If Beaver Cleaver were a boy in 2012, he might be living with his married parents and older brother as he did on the clean-cut 1950s TV show Leave It to Beaver. But chances are greater today that his parents would be divorced and he’d split his time between them.
Or, they’d be a couple who never got married. Or, Grandma would live with the family. Or, he’d have the option of spending the weekends with his older brother, who lives by himself in a life of perpetual bachelorhood.
The face of the family is changing, and Beaver’s 1950s household is being edged out by myriad family dynamics.
The number of households consisting of two-parent families with one or two children peaked in the 1950s, reaching a century-high of 43 percent, according to Penny Edgell in Religion and Family in a Changing Society.
Today, the most common household is made up of a married or cohabiting parental unit with children. But that too is changing, says Donna Holland, assistant professor of sociology at IPFW.
Increasingly, households are becoming multigenerational, defined as a family structure made up of at least two adult generations or one that skips a generation, or grandchildren living with their grandparents. One quarter of households are made up of people living alone.
Holland says a number of factors contribute to this change in the family. As divorce or the ending of a cohabitation relationship increases, it becomes less common for a child to grow up with both parents in the same household.
In addition, as adults pursue higher education past high school, the age of a person marrying for the first time or having a first child rises, she says. Right now, the average age for a first-time bride is 26.5 and for grooms, 28.7, the Pew Research Center reported in December.
The following households represent four of the many types of families found in northeast Indiana. They help tell the story of how families have changed – and continue to change – as relationships become redefined.
Two single moms
Earlier in her high school years, 18-year-old Abigail Rust rarely missed a day of school. She got good grades and was involved in extracurricular activities such as yearbook, marching band and the top jazz band offered at Northrop High School.
But that changed a few weeks after she turned 17 when Abigail gave birth to a baby girl, Olive Sophia.
She still keeps her grades up – her grade-point average is just above 3.5 – but she has had to drop the extra stuff. She also misses a day or two of school every week. That’s so she can help her mom with her daughter.
When Abigail found out she was pregnant, she didn’t believe it, she says. Teen pregnancy just doesn’t happen to girls like her – except when it does.
Although 2010 saw a record low in the number of teen pregnancies in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were still 367,752 babies born to women between the ages of 15 and 19 years old.
The majority of young women who decide to keep and raise their babies often end up living with their own mothers, sociology professor Holland says. Abigail and her daughter Olive live with Abigail’s mother, Teresa Rust, and her sister, Sylvia Rust, 14.
Teresa, like her daughter, is a single mom. She is divorced.
After Olive’s birth, Teresa’s life changed, too. She was working in home hospice care when Abigail became pregnant. She wanted her daughter to finish high school and go to college, and she knew that wouldn’t be possible if she had to be a full-time mom. So Teresa, 48, quit her job and opened a home child care, helping to care for Olive while Abigail is in school.
Abigail stresses how important education is. When she imagines her daughter’s future, it’s the No. 1 thing she wants for her.
I want her to have a good education, Abigail says, looking at the little girl seated in the middle of a toy race car track. I don’t know where that will be, but I want it to be somewhere nice and safe and of high quality. And I want to (have our) own place where she has her own room and her own bed and her own toys and whatever she wants. I don’t want to spoil her, but I do want her to be privileged.
But there are challenges for children born to teenage moms. They have a higher risk of poverty and a lower educational attainment, Holland says. Also, there is not a high likelihood of going on to college.
The key to bucking the stats, Holland says, is support.
What helps us alleviate those patterns is family support and utilizing services in a community with the goal being to ensure that that teen parent completes high school and then (the teen’s family) prepares them and assists them with the parenting and supporting that teen parent with that child, she says.
After graduation, Abigail will start as a freshman at the University of Saint Francis, where she will study to become a physician assistant. She and Olive will continue to live with Teresa.
When Teresa compares her life to her peers’, she knows it’s a little different.
Mine is still kind of crazy, she says. I don’t think I’ll be without a small person in my house for quite some time. I’m the grandma, but I have a little person in my home every day.
48, living at home
Homer Kip and Charlotte Kipling live in a two-story house in Fort Wayne. There is a family room with a television and a couch, as well as a kitchen and a sitting room with family portraits framed on the piano.
In the sitting room is a large picture window with a spot that would be a perfect reading nook with throw pillows and books. Instead, the Kiplings’ window seat is covered with Legos. There’s a large Lego ship, along with dozens of trucks and cars with little wheels and drivers. There’s also a pizzeria and more buildings.
The Kiplings’ daughter, Jane, puts the Lego creations together every winter and takes them apart every summer.
Jane, who turns 49 this month and is the youngest of three, has Down syndrome. She lives at home with her parents, as do the majority of adults with disabilities, Holland says.
Simply our society isn’t prepared to provide, nor willing to provide, institutionalized settings for all persons with disabilities, she says. That would be contrary to the value system. Generally speaking, we as a society steer away from using institutionalized settings. Period.
The Kiplings, who are in their 80s, never questioned where Jane would live. Kip and Charlotte always knew she’d live at home as long as they could take care of her, and when they are no longer able, Jane will move in with her sister, Patricia.
It was just always understood, from the time Jane was little: I’ll take care of her,’ Charlotte remembers Patricia saying when the girls were small.
The Kiplings’ routine starts at 7 a.m., when Charlotte and Kip wake up. He makes breakfast for the three of them, and Charlotte makes lunch for Jane to take to the workshop at Easter Seals ARC. Kip drops off Jane at 8:15. There, she performs assembly line-style duties. Her weekly paycheck is usually $7 or $8, Charlotte says. Some weeks, it’s less than $2.
Two days a week when Jane comes home, she has therapy. The recreational therapist comes Tuesdays and Thursdays, and she will walk with Jane or take her to play miniature golf. If the weather is bad, the two will do an exercise video or play indoors. Jane’s living skills therapist comes on Tuesdays, when Jane learns skills such as cooking. Music therapy is on Thursdays.
At night during the winter, Jane works on her Legos. But come springtime, she takes those apart and turns to her warm-weather activity, which can be found piled on two 5-foot-long shelves mounted on a wall in the garage: puzzles. Kip estimates there are about 130, ranging from Donald Duck to Peanuts to the Pink Panther.
We have a full, busy schedule, most of it around Jane. She’s the center of our life, Charlotte says.
She keeps us going, Kip says.
Yes, Charlotte says, she keeps us young.
Baby makes three
In the past two years, the Zemen household has seen some major changes.
In October 2010, Cory Zemen and Katey Wilks Zemen married after 4 1/2 years together. By the end of January 2011, Katey was pregnant.
Today, the Warsaw couple have a 5-month-old daughter, Cecilia. And now, they can’t imagine their lives any differently.
This is the second marriage for both Cory, 38, and Katey, 36, putting them among a number of growing trends in the United States: having multiple marriages, getting married older, having a first child later in life.
While they say most of their friends don’t really fit a trend, the couple has noticed that many people they know are waiting to have kids.
It takes a lot longer (now than it did years ago) to establish themselves out of college, Cory says. We’ve seen a lot of people start families at a later age.
Getting married and having a child have created some new challenges for the couple. Moving in together meant selling Katey’s house, which is still up for sale, and becoming parents meant transitioning into primarily a one-income family. Katey’s company allowed her to go part time. She goes into the office once every week or two, which means Cory became the breadwinner in the household.
Becoming a one-income family, it’s difficult because you gotta plan before you fill up your gas tank, Cory says.
The family also has to pay more attention to what it buys at the grocery store.
You really look forward to couponing, he says with a grin. You just gotta kind of adapt.
The couple are not sure whether they will have more kids, but they aren’t ruling it out.
If (Cecelia is) it, that’s fine, Katey says. Our lives are full. But if we have another one, that will be wonderful, too.
1 house, 11 people
Patrick and Dianne Gentis had their first child 33 years ago.
Their most recent children moved in about two months ago.
The Gentises, from Auburn, have 14 children: six biological and eight adopted. Four are from the Philippines, and four are from China.
When starting their family, the Gentises didn’t consider adoption. Dianne Gentis’ seventh pregnancy resulted in a stillbirth, Patrick Gentis says, and they learned another pregnancy would be dangerous. The family didn’t feel complete, however, so they looked into adoption.
About 2.5 percent of children in the United States join their families through adoption, the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics reported last year, and more than 20 percent of adopted children were of a different race than their adoptive parents.
The Gentis family’s by-the-numbers is an interesting one. Five children are married, in college or on their own. That leaves 11 people in a one-story house with four bedrooms. Mom and Dad get their own, and the nine children split the three others. There are two bathrooms to share among the family, which currently includes three teenage girls.
The large household exceeds the average number of people per married-couple households, which was 4.3 last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In August, the family will have four 8-year-olds.
The Gentises own four vehicles, including a 15-seat passenger van. This will be the 18th year a Gentis child has been involved in high school marching band and the 21st year one has been in middle school marching band. There is one grandchild. For now.
Mornings in the Gentis household are an ordeal. Patrick Gentis helps by getting out of the way, he says, as his wife has the schedule down almost to a science.
First, she will wake up 15 minutes sooner than she needs to, which is relaxation time. Then, she starts to wake the kids up in shifts – the two youngest first, and the other young children within 30 minutes. The high school children will wake up on their own.
After breakfast, the younger children will catch the bus or ride with Mom or an older sibling to school. When all the school-age children are gone, Dianne Gentis will start to work with the youngest two – Meilin and Kailin, 7-year-old twins from China – on their English.
The older children – be they biological or adopted – accept their new siblings right away, Dianne Gentis says.
Take the twins. They have been with the Gentises for about a month. They don’t speak much English aside from knowing their names and how to print them. However, one evening, as their sister Zara, who is Filipino, works on the computer, one of the twins approaches her.
Hi, Zara says. Hi. Love you. Hi, and she reaches over to kiss her sister, who responds immediately and hugs Zara.
She may not understand much of what is being said, but her face indicates that she knows she’s loved.