Family as a Social Institution

What does family mean to me?

I come from a predominantly (INSERT ETHNICITY HERE) family that has been a part of (PLACE NAME OF HOME CITY HERE) for generations. In fact, due to the sheer length of time that our family has been in this particular region, there is a staggering amount of interrelations among many of my neighbors with my family to the point that most of my neighbors are related to me through either an uncle, cousin or some other family member. As such, my definition of what it means to be a family is one where there is a significant emphasis on close family ties, care, and respect for the elderly, as well as having a close-knit hierarchical structure which is primarily patriarchal.

Groups within the Family

Family roles can be described as the defining characteristics inherent to individual family members, which act as their method of interaction within the family dynamic (Bagger and Li, 2012). It is their position within the family and what is expected of them. In the case of my mother, we rarely visit her family since when it comes to marriage within our culture; daughters are no longer considered part of their original family unless extenuating situations (i.e. severe spousal abuse) forces them to return.

As a result, wives have a rather limited capacity within families and are expected to obey their husbands and have to be an ideal homemaker. My father, on the other hand, is not considered the head of the family since it is my grandfather who holds that particular position.

Rather, as seen in the case of families all around the world, my father’s role is primarily that of the breadwinner, and he is expected to bring money home to the family for expenses. My grandmother’s and grandfather’s role within the family is primarily that of the heads of the household who make most of the important decisions within the family. This arrangement is what constitutes my family at the present, with no other groups that I can think of (aside from our neighbors who we are related to) since we do not visit the parents of my mother nor interact with her side of the family.

Major Event

One recent event that has helped to shape the experience of my family has been the death of my grandmother. The hospital expenses, along with the cost of the burial depleted our finances, resulting in fewer opportunities for us all.

Relationship with other groups

My family is pretty insular, so we do not have any relationship with any other groups or institutions within our neighborhood.

Family in social or historical context

Similarity or difference within a historical context

Family communication patterns can be described as the distinct method in which family members communicate ideas, show respect, or adapt to new situations given family methods of communication. As explained by Stephens (2013), these patterns of communication tend to change over time within societies as new influences are adapted, resulting in changes in the family dynamic. In the past (INSERT YOUR ETHNICITY HERE) families were considered as having a rather odd method of communication in general in that it is often the case that children within the family are not praised for their actions.

It is due to the cultural belief that to praise a child is to give them “a swelled head” (i.e., becoming boastful), which is looked down upon in our society. Discipline and a heavy focus on following authority figures are emphasized, resulting in the grandfather rarely if ever, giving compliments to his children. Despite this, it was expected back then that children should respect their elders no matter what and, as a result, this created a more direct form of communication within the family wherein if a grandfather says something it must be done immediately (Gerson, 2009). The same can be said if a father does or says anything as well.

At the present, there is a certain level of “liberalism” within the context of family patterns of communication within my culture wherein children no long unquestionably obey what their parents or grandparents say and instead, they tend to question why certain actions must be done (Whyte, 1992). It would have been considered highly unorthodox and unacceptable 100 years ago yet, at the present, it is considered normal behavior. For me, this shows how social contexts and behaviors tend to change over time within families.

Choices Made

It is rather unfortunate to admit, however, in the past children in my culture rarely had any say in the decision-making process within our family. It is true, for a lot of traditional (INSERT NAME OF ETHNICITY HERE) families wherein job roles, who to marry, and what sort of future is to be expected of the child are often decided in advance by the father and his parents. There was little dynamism between children, the father, and grandparents involving the child having a say as to what their future is supposed to be. Rather, it was more along the lines of the child potentially trying to convince them that a particular path is the best and hope that they agree with what they were saying.

However, it was usually the case that the parents and grandparents decided ahead of time regarding a child’s future. As for decisions involving other aspects of the family, children had no role in them, and it is primarily the adults who discuss such things. Normally, the grandfather had the final say in all matters, with the rest of the family having to obey him due to the cultural traditions at the time (Gerson, 2009).

At the present, children within my culture have the right to decide what their future should be (to a certain extent) and are also involved in the decisions of the family when they reach an appropriate age. Taking this into consideration, it can be stated that this is a massive improvement over how things were like before.

Social Processes of Change

Power bases and alliances within families often boil down to the ability of one aspect of the family to influence the other (Jager et al. 2012). It creates a hierarchical structure at times as seen in the case where a child has to obey his/her father due to the authority of his position as head of the family gives him. Within a traditional (INSERT ETHNICITY HERE) family, women technically are placed at a lower hierarchical ladder as compared to the men within the family. This means that in the past, power bases and alliances within the family were primarily concentrated between the males (Mosser & Hanson Frieze 2012).

It often took the form of most of the power lying within the hands of the grandfather. It must be noted, though, that since it is a part of most cultural heritages to respect the elderly, grandmothers within the context of our culture in the past did have a certain amount of influence over fathers and uncles in that they do have to obey what she says. This creates a dual power base within families where the grandfather holds primary authority and the final say in all decisions made by the family while the grandmother has a form of secondary authority based on the cultural tradition of respect for the elderly.

At the present, this dynamism has completely changed wherein it is the breadwinner of the family (whether male or female) that holds authority within the household. Such a change I believe is in part due to the current economic realities of the world that we live in today wherein to enjoy modern conveniences (i.e. air conditioning, cars, cable televisions, etc.) thereof course needs to be a stream of constant income for this to be possible. Such a state of affairs did not exist in the past wherein families could be relatively self-sufficient through the land they owned yet at the present such a case does not exist wherein there is a considerable level of dependence on modern conveniences.

The similarity of Family Experience

Overall, I would have to say that my family experience is the same as any other family belonging to the (INSERT ETHNICITY HERE) culture, with nothing strange or unusual taking place.

Works Cited

Gerson, K. 2009. “Unfinished Revolution : How a New Generation Is Reshaping Family, Work, and Gender in America”. Oxford University Press, USA, 16.

Whyte, M. 1992. “Choosing Mates-The American Way”. Society, 29 (3), 125.

Bagger, J., & Li, A. 2012. “Being important matters: The impact of work and family centralities on the family-to-work conflict–satisfaction relationship”. Human Relations, 65(4), 473-500.

Jager, J., Bornstein, M. H., Putnick, D. L., & Hendricks, C. 2012. “Family Members’ Unique Perspectives of the Family: Examining Their Scope, Size, and Relations to Individual Adjustment”. Journal Of Family Psychology, 26(3), 400-410.

Mosser, A., & Hanson Frieze, I. 2012. “Future Work and Family Plans of Traditional Women, Nontraditional Women and Men”. Journal Of Behavioural Sciences, 22(3), 1-17.

Stephens, M. 2013. “The Non-Traditional Family: An Introduction”. Review Of Black Political Economy, 40(1), 27-29.