Many years ago, while watching a typical television game show such as, "The Price is Right", the host would at some point interview a contestant. "Hi, Bill, my name is Sally Smith. I live in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Peoria, Illinois. I have a wonderful husband and two lovely children..." This constituted a typical American family of the time. <?xml:namespace prefix = o /> 
Today's American family contestant might say, "Hi, Bill. My name is Wanda Williams. I live in Peoria, Illinois. I am married for the second time, and have one child with my current husband, two from a previous marriage; and his teenage son from his first marriage lives with us, too."
Thirty years ago, most families were smaller and simpler: A father, mother and 2.2 children. Father worked. Most mothers stayed home and raised the children. Today, we have expanded the structure to include: A blended family, with "yours, mine and ours" children, a single parent with children, or perhaps middle-aged parents with an adult child who lives at home, even dual-career couples without children. As the structure of the family has changed over the years, the problems and pressures facing it have increased. Who is responsible for what roles? How does step-parenting affect both the parent and children involved? What of increased free-time, rebelliousness, independence, mobility?
 Four decades ago, the traditional family contained a husband, who was the chief breadwinner, decision-maker and protector; a wife, who was primarily responsible for child-rearing and caretaking, and children that lived at home until they married and began a family of their own. Today, two-career families are more the norm, with a resulting equalization of authority and decision-making in the marriage. Children remain single longer, although it is natural for them, as they become young adults, to live on their own; or with friends...of either sex. Yet, despite the metamorphosis of the "family" over time, family life is coming back into style. After a decade of the "me" generation, people are returning to the family as a powerful resource for a variety of useful purposes.
The family is a reservoir of interpersonal skills for young children; it is an opportunity for parents and children to share companionship, support and love; it provides experiences that lead to joy and a sense of accomplishment; and it is the forum for teaching values and beliefs that will guide children through the development of their own families. Inevitably, however, as families have grown more complex and diverse, so have their problems. As families blend and extend, useless generalizations are incorporated into members' models of the world that can be destructive. Parents, for example, in a blended family may believe they need to be overly-protective or demanding of their own children in the new family. Perhaps, the children in such a situation may believe that if they favor or otherwise attend to a step-parent in a given situation, they are betraying their "natural" parent. These and other examples often lead to negative self-images that can seriously hamper our lives.
Irrespective of family shapes and sizes, there is a kind of belief installation programming that occurs, and is passed from one generation to another. The family beliefs govern the types of behaviors which occur among its members. Some of these are idiosyncratic and harmless; and help strengthen family ties. The importance of membership on the high school baseball team; or charity work each year at a certain time; or the delegation of household chores, the planting of a vegetable garden each year; and cleaning your plate, lest people in far away lands should starve! However, family belief programming can be destructive when it leads to ignoring serious problems, or encouraging cynical, self-deprecating comments and actions. A family is like a farm: Cultivate crops tenderly, consistently, and it will yield a healthy harvest. Healthy families share values; the stuff that beliefs are made of. Parents are united as models and the children learn useful ways of negotiating demands of the household. It is useful to encourage all members-- young and old-- to express feelings freely, even negative ones. Powerful learning results from the resolution of conflict that can help members act resourcefully in future situations.