The Family

Martial Arts Novels Journalism
2022 Jun 01

Each and every one of us has a family. However, these families exist in many variations around the world. In this module, we discuss definitions of family, family forms, the developmental trajectory of families, and commonly used theories to understand families. We also cover factors that influence familiessuch as culture and societal expectationswhile incorporating the latest family relevant statistics.

Understand the various family forms.

Identify different parenting styles.

Know the typical developmental trajectory of families.

Understand cultural differences in dating, marriage, and divorce.

Explain the influence of children and aging parents on families.

Know concrete tips for increasing happiness within your family.

It is often said that humans are social creatures. We make friends, live in communities, and connect to acquaintances through shared interests. In recent times, social media has become a new way for people to connect with childhood peers, friends of friends, and even strangers. Perhaps nothing is more central to the social world than the concept of family. Our families represent our earliest relationships andoftenour most enduring ones. In this module, you will learn about the psychology of families. Our discussion will begin with a basic definition of family and how this has changed across time and place. Next, we move on to a discussion of family roles and how families evolve across the lifespan. Finally, we conclude with issues such as divorce and abuse that are important factors in the psychological health of families.

In J.K. Rowlings famous Harry Potter novels, the boy magician lives in a cupboard under the stairs. His unfortunate situation is the result of his wizarding parents having been killed in a duel, causing the young Potter to be subsequently shipped off to live with his cruel aunt and uncle. Although family may not be the central theme of these wand and sorcery novels, Harrys example raises a compelling question: what, exactly, counts as family?

A traditional family has a somewhat narrow definition that includes only relationships of blood, marriage, and occasionally adoption. More recently, in many societies, the definition of family has expanded. A modern family may include less traditional variations based on strong commitment and emotional ties. [Image: 10070052 moodboard, CC BY 2.0,

The definition of family changes across time and across culture.Traditional familyhas been defined as two or more people who are related by blood, marriage, andoccasionallyadoption (Murdock, 1949). Historically, the most standard version of the traditional family has been the. Are there people in your life you consider family who are not necessarily related to you in the traditional sense? Harry Potter would undoubtedly call his schoolmates Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger family, even though they do not fit the traditional definition. Likewise, Harry might consider Hedwig, his snowy owl, a family member, and he would not be alone in doing so. Research from the US (Harris, 2015) and Japan (Veldkamp, 2009) finds that many pet owners consider their pets to be members of the family. Another traditional form of family is thejoint family, in which three or more generations of blood relatives live in a single household or compound. Joint families often include cousins, aunts and uncles, and other relatives from the extended family. Versions of the joint family system exist around the globe including in South Asia, Southern Europe, the South Pacific and other locations.

In more modern times, the traditional definition of family has been criticized as being too narrow.Modern familiesespecially those in industrialized societiesexist in many forms, including thesingle parent family, foster families, same-sex couples, childfree families, and many other variations from traditional norms. Common to each of these family forms is commitment, caring, and close emotional tieswhich are increasingly the defining characteristics of family (Benokraitis, 2015). The changing definition of family has come about, in part, because of factors such as divorce and re-marriage. In many cases, people do not grow up with their family of orientation, but become part of astepfamilyorblended family. Whether a single-parent, joint, or two-parent family, a personsfamily of orientation, or the family into which he or she is born, generally acts as the social context for young children learning about relationships.

According to Bowen (1978), each person has a role to play in his or her family, and each role comes with certain rules and expectations. This system of rules and roles is known asfamily systems theory. The goal for the family is stability: rules and expectations that work for all. When the role of one member of the family changes, so do the rules and expectations. Such changes ripple through the family and cause each member to adjust his or her own role and expectations to compensate for the change.

There are many variations of modern families, including blended or stepfamilies where two families combine. In a combined family the roles of individuals may be different than in their original family of orientation. [Image: Doc List, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0,

Take, for example, the classic story of Cinderella. Cinderellas initial role is that of a child. Her parents expectations of her are what would be expected of a growing and developing child. But, by the time Cinderella reaches her teen years, her role has changed considerably. Both of her biological parents have died and she has ended up living with her stepmother and stepsisters. Cinderellas role shifts from being an adored child to acting as the household servant. The stereotype of stepfamilies as being emotionally toxic is, of course, not true. You might even say there are often-overlooked instructive elements in the Cinderella story: Her role in the family has become not only that of servant but also that of caretaker-- the others expecting her to cook and clean while in return they treat her with spite and cruelty. When Cinderella finds her prince and leaves to start her own familyknown as afamily of procreationit is safe to assume that the roles of her stepmother and stepsisters will changesuddenly having to cook and clean for themselves.

Gender has been one factor by which family roles have long been assigned. Traditional roles have historically placed housekeeping and childrearing squarely in the realm of womens responsibilities. Men, by contrast, have been seen as protectors and as providers of resources including money. Increasingly, families are crossing these traditional roles with women working outside the home and men contributing more to domestic and childrearing responsibilities. Despite this shift toward more egalitarian roles, women still tend to do more housekeeping and childrearing tasks than their husbands (known as thesecond shift) (Hochschild & Machung, 2012).

Interestingly, parental roles have an impact on the ambitions of their children. Croft and her colleagues (2014) examined the beliefs of more than 300 children. The researchers discovered that when fathers endorsed more equal sharing of household duties and when mothers were more workplace oriented it influenced how their daughters thought. In both cases, daughters were more likely to have ambitions toward working outside the home and working in less gender-stereotyped professions.

Our families are so familiar to us that we can sometimes take for granted the idea that families develop over time.Nuclear families, those core units of parents and children, do not simply pop into being. The parents meet one another, they court or date one another, and they make the decision to have children. Even then the family does not quit changing. Children grow up and leave home and the roles shift yet again.

According to Attachment Theory, the type of care that we receive as infants can have a significant influence on the intimate relationships that we have as adults. [Image: Muriel HEARD-COLLIER, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0,

In a psychological sense, families begin with intimacy. The need for intimacy, or close relationships with others, is universal. We seek out close and meaningful relationships over the course of our lives. What our adult intimate relationships look like actually stems from infancy and our relationship with our primary caregiver (historically our mother)a process of development described byattachment theory. According to attachment theory, different styles of caregiving result in different relationship attachments. For example, responsive mothersmothers who soothe their crying infantsproduce infants who havesecure attachmentsAinsworth, 1973Bowlby, 1969). About 60% of all children are securely attached. As adults, secure individuals rely on theirworking modelsconcepts of how relationships operatethat were created in infancy, as a result of their interactions with their primary caregiver (mother), to foster happy and healthy adult intimate relationships. Securely attached adults feel comfortable being depended on and depending on others.

As you might imagine, inconsistent or dismissive parents also impact the attachment style of their infants (Ainsworth, 1973), but in a different direction. In early studies on attachment style, infants were observed interacting with their caregivers, followed by being separated from them, then finally reunited. About 20% of the observed children were resistant, meaning they were anxious even before, and especially during, the separation; and 20% were avoidant, meaning they actively avoided their caregiver after separation (i.e., ignoring the mother when they were reunited). These early attachment patterns can affect the way people relate to one another in adulthood.adults worry that others dont love them, and they often become frustrated or angry when their needs go unmet.adults will appear not to care much about their intimate relationships, and are uncomfortable being depended on or depending on others themselves.

Table 1: Early attachment and adult intimacy

The good news is that our attachment can be changed. It isnt easy, but it is possible for anyone to recover a secure attachment. The process often requires the help of a supportive and dependable other, and for the insecure person to achievecoherencethe realization that his or her upbringing is not a permanent reflection of character or a reflection of the world at large, nor does it bar him or her from being worthy of love or others of being trustworthy (Treboux, Crowell, & Waters, 2004).

Over time, the process of finding a mate has changed dramatically. In Victorian England, for instance, young women in high society trained for years in the artsto sing, play music, dance, compose verse, etc. These skills were thought to be vital to the courtship rituala demonstration of feminine worthiness. Once a woman was of marriageable age, she would attend dances and other public events as a means of displaying her availability. A young couple interested in one another would find opportunities to spend time together, such as taking a walk. That era had very different dating practices from today, in which teenagers have more freedom, more privacy, and can date more people.

One major difference in the way people find a mate these days is the way we use technology to both expand and restrict themarriage marketthe process by which potential mates compare assets and liabilities of available prospects and choose the best option (Benokraitis, 2015). Comparing marriage to a market might sound unromantic, but think of it as a way to illustrate how people seek out attractive qualities in a mate. Modern technology has allowed us to expand our market by allowing us to search for potential partners all over the worldas opposed to the days when people mostly relied on local dating pools. Technology also allows us to filter out undesirable (albeit available) prospects at the outset, based on factors such as shared interests, age, and other features.

The use of filters to find the most desirable partner is a common practice, resulting in people marrying others very similar to themselvesa concept calledhomogamy; the opposite is known asheterogamy). In his comparison of educational homogamy in 55 countries, Smits (2003) found strong support for higher-educated people marrying other highly educated people. As such, education appears to be a strong filter people use to help them select a mate. The most common filters we useor, put another way, the characteristics we focus on most in potential matesare age, race, social status, and religion (Regan, 2008). Other filters we use include compatibility, physical attractiveness (we tend to pick people who are as attractive as we are), and proximity (for practical reasons, we often pick people close to us) (Klenke-Hamel & Janda, 1980).

In many countries, technology is increasingly used to help single people find each other, and this may be especially true of older adults who are divorced or widowed, as there are few societally-structured activities for older singles. For example, younger people in school are usually surrounded with many potential dating partners of a similar age and background. As we get older, this is less true, as we focus on our careers and find ourselves surrounded by co-workers of various ages, marital statuses, and backgrounds.

In some countries, many people are coupled and committed to marriage through arrangements made by parents or professional marriage brokers. [Image: Ananabanana, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0,

In some cultures, however, it is not uncommon for the families of young people to do the work of finding a mate for them. For example, the Shanghai Marriage Market refers to the Peoples Park in Shanghai, Chinaa place where parents of unmarried adults meet on weekends to trade information about their children in attempts to find suitable spouses for them (Bolsover, 2011). In India, the marriage market refers to the use of marriage brokers or marriage bureaus to pair eligible singles together (Trivedi, 2013). To many Westerners, the idea of arranged marriage can seem puzzling. It can appear to take the romance out of the equation and violate values about personal freedom. On the other hand, some people in favor of arranged marriage argue that parents are able to make more mature decisions than young people.

While such intrusions may seem inappropriate based on your upbringing, for many people of the world such help is expected, even appreciated. In India for example, parental arranged marriages are largely preferred to other forms of marital choices (Ramsheena & Gundemeda, 2015, p. 138). Of course, ones religious and social caste plays a role in determining how involved family may be.

In terms of other notable shifts in attitude seen around the world, an increase in cohabitation has been habitationis defined as an arrangement in which two people who are romantically live together even though they are not married (Prinz, 1995). Cohabitation is common in many countries, with the Scandinavian nations of Iceland, Sweden, and Norway reporting the highest percentages, and more traditional countries like India, China, and Japan reporting low percentages (DeRose, 2011). In countries where cohabitation is increasingly common, there has been speculation as to whether or not cohabitation is now part of the natural developmental progression of romantic relationships: dating and courtship, then cohabitation, engagement, and finally marriage. Though, while many cohabitating arrangements ultimately lead to marriage, many do not.

While marriage is common across cultures, the details such as How and When are often quite different. Now the Who of marriage is experiencing an important change as laws are updated in a growing number of countries and states to give same-sex couples the same rights and benefits through marriage as heterosexual couples. [Image: Bart Vis, CC BY 2.0,

Most people will marry in their lifetime. In the majority of countries, 80% of men and women have been married by the age of 49 (United Nations, 2013). Despite how common marriage remains, it has undergone some interesting shifts in recent times. Around the world, people are tending to get married later in life or, increasingly, not at all. People in more developed countries (e.g., Nordic and Western Europe), for instance, marry later in lifeat an average age of 30 years. This is very different than, for example, the economically developing country of Afghanistan, which has one of the lowest average-age statistics for marriageat 20.2 years (United Nations, 2013). Another shift seen around the world is a gender gap in terms of age when people get married. In every country, men marry later than women. Since the 1970s, the average age of marriage for women has increased from 21.8 to 24.7 years. Men have seen a similar increase in age at first marriage.

As illustrated, the courtship process can vary greatly around the world. So too can anengagementa formal agreement to get married. Some of these differences are small, such as on which hand an engagement ring is worn. In many countries it is worn on the left, but in Russia, Germany, Norway, and India, women wear their ring on their right. There are also more overt differences, such as who makes the proposal. In India and Pakistan, it is not uncommon for the family of the groom to propose to the family of the bride, with little to no involvement from the bride and groom themselves. In most Western industrialized countries, it is traditional for the male to propose to the female. What types of engagement traditions, practices, and rituals are common where you are from? How are they changing?

Do you want children? Do you already have children? Increasingly, families are postponing or not having children. Families that choose to forego having children are known aschildfreefamilies, while families that want but are unable to conceive are referred to aschildlessfamilies. As more young people pursue their education and careers, age at first marriage has increased; similarly, so has the age at which people become parents. The average age for first-time mothers is 25 in the United States (up from 21 in 1970), 29.4 in Switzerland, and 29.2 in Japan (Matthews & Hamilton, 2014).

The decision to become a parent should not be taken lightly. There are positives and negatives associated with parenting that should be considered. Many parents report that having children increases their well-being (White & Dolan, 2009). Researchers have also found that parents, compared to their non-parent peers, are more positive about their lives (Nelson, Kushlev, English, Dunn, & Lyubomirsky, 2013). On the other hand, researchers have also found that parents, compared to non-parents, are more likely to be depressed, report lower levels of marital quality, and feel like their relationship with their partner is more businesslike than intimate (Walker, 2011).

If you do become a parent, your parenting style will impact your childs future success in romantic and parenting relationships.Authoritativeparenting, arguably the best parenting style, is both demanding and supportive of the child (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Support refers to the amount of affection, acceptance, and warmth a parent provides. Demandingness refers to the degree a parent controls his/her childs behavior. Children who have authoritative parents are generally happy, capable, and successful (Maccoby, 1992).

Other, less advantageous parenting styles include authoritarian (in contrast to authoritative), permissive, and uninvolved (Tavassolie, Dudding, Madigan, Thorvardarson, & Winsler, 2016).Authoritarianparents are low in support and high in demandingness. Arguably, this is the parenting style used by Harry Potters harsh aunt and uncle, and Cinderellas vindictive stepmother. Children who receive authoritarian parenting are more likely to be obedient and proficient, but score lower in happiness, social competence, and self-esteem.Permissiveparents are high in support and low in demandingness. Their children rank low in happiness and self-regulation, and are more likely to have problems with authority.Uninvolvedparents are low in both support and demandingness. Children of these parents tend to rank lowest across all life domains, lack self-control, have low self-esteem, and are less competent than their peers.

Support for the benefits of authoritative parenting has been found in countries as diverse as the Czech Republic (Dmitrieva, Chen, Greenberger, & Gil-Rivas, 2004), India (Carson, Chowdhurry, Perry, & Pati, 1999), China (Pilgrim, Luo, Urberg, & Fang, 1999), Israel (Mayseless, Scharf, & Sholt, 2003), and Palestine (Punamaki, Qouta, & Sarraj, 1997). In fact, authoritative parenting appears to be superior in Western, individualistic societiesso much so that some people have argued that there is no longer a need to study it (Steinberg, 2001). Other researchers are less certain about the superiority of authoritative parenting and point to differences in cultural values and beliefs. For example, while many European-American children do poorly with too much strictness (authoritarianparenting), Chinese children often do well, especially academically. The reason for this likely stems from Chinese culture viewing strictness in parenting as related to training, which is not central to American parenting (Chao, 1994).

Just because children grow up does not mean their family stops being a family. The concept of family persists across the entire lifespan, but the specific roles and expectations of its members change over time. One major change comes when a child reaches adulthood and moves away. When exactly children leave home varies greatly depending on societal norms and expectations, as well as on economic conditions such as employment opportunities and affordable housing options. Some parents may experience sadness when their adult children leave the homea situation known asEmpty Nest.

When ones children reach adulthood it doesnt mean that parenting stops. Boomerang kids and multigenerational households that include aging parents are increasingly common. [Image: davidmulder61, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Many parents are also finding that their grown children are struggling to launch into independence. Its an increasingly common story: a child goes off to college and, upon graduation, is unable to find steady employment. In such instances, a frequent outcome is for the child to return home, becoming a boomerang kid. Theboomerang generation, as the phenomenon has come to be known, refers to young adults, mostly between the ages of 25 and 34, who return home to live with their parents while they strive for stability in their livesoften in terms of finances, living arrangements, and sometimes romantic relationships. These boomerang kids can be both good and bad for families. Within American families, 48% of boomerang kids report having paid rent to their parents, and 89% say they help out with household expensesa win for everyone (Parker, 2012). On the other hand, 24% of boomerang kids report that returning home hurts their relationship with their parents (Parker, 2012). For better or for worse, the number of children returning home has been increasing around the world.

In addition to middle-aged parents spending more time, money, and energy taking care of their adult children, they are also increasingly taking care of their own aging and ailing parents. Middle-aged people in this set of circumstances are commonly referred to as thesandwich generationDukhovnov & Zagheni, 2015). Of course, cultural norms and practices again come into play. In some Asian and Hispanic cultures, the expectation is that adult children are supposed to take care of aging parents and parents-in-law. In other Western culturescultures that emphasize individuality and self-sustainabilitythe expectation has historically been that elders eitherage in place, modifying their home and receiving services to allow them to continue to live independently, or enter long-term care facilities. However, given financial constraints, many families find themselves taking in and caring for their aging parents, increasing the number ofmultigenerational homesaround the world.

Divorce refers to the legal dissolution of a marriage. Depending on societal factors, divorce may be more or less of an option for married couples. Despite popular belief, divorce rates in the United States actually declined for many years during the 1980s and 1990s, and only just recently started to climb back uplanding at just below 50% of marriages ending in divorce today (Marriage & Divorce, 2016); however, it should be noted that divorce rates increase for each subsequent marriage, and there is considerable debate about the exact divorce rate. Are there specific factors that can predict divorce? Are certain types of people or certain types of relationships more or less at risk for breaking up? Indeed, there are several factors that appear to be either risk factors or protective factors.

Pursuing education decreases the risk of divorce. So too does waiting until we are older to marry. Likewise, if our parents are still married we are less likely to divorce. Factors that increase our risk of divorce include having a child before marriage and living with multiple partners before marriage, known as serial cohabitation (cohabitation with ones expected martial partner does not appear to have the same effect). And, of course, societal and religious attitudes must also be taken into account. In societies that are more accepting of divorce, divorce rates tend to be higher. Likewise, in religions that are less accepting of divorce, divorce rates tend to be lower. See Lyngstad & Jalovaara (2010) for a more thorough discussion of divorce risk.

If a couple does divorce, there are specific considerations they should take into account to help their children cope. Parents should reassure their children that both parents will continue to love them and that the divorce is in no way the childrens fault. Parents should also encourage open communication with their children and be careful not to bias them against their ex or use them as a means of hurting their ex (Denham, 2013Harvey & Fine, 2004; Pescosoido, 2013).

Abuse can occur in multiple forms and across all family relationships. Breiding, Basile, Smith, Black, & Mahendra (2015) define the forms of abuse as:

, the use of intentional physical force to cause harm. Scratching, pushing, shoving, throwing, grabbing, biting, choking, shaking, slapping, punching, and hitting are common forms of physical abuse;

, the act of forcing someone to participate in a sex act against his or her will. Such abuse is often referred to as sexual assault or rape. A marital relationship does not grant anyone the right to demand sex or sexual activity from anyone, even a spouse;

, aggressive behavior that is intended to control someone else. Such abuse can include threats of physical or sexual abuse, manipulation, bullying, and stalking.

Abuse between partners is referred to asintimate partner violence; however, such abuse can also occur between a parent and child (child abuse), adult children and their aging parents (elder abuse), and even between siblings.

The most common form of abuse between parents and children is actually that of neglect.Neglectrefers to a familys failure to provide for a childs basic physical, emotional, medical, or educational needs (DePanfilis, 2006). Harry Potters aunt and uncle, as well as Cinderellas stepmother, could all be prosecuted for neglect in the real world.

Abuse is a complex issue, especially within families. There are many reasons people become abusers: poverty, stress, and substance abuse are common characteristics shared by abusers, although abuse can happen in any family. There are also many reasons adults stay in abusive relationships: (a)learned helplessness(the abused person believing he or she has no control over the situation); (b) the belief that the abuser can/will change; (c) shame, guilt, self-blame, and/or fear; and (d) economic dependence. All of these factors can play a role.

Children who experience abuse may act out or otherwise respond in a variety of unhealthful ways. These include acts of self-destruction, withdrawal, and aggression, as well as struggles with depression, anxiety, and academic performance. Researchers have found that abused childrens brains may produce higher levels of stress hormones. These hormones can lead to decreased brain development, lower stress thresholds, suppressed immune responses, and lifelong difficulties with learning and memory (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008).

Divorce and abuse are important concerns, but not all family hurdles are negative. One example of a positive family issue is adoption.Adoptionhas long historical roots (it is even mentioned in the Bible) and involves taking in and raising someone elses child legally as ones own. Becoming a parent is one of the most fulfilling things a person can do (Gallup & Newport, 1990), but even with modern reproductive technologies, not all couples who would like to have children (which is still most) are able to. For these families, adoption often allows them to feel wholeby completing their family.

In 2013, in the United States, there were over 100,000 children infoster care(where children go when their biological families are unable to adequately care for them) available for adoption (Soronen, 2013). In total