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New Definitions for South Dakota Families

Argus Leader

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – When she moved home to Sioux Falls from Florida more than 10 years ago, Pamela Madsen came back wanting a family but not necessarily a husband.

A successful businesswoman and consultant, Madsen desired the joys of motherhood as well. And she wanted that in a place where her own parents and siblings could help a single mother provide the love and support children need.

“I would prefer a two-parent family, but I was single and didn’t want to bring children into this world being single,” Madsen, 49, said. “So I thought, ‘Bringing two children already in this world together with one loving parent was a good choice.’ ”

Today with daughters Ava, 8, and Helene, 9–both adopted from China–Madsen heads a home that is part of the changing face of households across South Dakota, according to the latest U.S. census.

Though the traditional nuclear family is still common across the state, some dramatic shifts have occurred the past decade:

The number of grandchildren living with their grandparents is up 50 percent, to 14,488 last year.

The number of parents living in their child’s home increased 29 percent from 2000 to last year, to 3,385. There also were 634 parents-in-law living in their child’s place or child’s spouse’s place.

There are 6,167 adopted children living in single or two-parent homes.

No figure was provided in 2000.

Unmarried couples living together in homes increased 51 percent, to 20,970 last year.

And same-sex partners in homes jumped 68 percent- from 826 in 2000 to 1,390 last year.

“The shifts don’t surprise me at all,” said the Rev. Jeff Hayes, pastor of Faith Temple Church in Sioux Falls. “We live in a culture where there is more of a growing acceptance for some of this.

“But I also think a lot of this is driven by economics. Where people are homeless or have lost their jobs or their savings, it doesn’t surprise me that they’re moving in with relatives.”

Parents living with their adult children could be driven by economics, but it also might reflect the reality that people are living longer, said Mike McCurry, state demographer with the Census Data Center at South Dakota State University.

As elderly parents live into their late 80s and 90s, their desire to maintain independence versus their need for assistance understandably would result in more multigenerational arrangements, McCurry said.

“With the increasing age of our population, people living longer, you’ll see a lot more of this,” he said.

Nor is it surprising to him that more grandchildren are living with their grandparents. The most vulnerable segment of South Dakota society economically is the single mother with a child, McCurry said. As those women turn to their parents or other relatives for help, “we’ll see more of this trend, too,” he said.

Bruce Blake is living that trend. He and his wife, Rita, started caring for their grandson, Josh, when he was 3 months old and eventually adopted him.

The Blakes had each come out of earlier marriages where they had raised their own children. When Josh came along, Bruce Blake was in his early 60s. He became a Cub Scout den leader in his 70s.

He also discovered new challenges that went with parenting again.

“Back when I was raising my kids in the 1950s and `60s, when Dad said, `jump,’ the only response was, `How high?’ ” Blake said. “It’s not so easy dealing with the teenagers of today. They question `why’ more. … tend to be more argumentative.”

Still, 19-year-old Josh, who is a sophomore pursuing computer science at Dakota State University in Madison, “was good for me,” Blake said. “It was a good move for us.”

McCurry said the trends in more unmarried couples and same-sex couples living together reflect, in part, a growing societal acceptance for those situations. Tiffany Thomas, director of operations and programming for the Center for Equality in Sioux Falls, agreed.

“The issue of gay marriage is really a hot topic,” said Thomas, whose organization supports the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. “I think there are a lot of gay couples who feel a little more empowered to identify themselves in a gay marriage, despite the fact that in South Dakota, they can’t claim themselves to be legally married.”

The growing trend in those households also suggests that the Census Bureau is asking questions about same-sex households in such a way that people are more willing to respond, Thomas said. In Sioux Falls, the number of same-sex households more than doubled in the past decade, from 158 to 330. That doubling has occurred in 20 counties in the state as well, from one to three households in Ziebach County to Pennington County, where the number rose from 82 to 199 households.

The Williams Institute, a national think tank based at UCLA that advances sexual orientation law and public policy, said census data shows that 26 percent of the same-sex households in South Dakota are raising children in those homes, Thomas said.

Statistically, at least, the Sioux Falls School District hasn’t tracked those kinds of trends, said Bill Smith, recently retired director of instructional support services for the district. But he has witnessed the changing demographics in a career that started out in school counseling before shifting to administration.

“When I started as an elementary counselor in Parkston in 1972, there were some grandparents then taking care of their grandkids,” Smith said. “But I think most moms and dad were living in the same home then.”

Over time, districts such as Sioux Falls learned to accommodate parents who don’t live together, or single-parent households, or other situations reflected in census trends, he said.

“Things change,” he said.

Some will blame those changes on a moral decay in society, McCurry said. But such observations fail to fully capture the complexity of lives complicated by economics, health and other demographic factors, he said.

For her part, Madsen had done well enough in her career to be able to adopt two little girls out of a Chinese culture that values boys over girls. And financially, she is able to be a stay-at-home mother for her two daughters.

That might make them part of a changing demographic, she said. But as far as Madsen can tell, it hasn’t raised a single eyebrow.

“It probably would have been much more difficult to do this 20, 30, 40 years ago,” she said. “But people in the community, in grocery stores or wherever who don’t know me … are welcoming and make nice comments. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t bother anybody.”

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