The terms, father, mother, brother, sister, refer to certain positions in the family group. These positions are made obvious by the way the people who occupy them behave. For example, a mother looks after her baby, and a husband and wife show affection towards one another. These positions are called social statuses, and 'social roles' are the patterns of behavior that we expect from a person occupying a particular social status. The sexual and social roles of husband and wife are often described as conjugal roles. The family takes many forms in society, most fundamental of which is the nuclear family (sometimes also called the conjugal family).
Change in Family Structures―Historical Overview
Family systems, like biological organisms, evolve with time and circumstance. Before the industrial revolution, it was assumed that families were close knit in terms of social duties and obligations towards relatives. As people migrated to the newly-developing towns to find work in the factories, they would go and live with family members who resided there. One effect of the industrial revolution in the early days was to extend the family, since there was no welfare state to rely on.
The modern family type was the 'isolated nuclear family'. Families in the past were extended and networked in terms of social obligations. The extent to which today's families are 'isolated' and not networked to other relatives in terms of social obligations has been questioned. During 1970, Young and Willmott argued that the family had become more democratic; they also referred to them as 'privatized' nuclear family, which is similar to Parson's 'isolated' nuclear family. The trend was to look at how 'isolated' or 'privatized' modern nuclear families really were. It was argued that they weren't as nuclear and isolated as some suggested.
Although families lived geographically away from their relatives, they still kept in regular contact with them through visits and the telephone etc, and relied on them for support in times of need―usually their more direct relatives. Sociologists suggested that the term 'modified extended family' was a more appropriate term to use here.
Another term that is used in this context is 'dispersed extended family'. Evidence suggests that since the 1960s, the family structure is becoming more diverse. However, as Robert Chester points out, although there might be more diversity, most of us will still be brought up at the end of the day in a typical nuclear family with both our biological parents who are married and are living under the same roof.
The relationship between parents has also said to have changed, in that, in the past, people had children for economic reasons and were very disciplinarian. However, these days, people do not have children for economic reasons and the relationships are said to be warmer and more caring. The period of childhood has also increased, as people are now more dependent on their parents for longer.
The Nuclear Family
For a group to be called a nuclear family there must be a father, mother and at least one child. This type of family structure is found in most all societies, although the length of time in which the family remains in this form varies even within the same society. The nuclear family was most popular in the 1950s and 60s.
The nuclear family can be a nurturing environment in which to raise children as long as there is love, time spent with children, emotional support, low stress, and a stable economic environment. In nuclear families, both adults are the biological or adoptive parents of their children.
The nuclear family consists of a married couple and their children. The nuclear family is ego-centred, and impermanent, while descent groups are permanent (lasting beyond the life-spans of individual constituents) and reckoned according to a single ancestor. One's family of orientation is the family in which one is born and grows up, while one's family of procreation is formed when one marries and has children. Claims made for the universality of the nuclear family, based upon the universality of marriage, do not hold up―the nuclear family is widespread, but not universal. In societies where the nuclear family is important, this structure acts as a primary arena for sexual, reproductive, economic, and acculturative functions, but it is not the only structure used by societies for these.
Take an example―53.7% of Canadians live in two parent, or nuclear families. There are three types of married nuclear families depending on employment status of the woman and man.
☛ In the first type, the man works outside the home while the woman works inside the home caring for the children. 28% of all households fit this description.
☛ In the second type of married nuclear family, the woman works outside the home and the man cares for the children. This constitutes 2% of the families in this country.
☛ In the third kind of married nuclear family, both the wife and the husband work outside the home or are income providers. In some situations, the woman might have a home-based business, such as a day care center. Nearly 60% of women with children under the age of six were in the workforce during the past decade.
Review on Nuclear Family
Marxist feminists suggest that the nuclear family meets the needs of capitalism for the reproduction and maintenance of class and patriarchal inequality. It benefits the powerful at the expense of the working class and women. They look at issues like inheritance, individualism, privacy, women work, and petty power.
"Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we've put it in an impossible situation." says Margaret Mead.
The great advantage of living in a large family is that early lesson of life's essential unfairness. - Nancy Mitford
Pearl S. Buck criticized the current system on part of emotional security aspects. He said, "The lack of emotional security of our American young people is due, I believe, to their isolation from the larger family unit. No two people―no mere father and mother―as I have often said, are enough to provide emotional security for a child. He needs to feel himself one in a world of kinfolk, persons of variety in age and temperament, and yet allied to himself by an indissoluble bond which he cannot break if he could, for nature has welded him into it before he was born. "
It is best to follow Desmond Tutu regarding your family. "You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them."