TheInstitution of Family in America.
Familycan be said to be the most ancient of institutions. The social aspectof household is the primary foundation of the world as we all knowit. Answering the question on the exact meaning of family seems to beunexciting. “The term family has a record of being used ambiguouslyin the recent past” (Stephanie 734). The institution has alsogenerated its share of controversy in the recent past. Ancientphilosophers are known to have given a whole new meaning to the issueof family since their view was not particularly the same as what washeld by people as the right meaning.
Somephilosophers proposed that the term should refer to the traditionalfamily while others viewed it from the perspective of familydiversity such as homosexual couples living together (Stephanie 734).However, the legislative definition of a family anticipates that itshould include special benefits such as health care and housing.According to Hansen (14), the cranes network is one that can be usedto show the concept of family since it places emphasis on the natureof having kins as care providers.
Basingthe web of families on the Crane family, one comes up with a numberof key terms such as decline, familism, deficit comparison model,voluntary kin, social constructionism and kinscription. In terms ofdecline the decline of families is extensive and discussed below atlength. Voluntary kin refers to the persons outside of blood andlegal ties who can be considered as family. They can also beunderstood as the families that are created by discourse. They areformulated during daily relations. “In terms of the cranes network,Patricia depends on other people outside of her family network so asto take care of her small boy” (Hansen 15). That should explain theterm social constructionism since families are constructed from oursocial interactions.
TheCranes network is essential in helping building the concept offamily. Looking at Patricia and how she relates with people, oneclearly understands terms the terms such as deficit comparison model.“Cranes network places emphasis on the “family first” policywhereby Patricia says that family comes first when it come to takingcare of her child” (Hansen 15). Families outside of the naturalrelations may be due to some gap in life which needs to be filled andthe people to fill such gaps end up being treated as family.
Today,the term family has multiple definitions that are associative in away. Due to that fact, the term is like a sponge concept whichincludes two friends living together. It also puts into considerationpeople who are working together in an office, a mafia local unit, andthe family of man as well. “It is through all these explanationsthat one can derive a concise meaning of what the term family means”(Hansen 234). The term family has more than one meaning as clearlyshown below.
Afamily is simply a domestic group in which people live together infunctions and households as cooperative units.“People who livetogether have to interact at one point or the other” (Hansen 234).That enhances the sharing of economic, social and cultural resourcesin the day to day activities. Patricia has to depend on her neighborsand her social circle to take care of her son and she considers themfamily. Many are the scholars who are not satisfied with the notionof marrying family with kin relationship. They feel that thedefinition in itself lacks substance as well as base. The definitionconsists of adults and a dependent character. That simply means thata family also refers to an intergenerational unit. The group iscomposed of children, the elderly and other dependants. Patricia’sfamily is one that can be said to be voluntary family as substitutefamily.
Thedefinition that has its roots in the kinship entanglement does notnecessarily serve the full purpose of defining what a family is. “Itdoes not put into consideration married couples but with nodependants since it only recognizes family as one with adults anddependents” (Hansen 234). That led to a protest among scholarssince some felt the definition was half-baked. They, therefore,pushed for a redefinition of the term as being sexually based orsexually bonded primary relationship. That brought about a newdefinition of the term family. In the last 30 years, the institutionof the family in America has undergone significant changes. “Therehas been a decline in terms of family values as well as a regressionin the family worth. Statistics shows that most marriages are notable to weather the storm of time and end up in divorce” (Stephanie734). The number of broken marriages has risen significantly in therecent past, and some partners hold on to their already sourmarriages due to other factors. The factors may include the socialstatus of one of the spouses or the social view of divorce in thecommunity. Some would opt to remain in the marriage as opposed tolosing their elevated social status.
Somecouples are getting married and choosing fewer children, and that ispropagated by the stereotyping in the society. Individualorganizations may subscribe to certain beliefs that may view a largefamily as being a burden to the whole society hence discourages bigfamilies. “Surveys conducted have shown an increase in terms ofgradual acceptance of childlessness, divorce and permanent singlenessin the family institution” (Hansen and Karen 234). An analysis ofthe family decline as a result of ideological situations gives aninsight into the unbalanced state of things. It implicitly seems tofavor the oppression of women within the family setup.
Mostscholars are of the opinion that the recent shifts in the familyvalues are a bad thing. They make a significant observation that themodern set up is declining. “They call for a return to the way ofdoing things whereby there only existed a nuclear family”(Stephanie 734). However after a careful analysis, one would beconvinced that the scholars are wrong. The recent family issues oughtto be seen as institutional weaknesses and not necessarily asnegativities.
Thecause of these defects may not be necessarily a shift from thetraditional nuclear way as people perceive it but rather it requiresfurther inquiries so as to understand the real cause. Thosedisagreeing with the weaknesses seen in the family structure ought tosupport their claims in a logical manner. “They should explain thefamily’s healthy aspects and the way in which family has remainedunchanged by the institutional family power” (Hansen 234). Thefamily decline is tied to three aspects that are demographic,cultural and institutional aspects.
Thefamily decline as a demographic reality has been exhibited by thedecrease in the family sizes. The family groups are slowly beingreplaced by the non-family groups who live alone with unrelatedindividuals, without children and in an institution. The size offamilies has degenerated greatly even in America. Most parents optfor a small family with one or two children. That is a sharp contrastto the ancient days when children were a source of pride.
Inlooking at the institution of family one example to consider is theCrane’s family. The family is incorporated in Hansen’s report onfamilies in America. Through this family we are able to analyze thedifferent types of families that exist and understand family.Patricia is at the centre of the report by Hansen. She shows howfamilies are knit even among strangers.
Theinstitutional aspect of the family decline holds three maindimensions which are related to institutional strengths. Thedimensions are inclusive of institution cohesion, system power to thesociety and the organization performance of functions. Theinstitutional aspect mainly focuses on explaining why the family hasits place due to some institutional factors. The cultural aspect ofhousehold is of the opinion that the institution has declined due tocertain cultural values. Culture has been weakened and replaced byself-sufficiency (Popenoe and David 542). Americans proclaim thefamily values up to a certain point then they diverge and accept themodern views.
Therehas been a substantive argument that the decline in the familystructures in the last 30 years can be considered to be a real and aunique thing. That acts as the end of line family decline.Historically, the term family was broken down into its manycomponents so as to understand the fundamental essentiality that makeup this complex institution. The family is made up of two primaryfunctions and two adults.
Onewould be unfair to look at the family in America and fail torecognize the children as part of the family. Most children todaylong for the unique emotional bond, social acceptance as well as thelong-life membership offered by family. However, adults in theirquest for self-fulfillment have stripped the institution down to itscore. “They seek their gratification at the expense of what thefamily stands for” (Braithwaite et al. 404). They fail to realizethat any further extended reduction in the number of householdmembers or functions may affect the successive generations.
StephanieCoontz in his article “Theway we never were”is of the opinion that the family unit is on a collapsing path. Hediscusses optimists who view the degeneration as a mode ofdiversification. Both pessimists and the optimists base theirarguments on the beginning of the historical static notion of howfamilies were like before the contemporary season. The pessimists intheir right call for the reaffirmation of the traditional familyvalues in the present era of family change. They feel thereaffirmation of the values will be an awakening call of the need forfamily. The optimists, on the other hand, see it as an opportunity toset people free from the shackles of traditional family traps. Theyfeel that the modern world ought to step out from the old way of lifeand create its lifeline built upon the modern principles (Popenoe andDavid. 527-542).
Theauthor is however less inclined to identify recent qualitative shiftsin family patterns that should be embraced by people. He does notsupport any of the approaches to the family decline but seeks tosupport the appraisal of the American families and the challengesthey face as they approach another decade (Popenoe and David.527-542). In other publications, authors view the family as the mostpersuasive of human institutions. They make the argument that mostscholars along with the breadth of the relationships underscore theimportance of household. “They, therefore, see it as a focal pointfor all relational encounters” (Braithwaite et al. 400).
Mediathat is composed of the mainstream media and the written press placesits focus mainly on family relation in terms of blood and kinship. Itcomprises of people living upon the boundaries of heterosexualmarriages and in households that are relatively autonomous. Scholarshave advanced the definitions to fit in families beyond the legalkinship bonds, as well as the blood bonds. “They shift their focusto social networking of unrelated individuals who act as a family”(Braithwaite et al. 405).
Thescholars define family as a network of people sharing lives over along period and may be bonded by marriage. The people ought to bebonded by the legal kinship as well as blood. The definition providesan avenue for the nonlegal kin to be considered as family(Braithwaite et al. 397). The interest is, therefore, mainly centeredon the understanding that an individual does not have to be relatedby blood or law so as to be considered family. The focus is howeverplaced on how people construct relationships and end up with a familyof sorts. The principle behind the scholars way of thinking is thatthe family comes first as it is a site of multiple needs (Popenoe andDavid. 527-542).
Familymembers are in the network, and they recognize each other’sobligations as well as responsibilities. They also share expectationsas they all have needs that need to be fulfilled. “The members ofthe family have needs that are catered for in the short-term and thelong-term” (Hansen 234). Like a sponge that sucks moisture, familysucks up those around who need help. The family is a generousinstitution which is built on the ideology of independence.
Understandingthe term family in America has proved to be a hard nut to crack. Manyscholars advance new definitions as to the real meaning of household.They all have the backing of knowledge to justify their view. Thatmakes the issue of families in America one of great importance. Theissue needs constant investigation and research.
StephanieCoontz. "The Way We Never Were and American Families and theNostalgia Trap." PoliticalScience Quarterly(1992): 734. Print.
Hansen,Karen V. Not-so-nuclear families class, gender and networks of care.New Brunswick 2005: 234. print
Braithwaite,D. O., B. W. Bach, L. A. Baxter, R. Diverniero. Hammonds, A. M.Hosek, E. K. Willer, and B. M. Wolf. "Constructing Family: ATypology of Voluntary Kin."Journalof Social and Personal Relationships27 (2010): 388-407. Print.
Popenoe,David. "American family decline, 1960-1990: A Review andAppraisal." AmericanJournal of marriage and family(1993): 527-542. Print.