their relationship. Often the marriage buckles under the weight of the partners' expectations that each will fulfill all the other's needs.”

Slide 4: Family as an evolving idea
Yet concern with the individual’s emotional needs is a relatively   recent historical development. From an evolutionary perspective, families are necessary first and foremost for survival. Of all   mammals, humans take the longest to develop into adults—and   live the longest as adults. Consequently, throughout human   history a family structure, in one form or another, has existed to nurture and protect the   young and to tend to and care for the aged. Above, Charles Knight’s “Neanderthal Flint Workers” (1926) which shows a family at the Le Moustier cave in southern France hangs in the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Slide 5: Early Family Values

One of the earliest family units on record were buried together about 4,600 years ago in what is now Eulau, Germany. This mother, father and two children belonged to what is called the Corded Ware Culture, which dates from the Copper Age. The family died a violent death—their skulls were crushed and their forearms exhibited defense wounds. However, the family was buried carefully, indicating that survivors of their community had laid them to rest. Speaking of the 2005 discovery, archaeologist Wolfgang Haak said, “By establishing the genetic links between the two adults and two children buried together in one grave, we have established the presence of the classic nuclear family in a prehistoric context in Central Europe.”

Slide 6: Family as Contract

The Oxford English Dictionary dates the term “nuclear family” to 1924. But in modern history, what we call nuclear family has its origins in northwestern Europe during the emergence of an industrial and capitalist society during the 17th and 18th century, when families of two parents and their offspring became financially viable social organizations. Yet even then, marriage was less an institution to promote emotional self-fulfillment, than an economic contract binding together two families and their property. Holland, the birthplace of capitalism, is also one of the places in northwestern Europe where the modern family originated. Shown here is “Portrait of a Man and a Woman in an Interior” by Eglon van der Neer (17th Century).

Slide 7: Family as units of labor
But the development of the middle-class nuclear family was not a boon to the poor. Stephanie Coontz, in her book The Way We Never Were: American Familes and the Nostalgia Trap (1992) wrote: “For every nineteenth-century middle-class family that protected its wife and child within the family circle, there was an Irish or a German girl scrubbing floors in that home, a Welsh boy mining coal to keep the home-baked goodies warm, a black girl doing the family laundry, a black mother and child picking cotton to be made into clothes for the family, and a Jewish or an Italian daughter in a sweatshop making ‘ladies’ dresses or artificial flowers for the family to purchase.” In this 1911 photograph by Lewis Hines, boys toil at the Pennsylvania Coal Company in South Pittston, Pa. Hines, a sociologist and photographer, wrote, “The dust was so dense at times as to obscure the view. This dust penetrated the utmost recesses of the boys' lungs. A kind of slave-driver sometimes stands over the boys, prodding or kicking them into obedience.”
Slide 8: Tragic Love
By the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, an   ascendant middle class—liberated by the Enlightenment ideals—began to attach “being in love” as a necessary part of marriage. Prior to then, love and marriage were often in conflict, the source of great tragedy. For Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, consummation of their love was thwarted by feuding families who refused to be joined in marriage. Pre-Raphealite Painter Francis Dicksee’ 1884 painting “Romeo and Juliet.”
Slide 10: Family as an evolving idea
A papercut, called   a “scherenschnitte,” was one way that people expressed their love in the early 19th century. The heart, representing a ring, is like true love it that it has no beginning and no end. Stephanie   Coontz writing in the Times of London, observes: “Through most of history, it was considered dangerously antisocial to be too   emotionally attached to one's spouse, because that diluted   loyalties to family, neighbors, and society at large. … When couples first began to go on honeymoons in the 19th century they   often took family and friends along for company.”
Slide 10: The power of “opposite marriage”

Coontz continues: “But as modern economic and political trends eroded traditional dependencies on neighbors and local institutions, people began to focus more of their emotions on love and marriage. Society came to view intense same-sex ties with suspicion. Psychologists urged people to rebuff family and neighbors who might compete with the nuclear family for attention. In the postwar ‘Golden Age of Marriage’ people began expecting their spouse to meet more and more of their needs.”

Slide 11: The Nuclear Family in the Atomic Age

In the ideal 1950s family, the husband worked outside the home and the wife—freed from having to take a job outside the home to support the war effort—was relegated to raising the family. Yet the domestic ideal was not all that it seemed. Coontz writes, “The weaknesses of this marriage model soon became apparent. Housewives discovered that they could not find complete fulfillment in domesticity. Many men also felt diminished when they gave up older patterns of socializing to cocoon in the nuclear family. The women's movement of the 1960s offered a better balance—fairer, more intimate marriages combined with social engagement outside the home. But in the past few decades, our speeded-up global economy has made balance harder and harder to attain, leading us to seek ever more meaning and satisfaction in love and marriage.”

Slide 12: Learning to be a Parent
Yet satisfaction is hard to find, as Burt and Verona discover during a cross-country tour where they meet examples of the modern American family in various stages of dysfunction. Burt and Verona’s confusion about what they should be as parents reflects a general cultural malaise. Parents today, unhappy with the shortcomings of the traditional nuclear family, try to find their own way. They turn to books, magazines like Babytalk, classes and websites, all of which show them what parents should be—and almost all of which traffic in stoking parental insecurities and, then, providing the necessary remedy.
Slide 13: A Parent Superiority

In Madison, Burt and Verona visit LN Fisher Herrin (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a professor at the University of Wisconsin. RN is the type of mother who reads the PhDinParenting blog. In a recent blog post, “Pushing Away: Away-facing strollers stress babies,” PhDinParenting passed on this news: “Parents who choose a stroller that seats their baby facing away from them could risk long-term development problems in their children … the study by Dundee University’s School of Psychology calls into question the designs of many of the world’s most popular baby strollers.” opines, “Just one more reason why babywearing is such a great way to promote attachment with your child.”

Slide 14: Making the Breast of being a Parent

Burt and Verona meet LN her office. She is with her children, a baby and her four-year-old son, Wolf. One child is sucking her right teat, the other her left. A parody, not quite. Here is what PhDinParenting had do say about breastfeeding: “Day in and day out, I keep hearing and reading the term Breastfeeding Nazi used to describe lactation consultants, La Leche League leaders, breastfeeding advocates and other lactivists. I think it is completely inappropriate. First, lactivists have not killed millions of people like the Nazis did.”

Slide 15: Not Every Mother

Burt and Verona find the other extreme of mothering in Miami, where they visit Burt’s brother Courtney (Paul Schneider). Courtney’s wife has inexplicably abandoned him and their daughter Annabelle (Isabelle Moon Alexander). Speaking to Verona, Burt says: “She’s gone. This family can’t be fixed. That’s it. What if one of us freaks out like that?” Verona replies: “We won’t. And it can be fixed and you know it.” But these days, Courtney and Annabelle, as a representative family unit, are in the majority.

Slide 16: Keeping the promise of marriage

During the current hoorah over gay marriage, to hear the conservative punditocracy tell it, you would think that marriage is an age-old immutable institution. Yet in U.S. history, the marriage contract has been a continuously developing legal institution. While the American colonies required that marriages be officially registered, up until the mid-19th century state supreme courts ruled that cohabitation was valid evidence of marriage.

Slide 17: Big(amy) Love

Through much of the 19th Century, Mormons practiced polygamy. Church founder Joseph Smith had 33 wives, two of whom were 14 years old. (Brigham Young had 55.) Smith held that Jesus himself enjoyed plural marriage, as this modern Mormon painting suggests. In 1890, the Mormon Church disavowed polygamy, however it continues to be practiced on the down low. Today the Mormon is a leading funder of the anti-gay marriage movement, though critics suggest this latter day Bible thumping is a mainstreaming PR stunt to divert attention from their polygamous past—and “Big Love” present.

Slide 18: The Rules of the Game

But at the end of the 19th century, the state began to strictly regulate who could be marriage and who could not. Writing in the New York Times, Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., observes: “By the 1920s, 38 states prohibited whites from marrying blacks, mulattos, Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Mongolians, Malays or Filipinos. Twelve states would not issue a marriage license if one partner was a drunk, an addict or a mental defect. Eighteen states set barriers to remarriage after divorce. In the mid-20th century, governments began to get out of the business of deciding which couples were fit to marry. Courts invalidated laws against interracial marriage, struck down other barriers and even extended marriage rights to prisoners.”

Slide 19: Marriage loses momentum
Coontz continues, “In the 1950s, using the marriage license as a shorthand way to distribute benefits and legal privileges made some sense because almost all adults were married. Cohabitation and single parenthood by choice were very rare. Today, however, possession of a marriage license tells us little about peoples interpersonal responsibilities. Half of all Americans aged 25 to 29 are unmarried, and many of them already have incurred obligations as partners, parents or both.”   Indeed, on the United States less than 25 percent of families are nuclear families that consist of a mother, father and their children. In 2006, for the   first time in history (and six years after the creation of the above   graph) less than 50 percent of family units were made up of   couples whose partnership is sanctified by the state. In other words, these days 51 percent of family units do not consist of   married partners. Furthermore, today, 40 percent of children born in America do not have married parents.
Slide 20: Eight is Enough

The Open University of London, on its Web site, delineates eight family structures, one of which is “nuclear.” The Open University advises its social work students: “Practitioners need a good knowledge of the many forms that families can take. It's important not to make the assumption that most children live with a mother and a father who are married.” In the United States, for example, an estimated 8 and 10 million children are being raised in gay and lesbian households.

Slide 21: Showing off your Family
Enter the postmodern family. Here Marc, Thor and their daughter Lily pose for a campaign in Milwaukee, Wisc., in which 30 billboards “billboards show images of real families and showcase their values of love, family and commitment.” Brian K. Williams, Stacey C. Sawyer, Carl M. Wahlstrom in their 2005 book Marriages, Families & Intimate Relationships write, “The old definition of what a family is ... the nuclear family—no longer seems adequate to cover the   wide diversity of household arrangements we see today … Thus   has arisen the term postmodern family, which is meant to   describe the great variability in family forms, including single parent   families and child-free couples.”
Slide 22: Family as Adventure
Increasingly, gays and lesbians, both as singles and as couples, are entering into co-parenting relationships in which both parents/couples raise the children. However, more men than women are interested in such arrangements. Alison Bedor of the Lesbian and Gay Co-Parenting Group told the BBC, “Most women who contact us are looking for donors, not co-parents, but most men want an active involvement.” Most but not all. In April, one L.A. woman, advertising for co-parenting partners, posted an ad which read in part: “[At] least for the first few years of the child's life, we would live together and parent the child as a team. Down the road, as the child's biological parents, we would arrive at a mutually beneficial custody arrangement.” Here Steve, a gay man who is one of the subjects of the Canadian documentary Fatherhood Dreams, enjoys his two daughters and his lesbian co-parents.
Slide 23: Going it Alone

Single Mothers by Choice is an organization that serves single women who decide to have or adopt a child. The group’s website describes their members this way: “Typically, we are career women in our thirties and forties. The ticking of our biological clocks has made us face the fact that we could no longer wait for marriage before starting our families. … Most of us would have preferred to bring a child into the world with two loving parents, but although we have a lifetime to marry or find a partner, nature is not as generous in allotting child-bearing years.”

Slide 24: Every Family Different in its own way

With both the demise of the economy and what was once known as “the generation gap,” extended families, or intergenerational families, are making a resurgence. Between 2000 and 2007, the number of parents living with their adult children increased 67 percent to 3.6 million. In December 2008, USA Today reported: “Twenty-somethings who move back in with their parents after college are often lamented as ‘boomerangs.’ But that term may need expanding now to include increasing numbers of seniors and baby boomers—you can call them ‘baby boomerangs’—who are taking up residence with their adult children and even grandchildren.” Coontz, shown here is also the author of The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms with America’s Changing Families (1997), told USA Today, “It's a return to much closer intergenerational ties than we saw through much of the 20th century.”   

Slide 25: The Family Triangle
The conceptions of what makes up a family are ever evolving. Take the   family of Sam Cagnina, Steven Margolin and Samantha Singh, a   poly-amorous family unit whose life is chronicled in the 2004   documentary Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Family. Anita Gates, Reviewing the movie for the New York Times writes, Anita Gates writes, “The film follows them as they shock people—at Mr. Cagnina's 20-year high school reunion, for instance—and beam a little smugly about their superior form of happiness. People aren't always that horrified, though. Mr. Cagnina's father, who has a prison record, says, ‘It would have been worse news if you'd told me you wanted to be a cop.’ ”
Slide 26: All You Need is...

In Away We Go, Burt and Verona find a solution that is a bit simpler. They end up, not in a rundown exurban ranch house, but in the clap-board Victorian farmhouse in rural South Carolina, in which Verona grew up. Yet they are alone, with themselves, ready to start a nuclear family, having discovered that all that is needed for them to be a successful family themselves—at least in their dreams.


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