The Evolution of ‘Family’


15 May
15May


Changes in the world today are felt at the most intimate levels of society—within the home, in families and between parent and child. Families have undergone a history of transformation parallel to modern society and its shifting moral, ideological, and psychological stances. In the compromise of their integrity as well as the essential socialization functions they provide, the breakdown of family on a micro level leads to the breakdown of civilization on a macro level. Without family as the incubator for social, emotional, and moral well-being, civilization is unable to pass on its worldview to children and thrive.

 

What is a family? changes to structure and functionality of families in the last 300 years

In the 20th century, sociologists determined 5 basic social functions of the family:

  1. sexual regulation
  2. reproduction
  3. economic cooperation,
  4. socialization/education
  5. the provision of affection, protection and emotional support. (It was noted that in the absence of these crucial psychological needs many malfunctions in the conduct of a person in society can manifest. [1])

Probably the most well-known researcher in child psychology, Talcott Parsons, emphasized 2 “irreducible functions” of the family as a social institution:

  1. The space for primary socialization of children so that they can truly become members of the society into which they have been born
  2. Producing stabilized adult personalities in the population of the society.

Parsons explains how the family incubates a child’s understanding and practice of the culture of the society into which they have been born and the patterns of social values which inevitably define institutionalized patterns of the society.[2] Our kids are thrust into an environment where the value system of the home does not match that of broader society. What we risk is passing on to our children a hybrid and weak value system that cannot withstand the inevitable questions and conflicts that arise in the course of their life (i.e. identity crisis).


A Short History of Defining Family in the West

19th Century: 

  • The “Modern” Family = 150 years old
  • ‘Traditional’ nuclear family patterns emerge when Victorian era middle class women actively took up the vocations of motherhood and house-making making this the normal or traditional trend.
  • The industrial revolution dramatically altered the family:
  •  (1) it took the father out of the home for work and diminished his role and presence in the life of a child.
  • (2) it forced the mother—in an attempt to make up for the father’s absence, but without extended family support and their childrearing advice—to rely on outside experts in dealing with the fact that she “fe[lt] at a loss to understand what the child needs,” but her “attentions fail[ed] to provide the child with a sense of security.”[3]
  • Eroding Families + Production
  • Christopher Lasch in his study of the erosion of American families, suggests that “the psychological patterns associated with pathological narcissism, which in less exaggerated form manifest themselves in so many patterns of American culture—in the fascination with fame and celebrity, the fear of competition, the inability to suspend disbelief, the shallowness and transitory quality of personal relations, the horror of death”—-originate in the peculiar structure of the American family resulting from these modes of production.[4]

1920s and 30s:

  • Theory of Behaviorism + Great Depression overshadowed American culture
  • Self-Help Books all the rage as American confidence was at a catastrophic low
  • a trend of mothers’ abandoning historic forms of ‘maternal instinct’ as doctors, psychiatrists, and other authorities meticulously regulated child-parent contact condemning “maternal overprotection” and urging “parents of respect the child’s emotional independence.”[5]
  • Lasch calls this era the beginning of the “socialization of reproduction and the collapse of parental authority” in America
  • experts taking child-rearing out of the hands of parents interferes with traditional stages of attachment, especially to the mother.
  • functions of the family gradually appropriated by the state—beginning of social work industry and the ideas that 1) the failing family could only be saved by outside influence and 2) that families were increasingly unfit to educate, ‘civilize,’ and provide for their own needs.
  • Simultaneous public discourse made parents feel incompetent and public policy attempted to ‘improve’ the home by bypassing or replacing it completely.

1950s:

  • a backlash to the earlier hands-off parenting resulting in a new level of permissiveness in American parenting refocused for the last time on patriarchal family roles and encouraging parents to make children feel loved and accepted every moment of their life.

1960s and 70s:

  • with a backdrop of social movements advocating the rights of African Americans and women, there was a renewed insistence on “restoring the rights of the parent in the face of an exaggerated concern for the rights of the child” which led to the philosophy that parents “should not be held responsible for the faults of their children” and the idea that culture—not parenting (or lack thereof)—is the deepest roots of a child’s problems.

End of 20th Century-21st Century:

  • the spread of potent individualism and the cultural priority given to individual self-fulfillment made individuals increasingly reluctant to form “altruistic families in which the welfare of costly, time-intensive children were supposed to take precedence over their own.”[6] As a result, parents became less concerned about the welfare of their own children while others wrote off all together the need to marry and have a family of their own.
  • The ‘postmodern family: broad enough to encompass a multitude of forms in which the family can occur, and also the idea that “new or altered family forms continue to emerge and develop.”
  • End of the historic patriarchal family—which as famed historian and sociologist, Manuel Castells, argues will crumble the entire social system of patriarchy that the modern world was built on and will transform society as we know it. He argues that the single most representative process of this shift is “the transformation of women’s consciousness, and of societal values in most societies, [which] in three decades, [has been] staggering, and it yields fundamental consequences for the entire human experience, from political power to the structure of personality.”[7]
  • Castells’ definition of the patriarchal family is what earlier sociologist would have called the traditional nuclear family with a two parent, heterosexual household predominately run by the father.


The Ultimate Collapse of Parenting: A Pendulum of Parenting Dogma 

Western parents have been caught in a state of “superimposed anxiety,” bombarded with conflicting and contradictory ‘expert’ advice— or “psychiatric imperialism.” [8] In reaction to behavioral and progressive prescriptions that focused on the “parent’s power to deform the child,” society unburdened parents of the responsibility. The underlying conception of emotional intelligence was not fully developed and suggested that it is “important for a child to know what he feels rather than why he feels it.”[9]

Gradually, parents—themselves facing a crisis of self—were convinced to almost completely relinquish their roles as caregivers and in child-rearing. They outsourced this role largely to the state and private institutions as Mark Gerzon notes: “obstetricians take charge at birth; pediatricians are responsible for child’s ailments and cures; the teacher for his intelligence;…the supermarket and food industry for his food; television for his myths.”[10]

There has been an “invasion of the family by industry, the mass media, and the agencies of socialized parenthood,” which has “altered the quality of parent-child connection” and led to a collapse in parental authority and confidence. Another view of this widely acknowledged collapse of parenting is that it is as a reflection of “the collapse of ancient impulse controls” and the shift “from a society in which Super-Ego values (the values of self-restraint) were ascendant, to one in which more and more recognition was being given to the values of the id (the values of self-indulgence.)”[11] 

Ultimately, with the rise of the nuclear family and the continual reduction of the extended family alongside the shifting ideas on parenting, a “new and anomic psycho-social order” premised on ideas of individualism has emerged.[12] 


Conclusions—the end of family?

Our communities know well the state of their own families. We have not been immune to the changes in ideology, economy, and morality that have affected broader society. Our solutions and conclusions from this evidence will be to return to the sources of Divine knowledge and apply them responsibly to our world today. However, many researchers and experts in the West, like Castells, have already called it quits. They argue that 4 major trends are pointing to the end of family as we know it (or understand it to be…)


  • “The dissolution of households of married couples, by divorce or separation, is a first indicator of disaffection with a model of family that relied on the long-term commitment of family members;”
  • “the increasing frequency of marital crises, and the growing difficulty of making marriage, work, and life compatible, seem to be associated with two other powerful trends: delaying coupling; and setting up partnerships without marriage;”
  • “As a result of these different tendencies, together with demographic factors, such as the aging of the population, and the difference in mortality rates between sexes, an increasing variety of household structures emerges, thus diluting the prevalence of the classic nuclear family model (first time married couples and their children), and undermining its social reproduction;”
  • “Under the conditions of family instability, and with the increasing autonomy of women in their reproductive behavior, the crisis of the patriarchal family extends into the crisis of social patterns of population replacement.”[13]


Despite the changes in size, make-up, roles, and interpersonal relationships of families, studies maintain that broader social “cohesion and solidarity is manifested primarily in the family” and that “individuals define themselves in relation to the family they belong; the sense of belonging plays an important role in terms of assuming various roles within the family” and later in society.[14] However, the changing patterns of ‘family’ in Western history illustrate the slow breakdown of society at a number of levels and specifically impacting our children whose personality and sense of self have traditionally depended on a stable family and home environment.





 

 

[1] Ibid.

[2] Parsons, Talcott, and Robert Freed Bales. (2007). Family, Socialization and Interaction Process. Routledge, p. 16

[3]Lasch, Christopher. (2018). The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations p176

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid. p 161

[6] Aries, Philippe. (1981). The Hour of Our Death. Knopf.

[7] Castells, Manuel. The Power of Identity. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999. Print. p195

[8] Ibid. p 163

[9] Ibid. p. 167

[10] Ibid. p. 168

[11] Ibid. p 177

[12] Mintz, Steven. (2006). Huck's Raft: a History of American Childhood. Belknap Press of Harward University Press.

[13] Ibid. p 197

[14] Parsons, Talcott, and Robert Freed Bales. (2007). Family, Socialization and Interaction Process

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