The Evolution Of TV Families Over the Past 50 Years


TV families have come a long way over the past 50 years. Not long ago, the typical family model included a stay at home mom, a working dad, and two children (a son and a daughter) all living in a house with a white picket fence. TV shows like Leave It To Beaver represented the ideals of their era, depicting the middle-class lifestyle that many sought in the 1950s and 60s.

Fast forward to 2013, when TV families include working moms, stay-at-home fathers, same-sex couples, adopted children, and plenty of exes and stepparents. This week, the shows Trophy Wife and Mom will make their debut as a part of the fall lineup, and contribute to the diversification of families in popular culture.

TV shows have always been a great reflection of political and social trends, especially when it comes to depicting evolving family dynamics. Of course, every household is different. No matter how much you think your family fits the average cookie-cutter mold, there is at least one characteristic that sets you apart from everyone else. Today, just about every kind of family is portrayed on screen, and we are obsessed with watching all of them. 

If you rewind to the 1980s, you'll find sitcoms that highlighted the politics of the era. The Wonder Years focused on a middle-class family and how the political situation in the United States had an affect on their daily lives. Growing Pains was a little ahead of its time in that it was one of the first shows to depict a working mother and a stay-at-home dad. Even so, the affluent family lived in Long Island, and had rather conservative, Reagan-era views.


Photo courtesy ABC.

The 1990s saw a shift toward unconventional families. Full House, the show that put Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen on the map, followed the lives of a father raising three daughters with the help of his brother-in-law and best friend. Soon after, shows like Boy Meets World portrayed divorced parents, single parents, and hippie parents, in addition to the average suburban family.

Photo courtesy ABC.

Contemporary shows have continued the dynamic we started to see in the 1990s. Modern Family was one of the first TV shows to portray a same-sex couple and a May-December relationship. The new show Trophy Wife is about a young woman who trades in her partying ways to marry a mature man who has already been married twice. In the name of love, the protagonist decides to mother a flock of kids and make peace with husband’s exes, who are still very much a part of his life. The show Mom follows a single mother who has made mistakes and is struggling to make ends meet.

These shows are a great reflection of our changing reality. They give us an inside look into the dynamics of realistic couples and relationships. What is even more amazing is our continued fascination with these shows; just about anyone you ask has a favorite family sitcom (Keeping Up With The Kardashians probably counts).

These sitcoms help us sympathize with real-life people and couples. They broaden our horizons, and introduce us to characters and relationships we can identify with, whether it's interrracial couples, same-sex couples, single mothers, or adults with multiple exes. The word "family" has a different meaning for everyone, and shows like Mom, Trophy Wife, and Modern Family are perfect examples of just that.

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