What is a family?

It is the basic unit of society, which plays a vital role in the growth, and development of children. Traditionally it is a group of people who live together and are related by birth (blood), adoption or marriage. Nowadays many couples co-habit, which means that they live together, as a family but are not married or with children. Family structures can change a lot over the years that they are together – different families have different types of family structures, it just depends on the family itself.

Nuclear Families.

These families consist of parents and children who live together in a home separate from the rest of their family. There are many reasons for this but main ones are that parents have had to move away to get the jobs they want or moving means they can send their children to better schools or afford a better home for their family. Being a nuclear family means that the parents do not have their own parents telling them how to raise their children, which can be seen as an advantage to the parents. However, children may not have a close relationship with their grandparents and feel like they are missing out on something – with no grandparents parents have no one to rely on for babysitting at short notice either. When being part of a nuclear family the family have to be careful that they make an effort to keep in touch with the rest of their family as they won’t see them as often as they would if they lived close to them.

Extended Families.

Similar to nuclear families but extended – made bigger! They are made bigger by the addition of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. They are live in the same house or live very close to each other and meet up on a regular basis. As there are many people around at all times the parents have someone to help them out whenever they need it when bringing up their children. However, this could be seen more of a burden if the parents do not feel they have chance to bring their children up the way they actually want too. When living, as part of extended family, parents and children must be careful that they appreciate the help they are given but also know how to decline it without upsetting other members of the family as this could lead to great friction within the family unit.

Step Families.

This is formed when a couple, at least one of who has one or more children, marry or co-habit. This relationship may then results in more children being born; these children then become stepsiblings to one and another. It is said that every one in ten children are part of a stepfamily. A stepfamily may mean that the children have a better quality of life because the parents are generally happier with their new partners than they were in their previous relationship. However, stepfamilies can come with problems too, children may resent each other or their parents new partner meaning that they all find it hard to bond together as a proper family unit.

Single Parent Families.

The vast majority of single parents are mothers who bring up their children alone. It has been said that more than one in four children are part of a single parent family. Families can become single parent families for a number of reasons; these can include imprisonment, death of a parent, divorce or separation, absence of a parent due to work commitments and, in some cases, single parent adoption. Being a single parent can have some clear advantages such as the parent has the ability to bring the child up in the way they chose without hassle from their partner. Children may also be happier if they have been removed from a stressful situation and find one happy parent is much better than two unhappy parents. However, children can lack a role model if one of there is absent – an absent second parent also means a strain on the parent in charge in a number of ways. The parent has to support their child and this can be hard work physically, financially and emotionally.

Shared Care Families.

The divorce or separation of parents may mean that children are forced to leave in two different households so that they get the chance to spend time with both their mum and dad. This therefore means that their everyday care and general up bringing remains the responsibility of both parents equally. Children may feel a lot happier with this situation because both their parents are pleased to see them, however, parents must make sure they let their child know they are very welcome whenever they visit so they do not feel left out.

Adoptive Families.

Adoption provides a permanent home for a child whose parents are unable to provide them with any stability. Adoptive parents come from a wide variety of social and cultural backgrounds and must undergo an extensive and rigorous procedure to ensure they are suitable to adoption children. When an adoption is finalised in court the adoptive parents assume all the rights and responsibilities of the birth parents. Once the child is settled the child usually takes their new family’s name so that they feel like a proper part of the family.

Foster Families.

There are many different reasons why children cannot be looked after by their natural parents and so are placed with a foster family – this situation can be short and long term fostering depending on the child’s situation. Foster parents come in a number of different shapes and sizes – they maybe married, single, co-habiting with people of either sex and with or without their own children. The parents have to be thoroughly checked to make sure that they are deemed suitable carers by the social services. Once this has been decided the social services will then put the parent through some form of training to prepare them. When children are put into their care they will be paid by the local authority and supported by the social services who will have legal responsibility for them. Foster children are normally encouraged to maintain contact with their birth families with the aim that they can be reunited.

The Changing Structure of Families.

Families change frequently as people and circumstances change and children grow older and more responsible. There are many reasons for the changing family structure and these are mostly because of how we have changed as a nation. Couples now expect a certain lifestyle, having a totally different attitude to family life and children to that of their parents. People are now choosing to marry at a later age, which means that their children are also born later too. Divorce is now easier to do and happens a lot more frequently, which means that family structures can be torn apart rather quickly. We have become socially and morally more acceptant of co-habitation, pregnancy outside marriage and single parent families, meaning that a ‘normal’ family isn’t so ‘normal’ anymore.

Family Roles.

Roles within families differ enormously now and are becoming more complex and confusing especially after divorce, remarriage or when people chose to co-habit. Many families still follow the traditional roles of family life – where mum cleans and looks after the children and dad earns money and fixes the car. However, these roles can be reversed as now many women earn more than their partners. In some cases, though, both parents share the roles surrounding their family life equally making everything a lot fairer. Sexual roles are determined by nature (our genes) and nurture (the environment in which a child is brought up). It is a debatable point which of the two has the greatest influence on a person but both are important to a person’s life.