Diversity of Families and Attitudes about Schooling

Cultural Backgrounds of Families

As previously discussed, educators need to keep in mind varying parenting practices. It should also be noted that family engagement might vary across cultures (Cheung & Pomerantz, 2011; Huntsinger & Jose, 2009). Families that have adopted collectivistic values emphasize the accomplishments one makes as a reflection of one’s own family; whereas, in individualistic families, the belief is that when one succeeds, it is based solely on one’s own efforts (Santrock, 2019). Collectivistic families typically include Latinx and Asian families and individualistic families typically include European families.

The expectations that educators put on family engagement should match up with the cultural beliefs of the families within the classroom. For example, white, middle-class parents volunteer in the school system more than Asian Americans during the early grades (Mau, 1997). Chinese parents use more workbooks and practice drills, and typically do not interact with the teacher (Huntsinger & Jose, 2009).

As children progress in their education, cultural differences have been found in the expectations that families put on their children’s success. Some families use more psychological control as opposed to more independence during a child’s education. Cheung and Pomerantz (2011) found that the “American parents’ involvement was associated less with their control and more with their autonomy support than was Chinese parents’” (p. 13). Studies show that Asian Americans are more involved in their children’s education than White Americans. Some studies have shown that immigrant families are not as involved in their children’s education regardless of ethnicity. Mau (1997) found that “parents of recent immigrants typically are less fluent in English and have little knowledge about the school environment, which may limit their school involvement” (p. 275). This can influence how successful a child could become in their education. Mau (1997) also found some parents put stringent expectations on their child’s education, and even though they don’t want to get involved with their child’s education due to cultural beliefs, they end up getting involved anyway. This is important to know because many families have immigrated to the United States and have adopted a bicultural orientation. They want to adopt the customs of the United States, but still continue to practice their heritage.

Socioeconomic status doesn’t seem to have an effect on family engagement. When parents put expectations on their child’s schooling and achievement, then a child may be more likely to be successful in their educational endeavors (Halle et al., 1997). Some families that educators encounter may struggle to ask for ways to support their children’s education, but if teachers provide literacy activities to be used in the home environment, family involvement will increase.

Family Structures

The structure of the American family is varied and continues to change over time. Individuals are choosing to get married later in life in order to finish their education and begin their careers. The decision to become a parent is one that requires communication between partners. Questions such as when to have children and how many should be discussed, as well as who will stay home, and whether childcare will be utilized. It is estimated that raising a child could cost more than $227,000 just to provide basic needs of housing, food, clothes, health care and transportation (Knox et al., 2014). The pregnancy rate for women between the ages of 15—29 has declined over the years, and more women are choosing to have children in their thirties.

In the United States, more than half of the children under age five have both parents in the workforce (Santrock, 2019). For some of these families, they are working multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. There is debate on whether women should work outside the home and contribute to the family. The research is not clear on the long-term effects of both parents working outside of the home (Parke-Stewart & Clark, 2014). Educators should keep in mind that it might be difficult to meet with some parents during the school day if both parents are working.

The American family does not consist of a mother, a father and children anymore. According to Santrock (2019), 23% of American households with children under the age of 18 are single-parent households, making the United States the highest of all industrial countries. There are several reasons for the high rates of single-parent households in the United States. Personal choice is a predominant reason; 40% of births are to unmarried women (Parke-Stewart & Clark, 2014). Modern reproductive technologies have given women more opportunities to expand their families, and also the ability to wait longer to start a family. Since 1978, roughly 50 million families in the world have used technology to conceive a child (Parke-Stewart & Clarke, 2014). Another explanation for single-parent households is the death of a spouse. In the United States, 11.4 million women are widows (Knox & Schacht, 2016). The third highest reason for single-parent households is divorce.

Even though the divorce rate among American families has gone down steadily since the 1980s, the United States still faces the highest divorce rate in the world. It is estimated that 40—50% of all marriages will result in divorce (Parke-Stewart & Clarke, 2014; Knox & Schacht, 2014). Santrock (2019) points out that “40 percent of children born into married parents in the United States will experience their parents’ divorce” (p. 186). When divorce occurs, financial upheaval affects the mother more. Experts estimate that a woman who gets a divorce loses between one-fourth and one-half of her income after the fact, compared to fathers, who only face about a one-tenth loss in their income (Santrock, 2016).

When divorce occurs, single parents might seek out the companionship of others. When two families come together and blend their respective households, also known as blended families, some members of the family might need time to adjust. With time, families can accept the changes and learn how to cope. Blended families are the fastest-growing type of family in the United States (Knox & Schacht, 2014). About 5.3 million children under the age of 18 are living with both a biological parent and another adult, either through remarriage or cohabiting (Knox & Schacht, 2014). Approximately three-quarters of divorced couples will remarry (Kreider & Fields, 2011), while others might choose to forgo marriage and live together instead.

Families can choose adoption in addition to or in place of having biological children. There are several ways adoption can occur including private, public, kinship, independent choice and stepparent (Knox & Schacht, 2014). The cost of adoption varies depending on the route chosen. It is estimated that these costs can range between $5,000 and $40,000. Families make the choice to adopt for various reasons which include not being able to conceive biologically, wanting to give a child an opportunity for a stable home or not wanting to contribute to the overpopulation. Some adoptive parents started out as short- or long-term foster parents and then decided to give the child a permanent home.

A growing number of American families include parents in same-sex relationships. An estimated 37% of gay and lesbian families have had a biological child of their own (Gates, 2013). Gates (2013) estimates that “nearly half of LGBT women (48%) are raising a child under age 18, along with a fifth of LGBT men (20%)” (p. 1). Same-sex couples are six times more likely to be raising a child that has been adopted than their heterosexual counterparts.

Rates of interracial marriages in the United States have nearly doubled since 1980 (Knox & Schacht, 2016). “Of the 3-8 million adults who married in 2008, 9% of Whites, 16% of Blacks), 26% of Hispanics and 31% of Asians married someone whose race or ethnicity was different than their own” (Passel et al., 2013). Approximately 63% of people are okay with choosing a partner outside of their culture (Knox & Schacht, 2014). An increasing number of couples are looking outside of their cultural and ethnic heritage to begin families of their own.

Every family is unique with different attitudes about learning, discipline and social interactions. Oswald et al. (2018) found that “lower parental involvement among divorced parents may reflect the fact that single parents are more likely to have limited time to participate in school activities or to support their child’s education with home and community activities” (p. 321). What about stress and family engagement? See “Social Justice and Diversity: Incarcerated Parents” at the end of this section for further information. Educators should be sensitive to the varying, unique and sometimes sensitive structure of a family unit. Family engagement could be happening on multiple levels, and it is important that an educator understands the family structure in order to facilitate what is best for each student.

Box 11.2 Social Justice and Diversity: Incarcerated Parents

It is estimated that more than 2.5 million children in the United States have a parent currently incarcerated (Wakefield, 2015). Research has indicated that parental incarceration is linked to harmful outcomes in a child’s social and emotional development.

Research Study Overview

In this article, three different data sets were gathered from Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN) between 1994 and 2002.

There were roughly 6,000 children between the ages of three and 15. The focus for this article was mainly the second data set about parental quality and home environment dynamics including conflict resolution.

Article Findings

This study showed “little evidence that parental incarceration increases positive parenting or increases warmth between parent and child” (Wakefield, 2015, p. 921). It was further found that with the presence of an observer, parents are likely to be more involved or show physical signs of warmth. This establishes that parental incarceration increases negative parenting behavior and proposes that parenting behaviors are very complex. The relationship the child and the parent had before the parent was incarcerated will influence the dynamics of the two based on the age of the child when the parent left the home.

How This Research Study Can Be Used in the Classroom

Although poverty and socioeconomic status are tightly linked to parental incarceration and parenting behaviors due to the financial stress and hardships that might arise within the family, it could be pointed out that educators need to be more understanding about these hardships when addressing family engagement. When stress arises within the family, the expectation of family engagement might not be considered important. Educators could ask families to participate in smaller activities that reinforce the concepts of family engagement but do not add stress to the family unit. Educators could support positive behaviors between family members and children such as cuddling or verbal encouragement.

For further information:

Wakefield, S. (2015). Accentuating the positive or eliminating the negative? Paternal incarceration and caregiver-child relationships quality. The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 104 (4), 905—927.

Community/Neighborhood and School Climate

The impact of family engagement can vary across certain communities and neighborhoods. Leventhal, Dupere and Brooks-Gunn (2009) indicated that a neighborhood may consist of 3,000 to 8,000 individuals living in an area with “major streets, railroads, ethnic divisions, and the like” (p. 412). Contributing factors that can have an impact on family engagement include: social demographic, employment, racial composition and the social organization and institutions of the area.

Research points out that individuals living in neighborhoods with high social economic statushave higher school success rates (Leventhal et al., 2009), whereas, it has been reported that in urban areas with high poverty, the high school dropout rate can exceed 40% (Alexander et al., 2003). Poor school attendance, low grades and behavioral problems in the school setting have been linked to the amount of violence an individual is exposed to in their community (Sheldon & Epstein, 2002). Adolescents living in low-SES neighborhoods have more social, emotional and behavioral problems including higher rates of sexual behavior among adolescent teen girls (Leventhal et al., 2009).

Community attitudes regarding school and learning may impact different families’ views of family engagement. Some families view the teacher as the expert and feel that if they interfere it could disrupt the educational process (Barnard, 2004). Some parents feel that if they get involved in their child’s education it will cause tension. Eccles and Roeser (2009) pointed out that the expectations set by private schools are completely different than those set by public schools. “A school environment that reduces the amount of disconnect between students’ lives within and outside of school could reduce the potential for violence” (p. 9). Research indicates that if schools change their climate and create more academic goal structures, then this can in turn influence the motivation of parents, students and teachers.

The way to change perceptions is to educate. Communication is the best way to educate families about what is expected of them and their students. Communicating with the family and asking for involvement to support educational and social issues may help produce a safer and more productive school environment. When schools draw on the involvement of the family to support educational and social issues, it may help produce the desired result and create a safer school environment (Sheldon & Epstein, 2002; Leventhal et al., 2009).

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