HOW typical are families like the Gergens and the Dubersteins? What lessons do their stories hold for a nation of families? Prof. Gerda McCahan of Furman University says the political tensions in the capital make it ''a convenient kind of intense microcosm'' where Americans can watch the battle of their priorities. She and many family research experts are monitoring what they term a social revolution out to redefine every role and level of interaction in the home.
''First,'' she says, ''we are finding that we can't assume that family relationships can stand any encroachment of time from the workplace. More and more couples respond by examining the contracts they have with the ones they love and find they are at least as important as work. Second, more and more are opting out of the old American ideal that if possible you commit yourself completely and go to the top, and they are instead thinking in terms of developing a life style which is rewarding to them.''
''It is one of the most crucial psychological conflicts of our time,'' says Prof. Roderick Gilkey of the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College, ''when a man or woman at the very cutting edge of his profession has to accept that he or she will not be all things to all people - both good family person and top career go-getter.''
Professor Gilkey, who counsels business executives and their families, says he is increasingly being asked what he calls life-style kinds of questions, such as ''Can I be a top consultant and raise a family?''
Dr. Murray Strauss, chairman of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, says research shows that, on average, those who are committed to open-ended, all-encompassing business, political, or professional jobs actually have happier, more successful family and personal lives.
''Somehow, those who achieve more at work achieve more with their families as well,'' he says. ''But the success very often hinges to a considerable extent on the unsung, unpaid labor of the wife.''