WHILE SOCIOLOGISTS and demographers have been struggling for a generation to define the changing American family, many museums, art galleries and historic places have loosely defined "family" with their memberships and fees.
These family-friendly admission plans try to take in single-parent families, extended families and families with alternative lifestyles, well as the traditional Mom, Dad and the kids.
The state Mass Transit Administration is still struggling to define "the family" before the Orioles' Opening Day. The MTA is hoping to lure families out of their cars and into its cars for the trip to the new stadium at Camden Yards with a fare that will make it economical to do so, and has formed a committee to determine " just who would be eligible to ride for a family fare.
Unlike the Census Bureau, which requires people living together to be "related by birth, marriage or adoption" to claim family status, area attractions ask only that they be at the same address to qualify for family memberships.
"We don't question if someone has an alternative lifestyle," says Andrea Lewis, public relations assistant at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where the family fee of $10 is "very new. We recognize there are not the usual family units anymore."
At the Babe Ruth Museum, however, the family membership is a bit more traditional. It covers "a family of four," assumed to be parents and two children, says Kelly Gunther, the director of communications there.
At the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the $10 family rate applies to "an immediate family," that is, parents and children, says Ann Steele, the museum's assistant director. "But we pretty much accept people at their word," she adds. The same definition applies when paying the $3 family rate at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historical Site.
Ms. Steele does recall questioning a day care mother with a large group of children -- most of them about the same age -- who insisted this was one family. The family rate "can be a problem," Ms. Steele concedes, especially when some families bring three or more generations. "But we think it's an important service to offer."
At the Baltimore City Life Museums, two different definitions of "family" apply: For the family maximum rate, the family is parents, grandparents and children up to age 19, but not aunts, uncles and cousins, says Linda Pianowski, the museums' media manager.
For the museums' Open Hearth Society, through which members receive free admission, a newsletter subscription and other perks, the term "household" applies. It means two adults and all children under 18 living at home, adds Ms. Pianowski.
This configuration -- two adults and their children up to age 18 or 19 who live at the same address -- seems to be the most common definition of family among area culture spots.
Family memberships at many attractions do reflect another trend -- the likelihood that grandparents will be entertaining youngsters.
At the National Aquarium, as at many attractions, a family membership will be issued not only for adults and their chil
dren but also for two adults and up to three grandchildren. Similar "memberships" are available at the Maryland Science Center and the Cloisters Children's Museum, where the number of grandchildren included is unlimited, as long as they are under age 18.
The grandparent connection was obvious at the B&O; Railroad Museum on a recent school holiday, when the grandparents seemed to have child care duties, says Nancy Fields, who handles marketing and visitors' services at the train museum. With a reduced admission that day and a "grandparents membership" plan, the museum was very busy on the holiday, she says.
Hershey Park, too, is attempting to make the most of busy grandparents, says Laura Baker, promotions and publicity manager for the Pennsylvania amusement park. When the park reopens this spring, the regular admission will be $21.95 for persons 9 to 54 years old. But, for "juniors and seniors" -- those hTC from 3 to 8 years and over 55 -- the daily rate will be $11.95, a reduction of $6 from last year, says Ms. Baker.
"We're trying to encourage bringing the entire family. There are so many grandparents who are active and traveling . . . and able to bring grandchildren," she adds.
Some entertainment spots have set family rates without a lot of definition. At Londontowne Publik House in Anne Arundel County, the family membership in the Friends of Londontowne Publik House and Gardens applies to "a husband, wife and a couple of kids," says Katie Dentler, facilities coordinator there. But, she concedes, "I don't think we have guidelines. We just want friends."