Understanding Theoretical Perspectives On A Family Sociology Essay


Theories have been useful as a tool for creating explanations for patterns of behaviour in families (Doherty et al:, 1993). Functionalism gives an extremely optimistic view of family life. Lang’s evidence on child abuse, violence against women and divorce statistics indicates that functionalists neglect the dysfunctional aspects of the nuclear family. Functionalism focused excessively on the nuclear family form and insufficiently on other family forms.

Marxist and Functionalist theories of the family tend to assume that the nuclear family is the dominant family form and therefore neglect diversity. Both structural approaches to the family – Marxism and Functionalism – can be deterministic, and this can make their analyses inaccurate and maybe over-generalised. Feminists, interactionists and the radical psychiatrists of the 1960s (Laing, Leach and Cooper) have all helped to correct these weaknesses. Postmodernism has helpfully emphasised diversity, but it can be argued that it goes too far, ignoring the evidence of structural trends and dominant norms in our society(Doherty et al:, 1993). Functionalist approach presents the most positive view of theory.

Types of Family

The nuclear family is traditionally known to be made of the parents and their siblings and this is the most basic family arrangement. While the nuclear family is made- up father, mother and their offspring, extended family refers to aunts, grandparents, cousins and uncles.

I would like to think that most societies have a concept of extended family. The relative structure, functions and importance vary according to the particular culture. Traditionally, extended family is referred to as kinship network of economics and social ties made-up of the nuclear family plus other relatives.

The economic and social importance of extended family can most readily be seen when family members are living together. Even when extended families do not live together, nuclear families may rely on extended kin to help with basic day to day activities and may also co-dependent on extender family for economically and emotionally support.

Contemporary family is …..In any particular time and place, families have always been more varied than the prevailing image of what the ideal family should be. Although family types are even more diverse than in the past, most contemporary families are still variations on the traditional nuclear family pattern.

Family structure

Lone parent

Single parent can be caused by death of a spouse, divorce, and separation. This may lead to single parents being overwhelmed with their loss and the responsibilities. Most single parents are women, who may face somewhat lower income and will often rely on child support and government subsides. When parents divorce or are widowed children often experience loss and a disruption of routine. Children may also need a lot of attention, affection, and reassurance (Meyerhoff, 2010).

Reconstituted family

As we tend to think of families consists of a mother, father and their children, the reality is that there is a lot of divorces and remarriages occurring in our society such that a large number of families are actually stepfamilies. In remarried families, parenting is shared among different sets of parents and different household. Children will tend to visit in and out of households for visitations. Issues with children not accepting parenting from their stepparents can be an issue and this can be hard on children as well as the parents. Strong sense of loss can recur in remarried families due to the families not feeling intact, which may sometimes cause emotional scars, conflicting loyalties. Remarried families can be complex. Each additional member of the family system allows for another relationship or another with every other member of the family. The family is made up of biological parents, grandparents, siblings, stepparents, stepsiblings, half siblings and step-grandparents (Meyerhoff, 2010). With this many relationships between so many people there is potential for stress, but there is equally an increased potential for a large support network if everyone cooperates and communicates well. Hence reward can be tremendous.

Adoption family

Adoption family structure is complex but potentially rewarding ….

Changes in family structure

Family structure has changed significantly in recent years, with increasing divorce rates and single-parent households (Field, 2003). Evolving definitions of family include people who may not be kin, but who act as family for some individuals, Rothausen (1999). Bogan (1991) uses the term wider families to refer to the concept and opines that such families result from individuals’ lifestyles and may not involve the sharing of a household. This concept of family describes a group of people who are invested in one another due to bonds of dependence, obligation or duty, love caring or cooperation (Rothausen, 1999). In the same way Weeks, Heapy and Donovan (2001) refer to same -sex families which are founded on bonds of individual choice, as ‘families of choice’.

There is also a great deal of cultural variability in how the term family is defined. Changes to the family structure is also happening through ethnic difference which is also influenced by religion within the society In many Asian countries, a normal family may include three or more generations living in one household (Rothausen, Kanye, 2005). And as life expectancy continues to rise the number of multigenerational families may increase (Levade et al, 2000).

The dynamics of family have changed, with couples having children later on following economic stability and careers. A lot of women are pursuing careers thereby starting family in the late 30s. Families might only have one child, this could lead to the child being spoiled (through parents trying to over compensate) and lonely. With new legalisation allowing same-sex couples to adopt families in place, the traditional family structure has changed to contemporary.


Family friendly government policies are helping families by providing childcare, pre and after school care benefits (tax credit), vouchers, extended maternity and paternity leave, flexible work / life balance, Finn (2010). This is allowing families to spend more time together there by forming strong bonds, which is essential for a better relationship between family members. The stronger the relationship the more family became a haven in this heartless world.

The family is a social institution. Due to diversity, different cultures have different concepts of family values. Same families can be oppressive (oppress individual development), restrictive, inhibitive and repressive. This can lead to families masking undercurrents and patterns of abuse, violence and potentially exploitation. Finn (2010) states that majority of abuse is within family unit and close relatives. Hence for the abused people family might not be a haven. An example of abuse by family is baby P incident (whereby a little boy lost his life through abuse by family members and extended family members). Baby P’s abuse occurrence and pattern was masked by the same family members who abused him, therefore family was not a haven for baby P. More often abused people sometimes become anti-social because of their lake of trust and also often became withdrawn such that they are un-productive. Abused people may often confide in people outside the family unit and are most like to become estranged to their biological family and they will forge relationship with people who they will consider as family. They often get support from outside the family unit. The will make family of choice based on friendship and this family of choice might be their haven in the heartless world, Lasch (1977).

Support from family members differ between same -sex and opposite sex couple. The research by Kurdeck (2001) found that gays and lesbians received very little support from their families of origin as compared to the heterosexual couples, Bravewoman et al (1998). For the gays and lesbians who do not have support from their family of origin family is not a haven of. They might face the pressure from society and family to conform to what is traditional. This can lead to unrest, but family is a haven for the gays and lesbians who have strong family ties.

Lawrence Stone (1977) argued that, the new family ideal prescribed domestic privacy and strong emotional attachments between spouses and between parents and children. Today’s life style has lead to longevity, meaning parent and child relationship can last fifty years or more. Family remains a central attachment in most people’s lives, thereby family acting as a haven in this heartless world.


The change in the perception of family in recent times is through people choosing a family life in whatever shape or form and that people still desire a family life and family is still a required lifestyle option for the majority of people, Finn (2010). Therefore there will always be a variation in family units. Families will come in different shape and sizes and such differentiation is expected. So family will vary from time to time and place to place. For the majority of people the family is a haven in this heartless world, for family is a source of great joy and warmth.

Whatever your particular family situation it will have tremendous influence upon your children’s happiness, development and future. A strong relationship with extended families can be just as rewarding as close ties inside the nuclear family. However building those bonds inside the extended family can be a little more difficult because, obviously everyone does not live under the same roof. For young children, living in a big family can be a lot of fun.

The traditional family will continue to exist along other alternative family and everyone has a right to choose which family they belong too and the one that suit their situation and circumstances. Hence family life in whatever chosen shape is still the desired and required lifestyle option for the majority of people.


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Approximately 250 words