American Family Critical Thinking
America is becoming more and more individualist, as the women are gaining financial independence and equal roles in the society is one idea most propagators of the family decline concept sustain. Based on family decline arguments, in such a society, people care first about their individual activities, own interests and about themselves than they care about their family (Popenoe 4). In such a context, caring for other people becomes a secondary concern, erasing the essence of the family, considered by Hansen (14) the care giving not only to children but to other dependent and non-dependent members of the family.
While Popenoe (6) associates the care for the family members with financial provisions by the breadwinner, specific to the traditional family, Coontz (8) views the care as a natural right of both parents, which is currently under transformation, due to the transformation that occurs in the society. The author indicates that more dilemmas gravitate now around the carrying role, because of the modern diversification of the family and the context in which families form. Adopted children within a homosexual couple, surrogate mothers, fertilized ova, the increased rate of divorce, are all signs of the modern society, to which the family adopts through the intervention of the institutions (Coontz 8). In this context, the intervention of external authorities for monitoring and deregulating the family rights seem justified. However, Popenoe (2) suggests that whenever other institution intervene in the family issues, even in cases of child abuse or familial violence, the power of the family in the society, its cohesion and unity descend. Nevertheless, what Popenoe silently indicates is that the traditional family, in which the man had full control over his family and the state’s intervention was limited, prompted better circumstances for the preservation of the familial cohesion and unity.
Family kinship involves more than providing financial security for the household members, but also assuring a proper education, social integration and compassion. In the traditional family, wherein the mother was in charge of the household and the children and the man was the breadwinner, women and children were living in poverty, as Coontz (9) underlines. Nowadays, as the social evolution brought the American society in a new era, families adjust to the reality of increased divorce rates by developing a kinship nests, formed from both blood relatives and friends, as Hansen (19) demonstrates.
The propagators of the philosophy of the decadent family mostly argue that the roles of the man and woman in the husband and wife relationship have changed. The base the entire theory on the idea that once with the emancipation of woman the family started to decline, arguing that financially independency of the woman is influencing the growing rates of divorce in America. Although women work, sometimes on equal roles and equal incomes with men, the familial responsibility is still their concern. What can be observed from the current reality in the American family is that most families approach other institutions for taking care of their children and other dependents (elders or persons with disabilities). The reason for why there are babysitters spending more time with children than their parents and children are involved in more social activities, without their parents, is because both parents contribute to the economic prosperity of the household. This situation creates positive and negative outcomes. The positive outcome is that women and children have more financial opportunities, breaking out of the woman and child poverty instituted in the traditional family. However, the negative consequence is that children are losing contact with their parents, estranging away from the familial values.
The sociological acceptance of family, involves multiple variances, which generate disputes regarding the perceptual meaning of the family. Some view family as the group of people formed of two married adults and at least one child (Popenoe 2). Others argue that families should be considered also the “single parent families, stepfamilies, adoptive families, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered (GLBT) families, grandparents raising grandchildren, and families that are child-free by choice.” (Braithwaite, Baxter, DiVernierov et al. 12). Coontz (8) also questions whether the carriers, the surrogate mothers should be considered part of the family, giving the fact that they are the natural mothers of the born children. This diversity of concepts regarding family indicates the diversity of the American society and the fact that it had developed from the traditional concept, not in a single way, but in multiple directions.
The family concept lies somewhere between myth and reality, according to Coontz (11-12) who observes that Americans are trying to act like families that they see on TV or other media, who are shaping their family behavior and expectancies. The kinship and care for the dependent and non-dependent members of the family are mediated myths, which do not reflect reality, but have the potential of influencing it. The fact that the American family develops outside the limitations presented in the media reflects the freedom of choice of those who live by their own standard, not by those imposed by movies and magazines, modern or traditional. Despite the family myths promoted through popular culture, family forms and develops based on the encountered needs and individuals respond to those needs by adjusting their lives to their situation. The Crane’s example provided by Hansen (14) illustrates that “family comes first” and people can develop various relationships for supplementing or replacing the conventional family (Braithwaite et al. 12).
In the nowadays society, the conventional family is considered to be formed of tow heterosexual parents and at least on child, as mentioned above. All the other forms of family are called fictive family, chosen kin, or voluntary kin, defining the homosexual couples or heterosexual couples who voluntarily choose not to have children, and are compared to the conventional family (Braithwaite et al. 12-13).
Attributing the concept of family solely to conventional families and calling the others fictive suggests that the fictive families cannot reproduce the role played by the conventional families: procreation, socialization, provision of affection and companionship, sexual regulation and economic cooperation (Popenoe 4). The contradiction of this hypothesis is why the so-called fictive family consider themselves as real families (Braithwaite 13). A family formed of a single mother, her mother, the single mother’s son and brother can constitute a family on its own, according to Hansen’s. Hansen’s sociological research indicate that other persons than the conventional heterosexual couple can perform the role of a family, of offering care, comfort, stability, emotional development to each other, but especially to Robbie Crane, a six years old boy.
There are various examples on how the American family has changed over the year. In the context wherein the society changes, one cannot expect that the conventional family to remain the same, because it is entrenched in obsolete conventions. Stack and Burton (33) indicate that family forms as a result of a negotiation process between multiple generations. Calling the non-traditional families as non-conventional or fictive is unsupportive, because they also perpetuate the familial values through kinscript, encompassing family values, work or time spent in family (Stack & Burton 34).
The negotiation for the familial sense implies the discussion of familism and of social construction. The familism is a sociological concept that describes the family identification and loyalty for the family (Popenoe 5), used by the supporters of the family-decline philosophy to justify that family is decaying because the familism is decaying also, once the self-fulfillment and egalitarianism enhance. However, social constructions that portray reality based on an imagined, utopian world order, contribute to defining both the familism and conventional family.
In reality one cannot deny the fact that the familial problems such as poverty or neglect has led to the proliferation of drug abuse, rape or murder, making America the country with the highest homicide level in the world (Coontz 7). Nevertheless, the kinship, care, values, provisions that the conventional family provides are not a myth, but a reality of the American family. American family means more than heterosexual couples with at least one dependent child in care, it is an expression of groups of people of showing compassion, care, love, protection, education or socialization. As the society develops, it will continue to reshape the reality of the American family, with new negotiated roles for the family members and different familial structures.
Braithwaite, D. O., Bach, B. W., Baxter, L. A., DiVerniero, R., Hammonds, J.R., Hosek, A.
M., Willer, E. K., & Wolf, B. M. Constructing family: A typology of
voluntary kin. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27, 388-407. 2010. Print.
Coontz, Stephanie. Introduction. The way we never were: American families and the
nostalgia trap. New York, NY : BasicBooks. 1992. Print.
Hansen, Karen V. Not-So-Nuclear Families Class, Gender, and Networks of Care. New
Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2005. Print.
Popenoe, David. American Family Decline, 1960-1990: A Review and Appraisal. Journal of
Marriage and Family, Vol. 55, No. 3 (Aug., 1993), pp. 527-542. Print.
Stack, Carol, B. & Burton, Linda, M. in Glenn, Evelyn Nakano, Chang, Grace and Forcey, Linda, Rennie Kinscript: Reflections on Family, Generation, and Culture. “Mothering: Ideology, Experience, and Agency”. London: Routledge. 1994. Print.
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