Today's Modern Family -- Beyond the Laughter

Perhaps the sustained success of the sitcom, Modern Family, which won its fourth consecutive Emmy award for Best Comedy Series last month, is due to its pioneering depiction of today's progressively popular bi-racial, same-sex, multiply-married couples. Or, perhaps its because the fictional series actually questions many true-to-life parenting issues that have rarely been addressed before, like "How does one 'parent'? Who does what? Is Dad sufficiently dad-like and Mom enough of a mom?" as James Parker wrote in The Atlantic.

Or, most probably, it is both. As Lois Braverman, President and CEO of Ackerman Institute for the Family, says, "While today's families are being recognized in all its diverse components and forms, the very nature of their roles is changing as well, resulting in families being stressed and stretched more than ever before."

And she should know. Heading up an organization that has achieved international prominence for the development of innovative models of family therapy, professional training, and community programs for families facing major life challenges for over half a century, Braverman is quick to point out that families have greatly evolved over the years, particularly since the Institute's founding in 1960. "It's no longer the stereotypical family of 1960s, with a working father, a stay-at-home mom, and two children."

But along with these changes can also come additional challenges and uncertainty. For example, relationships can become increasingly tangled and complicated in subsequent marriages due to the presence of children from previous marriages Further, with the majority of U.S. families consisting of two parents working outside the home, conflict often arises around care-giving responsibilities inside the home. And then, of course, there is the relationship within the couple itself. "Couples have varying expectations of what intimacy means," Braverman says. "Couples used to be brought together for financial reasons, and it wasn't until the turn of the 20th century that people started to marry for love. The idea that your partner would be your best friend did not happen until the 70s," she continues. "Now, there is the expectation that your partner should also be your best friend, which can cause a lot of problems for those already married for many years."

So how is this 53 year-old Institution keeping up with the new challenges that today's modern families face? "By recognizing their increasing diversity in all of its forms, and by working with all families in ways that are sensitive to their specific needs," Braverman says.

That is why on Monday, October 21st, the Institute will be hosting its third annual 'Moving Families Forward' awards gala, celebrating individuals who have become organizing forces within their own families. For example, actor Colin Farrell, a father of a child with special needs, is being honored for his ability to meet the challenges that affect families who have children with special needs. He is doing so by working with FAST (Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics) to raise awareness about its work in promoting family resilience. "Families with special needs children often are underserved by the medical, educational and mental health communities," Braverman says. "Colin's involvement is helping to ensure that these families get all the care and support they need."

But none of this could be possible without one individual who, Braverman says, 'is a link to our past and our future.' Jeannie Ackerman Curhan, a Board member whose father (Nathan) founded the Institute, is being honored as a testament to the importance of family history to all individuals, as well as for her capacity to move forward by supporting the Institute's growth and change. "My father provided the groundwork so that others could step up to the plate," Jeannie says. This groundwork has, in fact, further resulted in the Institute actually breaking ground on a new and expansive home to better provide its services to all types of families in need. Designed to incorporate the latest technologies, its new Chelsea location is able to provide more advanced professional training and patient services than ever before.

"I wish papa could see this new, exciting space," Jeannie says. "A lot of the technology he wouldn't understand, since he died in 1971. But he would certainly understand and appreciate how well his Institute is continuing to serve families, with all their distinction and diversity. And that's what is most important."

Lori Sokol, Ph.D., is an organizational psychologist and host of the radio show, 'Work Life Matters with Dr. Lori Sokol' on WGCH 1490AM.