Role of Families in Human Development

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The family is crucial for both the individual and society at large. The families that are defined as “ideal” have four basic components: “traditional, extended, nontraditional, non-idealized” (“ideal”), “familialism” or ‘social democracy’ is one of the most prominent forms of the familial institution in human society today. Family members are important because they provide a sense of security, support, love, care, and guidance. However, it is worth noting the negative consequences of being “a family”. This research examines the role of families in human development by providing an overview of the family as seen in literature and research. To achieve this objective, this paper uses conceptual frameworks developed from theories such as functionalist, evolutionary, and social constructionist perspectives to examine “families’ fundamental functions, relations, and structures of interaction” (“The Conceptual Framework”). It also provides some examples highlighting the impacts of the relationships between individuals and couples.

The concept of “families’ fundamental functions, relations, and structures of interaction” has been examined extensively in sociology since its emergence and continues to be researched as part of broader sociological knowledge. Scholars have come up with various theoretical approaches such as functionalism, structuralism, conflict theory, kinship theory, and more recently, social constructionism of which the impact of modernity on these concepts will be discussed later in this section. Despite the existence of diverse theoretical frameworks, all of them, are rooted in common assumptions and theories about human societies. Consequently, the study of society cannot be separated from the history and tradition of humans. Thus, the analysis and discussion of different theoretical perspectives can only be understood if studies of human societies are undertaken and the understanding of these studies is accompanied by appropriate historical narratives of humans. As outlined earlier, the term family has traditionally been used to denote a set of people who live together in close proximity in their homes, and most importantly, are related by marriage, adoption, biological (or genetic) parents, and adoptive parents (“Families”, 2015; Wertz & O’Connor, 2010); however, the word “family” as used nowadays connotes the broad range of social institutions encompassing not just intimate but also “maternal, paternal, grandparent, extended household, kinship societies, cohabiting units, cohabitating organizations” (“Families”, 2015). By using the aforementioned words to describe the family, scholars such as Weber (1950, 1955), Karl Mannheim, Sahlins (1955), Schmitt (1952), Kroeber et al (1955), Jarchi (1955), Varian, Hitt, and Merton (1962) and many others have tried to understand the way families function, particularly what aspects of families they consider essential to their well being. For instance, in his work on families, Weber (1950, 1965, 1971, 1973) identifies several fundamental functions: economic, political, ideological/legal, religious, protective/helping, moral/social, and a host of other basic family functions that are critical for the good functioning of society. Similarly, in his book, the Functional Family: Theory, Research, Critique., Rochbinski, 2004, describes how families are constituted within society, through three types of households: the traditional, the contemporary, and the idealized. Traditionally, traditional families included older adults with children, whereas the second type of families includes young adults, adolescents, and younger generations (Rochbinski, 2004). Modern families may constitute either young, middle-aged or old adults; they typically consist of married couples headed by adult partners. Traditional families often occur in the first five years of pregnancy, whilst families that constitute the third group of families are formed after the birth of the child. Lastly, there is the category of non-traditional families where parents and/or grandparents do not belong to the immediate community to which they move, they reside elsewhere in the country and often share parenting responsibilities and childcare (Rochbinski, 2004). While these groups exist because of natural reasons, they are often observed due to cultural differences, cultural norms, and traditions; especially among the poor and lower caste communities in rural India, which are mainly composed of Hindu families (Rochbinski, 2004).

In terms of families, Weber’s traditional/non-traditional and idealized families include mothers-fathers, widows-widowers, mother-fathers, parent-children, and fathers-children. Fathers-children are the oldest of the three types and are usually the same age as their wives. Mother-fathers are those whose spouses have died (mothers; shemales, widows, widowers, widowers); women typically marry men younger than her; children usually grow up in the house and/or are raised without their biological parents. Adopted children usually grow up under the care of their foster care providers while the adopted children with no biological parents, and remain in foster care until their adoption by another family. Parenting situations vary according to culture and religion, including both institutional and home-based, and private ones. As part of the normal upbringing process, children go through several stages of developmental growth, which include physical growth from infancy to adolescence, cognitive growth from childhood to adulthood, and psychological growth from adulthood to old age. Children of traditional and non-traditional families do not progress differently from their peers in terms of psychological, cognitive, and physical growth as compared to those raised under institutional or foster care. In addition, they are exposed to various kinds of socialization and educational opportunities such as schools and pre-schools. On the other hand, when a person is raised under the care of relatives, parents, or the state of society as opposed to parents or extended family members, he/she experiences greater social isolation, social exclusion, and poor adjustment of mental health. This phenomenon is termed the “poverty trap” since it exposes persons to poverty. Moreover, children raised under institutional care were found to have better scores as compared to those raised in the home care situation (Pelletier et al, 1997). There exists little empirical evidence with respect to the benefits of extended families or institutional care for youths.

Consequently, in order to comprehend and assess the importance of families in human development, a number of theories and models of family life have emerged as a significant factor in defining the family (“Families, 1985; Pinto, 2002; Lutjehan, 2000). One such model includes the evolutionary family. According to this model, children experience family development and attachment as a result of the environment. For instance, a boy will begin to form a strong bond with his father before seeing any other male figure than him; the girl on the hand develops an attachment to her aunt and brother. Another way of viewing a family is the perspective given to them by the world, which can affect the behavior of the family is characterized; such effects usually occur unconsciously during early childhood; however, individuals can become aware of the influence of societal views on them later in life. Social control is an additional aspect of the family in which one should try to behave like a certain kind of “good boy” or “good girl” so as to avoid getting into trouble that might otherwise occur due to the action of someone else. It goes beyond merely looking out for your sister who might get raped. If you look out for yourself as best you can and act appropriately, you can prevent the incidence of rape or other crime that might happen to your mother or son. On the same note, this perspective holds the implication that it is the “good boy” or “good girl” who should be obedient, kind, and respectful of authority. When considered critically, the family is seen as dynamic and evolving since this perception can change in accordance with the social and environmental influences affecting one person.

However, although the model emphasizes on the family is viewed as complex, it does not take into account the complexities of human relationships. Such complexity includes “psychological family structures” such as “the quality of maternal warmth, the willingness of fathers/father figures to show affection for their sons and daughters, the degree to which children display parental warmth and trust, the rate at which mothers/fathers express empathy and concern for each other, the consistency on which fathers and fathers figures exhibit mutual respect for each other, and the extent to which fathers and fathers figures reinforce positive attitudes with their children, both sexually and emotionally” (“The Conceptual Framework”). Based on this statement, despite the mentioned characteristics of the family, human beings do develop bonds that could last a lifetime. A study conducted in 2006 by the psychologist Daniel Zellner from Michigan discovered that the level to which siblings and parent-child attachments are maintained over long periods is significantly influenced by the individual’s emotional response (Zellner, Iacovino, & Borsoszczak, 2007). He further found that these attachments are “strongly associated with positive outcomes” (Zellner, Iacovino, & Borsszczak, 2007). Overall, this study shows that even though family ties exist in a context, family members can develop strong attachments and have secure, loving bonds; therefore, family ties can impact not just one man’s success, but also her own future.

An example of how this model has been applied to real-life cases is the case of David Zehr. Born in 1972, this author was brought up in a very privileged family, therefore he had access to an excellent education and he became financially successful because of his career as a journalist. His job was at NBC News where he covered corporate scandals involving powerful businesses such as Enron

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