Family means a number of different things to different individuals- the family may cross a number of generations, change, as a result, of certain changes in life events such as remarriage, divorce and children relocating from their parental homes, and might even span several households. In most cases, people find it easier to define a family by not how it looks or how it is structured but by its roles and functions- supporting, loving, caring and protecting those in a family. In defining a family, it is essential to realize that children and marriage are not prerequisites for the formation of a family. In the past few years, there has been a development to a boost in the number of childless couples and smaller families, as well as, lone- person families or households. It is also critical to remember that extended families might cross or span more than one household and that individuals living by themselves are not necessarily living without families (Forbes 2-34).
family life- cycle
More and more individuals are forming more than one family across their lifetime, because of the greater rates of re-partnering and separation. A number of types of families, and families at certain points in the family life- cycle may have different needs, strength and vulnerabilities. Some of these include one- parent families, jobless families, indigenous families, families from different, diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds, families with responsibilities in caring, and families in remote and rural societies. It is clear from the points noted here that a family is a complex unit that has no one specific definition (Forbes 2-34). The purpose of this article, consequently, is to draw attention to the different kinds of definitions of the family unit in regards to its functions, what it is, what it is not and according to how authorities define it. In addition to this, the paper will benefit exceedingly from examples derived from the book Journey by Sonia Nazario, which is a story about a certain family that will serve as an excellent example of what a family is and of different kinds of families.
Family can be defined as the most fundamental unit. It represents individuals living together by ties of blood, marriage or adaption, therefore, representing a single household. According to sociology, the family unit as a key role of reproducing and expanding the society, both socially and biologically. There are numerous different structure of families based on the associations that exist between parents and children. There are different kinds of families present which are determined by who makes up the family. There are those families that only consist of the father and children; others consist of the mother and children. Other families consist of a mother, her children and other people who are in most cases derived from the mother’s family. Other families consist of one or more mothers living together with their children, with other people and their spouses (Fine 65- 79). In this case, an example is a family described in the book the Journey, which at first was composed of the mother and her two children and members of Lourdes’ family.
Relationships that exist between a family, and those that determine the type of the family, are those mainly between parents and children and they are different from culture to culture. One of the most common family types is the nuclear family. This family type is composed of the marital couple living with their children separate from other individuals. The joint family usually is the extension of the nuclear family and exists when children of one sex stay at their parental home. In such a case, the children bring along their spouses to live with them in their parental home even after marriage (Fine 65- 79).
These are the only handful of cases of the numerous types of families. Other kinds of families include only child families, large families, single parent families, blended families, gay and lesbian parent families, grandparent families and adoptive families. Today’s definition of family has changed tremendously from what it was years ago. As it follows, many couples now are choosing to have only one child. In these types of families, one will find a couple with only one child and wishing not to have any more. Traditionally in some cultures, this would have been frowned on. Even today, there are some cultures, which still encourage families to have more than one child. In their definition, therefore, a couple with only one child is not a family (Fine 65- 79).
More Family Types
Another family type present today is a large family. A large family is the one that has parents having numerous children. Such couples might end up having more than five children. Some cultures encourage for these types of families, while others, especially those in developing countries discourage such families especially because of economic concerns. Another very common type of family today is a single parent family. In such families, one parent, either the mother or the father lives with the children by himself or herself. This situation is becoming extremely common mainly because of high divorce rates and at times because of deaths and irresponsible parenthood (Fine 65- 79).
An excellent example of a single parent family is the one described in the book the Journey. The story is about events that a certain family experiences after it becomes a single parent family. The young family is from Honduras and it consists of the mother, Lourdes and her two children Enrique and Belky. The family became a single parent, as a result, of separation. Lourdes separated from her husband and since then she found it hard to meet her family’s needs. As a result, of this, she had to depart from her children to leave for the US to search for work and funds to nourish and provide clothes for her children. There are numerous examples of single-parent families like Lourdes, which happen because of separations. In most cases, especially in Hispanic families, these families take other forms soon after they become single parents. For example, Lourdes’ family had to change to another type, where she lived by herself in the US and her children lived with relatives back home. After Enrique moved to the US, the family structure changed once more. He moved in to live with her and later his girlfriend and daughter joined him. The family changed to an extended family, including Maria Isabel and her daughter (Nazario 12- 56).
Modern society views the family
The modern society views the family as a haven from the chaotic world, supplying individuals with complete satisfaction and fulfilment. To many, a family is a place of love, intimacy and love where people may hide from the competition of numerous forces in operation in the society. In the past, the view of the family was also as positive. The family was a repository of tenderness and warmth that stood in opposition to the aggressive and competitive forces of the commerce world. The role of the family was to safeguard individuals from the world. However, the image of the family is deteriorating each day as different ideas of the fulfilment of the family take shape, today; the family unit is not as much protection as it is compensatory. It provides individuals with what is vital but lacks other social arrangements (Forbes 2-34).
One can conclude the traditional families were superior to those seen today, and families might have been happier and stable those periods as they did not have the need contend with challenges of divorce and illegitimate children. One can say that Lourdes’ family could have been different in the past because of cases of separation were unheard of. She would have stayed with her companion and she would not see the need to break up her family to provide for the children. The family types addressed above to conform to the concepts and ideologies of what makes a family according to the tradition of a certain society. However, there are those families that go against these concepts. For instance, cases of gay and lesbian marriage are emerging in today’s society. In the past few years, no one would have called such partnerships families, but today in certain cultures, they are allowed to adopt children and live as a family (Zinn and Eitzen 3- 7).
The family as a unit of socialization is the object of criticism and analysis by a number of faculties and authorities including anthropologists and other scientists, religions, societies and even governments. Most of this analysis is based on sexual relations among members of a family and these faculties regulate the meaning and the appropriateness of a family by regulating rules that concern incest, sexual orientation, among others (Zinn and Eitzen 3- 7). As it is clear from the discussions above, the family has numerous definitions and meanings to different individuals. One only has to point out where his or her family is relevant to characterize and explain the denotation of the term family.
Fine, A. Families in the United States: Their Status and Future Prospects. New York: Wiley.
Forbes, Scott. A Natural History of Families. Princeton University Press, 2005. Print.
Nazario, Sonia. Enrique’s Journey. New York: Random House, 2008. Print.
Zinn, Baca and Eitzen, Stanley. Diversity in families (6 ed.). New York: Allyn and Bacon, 2002. Print. p. 7
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