Sample Essay on the Family in America

The concept of family has been an important part of the United States people. Having a clear understanding of what family is remains a factor that dictates how people live their lives in the present times. On the same note, it is important to indicate that the American Society was once firmly based on the family concept, making the nuclear family the very core of the definition of what a family is. Relationships between different members of the society could depend on the roles put in place through the definition of a family. However, many a research has been conducted, indicating a gradual shift from the earlier concept of family. Earlier, a family could only be defined as a unit consisting of a father, mother and children, something that many scholars refute by pointing out at the changes that exist in the modern times. According to Hansen (2005), kinship is an important concept of a family that goes beyond care-giving towards exchanging other important things. This paper looks at this family concept adopted by Hansen in light of the various researches done on the American family.

First, the traditional meaning of a kin can only be complete when the parties involved are related by blood. Otherwise, a person does not qualify to be another person’s kin. On the same note, David Popenoe (3) argues that the American family concept has been on a decline for many decades, in terms of how it is embraced and practiced. In the present times, adopting the traditional meaning of a family as an institution made of a mother, father, and children is a source of much controversy. This comes from the fact that the American society has changed in terms of how people relate to each other. For instance, gay marriages have been on the increase but their placement within the society is still debatable. In any family, there must be certain rights and privileges to be enjoyed by all the parties. Many scholars argue that the traditional concept of family has been affected within the American society because of its tendency to institute divisions and superiority, with the male gender dominating over the female gender. The gains from the equal rights movements have led to the social and economic empowerment of women, leading to the breakdown of the traditional meaning of family.

Hansen (9) presents a different concept of family where a network of kins is developed in order to help in caring for each other. At this point, it would be important to note that the main person of having a family is to have an institution where care is given as required by the members. Such care can be financial, social, psychological and even physical in nature. Traditionally, a family has a defined way of handling things, with the father or males having to work in order to provide for everyone. Women and children also have their roles to place accordingly. The current American society has greatly shifted from this, with single-parented homes ever increasing. This means that most homes have no males or fathers to perform roles as expected in the traditional family setup. However, Popenoe (9-12) argues that lack of a father in the home does not mean that expected family functions are disrupted, but maybe because of economic empowerment and lack of independence to the males. Stephanie Coontz (2-5) notes that some changes have been for the good while others for the bad.

The concept presented by Hansen does deviate our understanding of the traditional concept of kinship on the fact that different people can easily form a network of kin without having been related by blood. Traditionally, kinsmen would be involved majorly in the welfare and development of children within the society. According to Braithwaite, et al (4-8), most scholarly literature point to the fact that family remains to be the basic relational unit, most of them exploring the possibility of having developing a family relationship from people who are neither connected through blood or kin relationship. Braithwaite, et al (19) refer to such people as fictive kinsmen and are believed to be able to function well just like the normal traditional families. Karen Hansen’s paper clearly presents a story of a family that is created through voluntary membership of persons who have particular needs. They are always available for each other in times of need, especially, it times of caring for children and the elderly. Members mutually benefit from the relationship as can be seen in their concern towards each other.

Nevertheless, it is obvious that the need for a family network by fictive kins comes from the desire to meet certain expectations. For instance, Hansen’s report shows that the network is made up of persons who are inadequate in certain economic and sociological aspects and coming together is a way of ensuring that members help each other when the need arises. The high numbers of poor people characterizes the current American society. This means that one way of ensuring that people develop a culture of caregiving as expected in each family is to come up with such networks made up of voluntary kinsmen. This is different from the current state of affairs where democratization has broken the family ties that were once adopted and respected by all. This concept means that people will find ways of dealing with each other’s’ needs as they arise. Such a concept is uncharacteristic of today’s American society set-up where individualism continues to take root (Coontz, 8). It is surprising that the network presented by the report not only works well for childcare, but it also helps the elderly in the society. This is evident in Patricia’s story where she voluntarily cares for the grandma out of obligation, putting up with different challenges that come along that duty.

Economic empowerment constitutes one of the reasons for decline of the American family. The quality of life changes every day by the technological changes and each person works even harder to afford what defines life. For this reason, parents have to work extra hours in order to earn wages that affords personal and family needs, something that exposes children to serious unethical behaviors within the society. The absence of close watch and guidance from role models expose children to unhealthy influence in the neighborhood. On the other hand, the network presented by Hansen comes up with an important solution because parents easily attend to their duties while the rest of the trusted network members voluntarily look after their children, providing them with the best care. Remember that this is a network of voluntary kinsmen with well-known characters. At the same time, older persons do undergo many challenges because children and grandchildren have to work in order to fend for themselves. In effect, older members are taken to certain caregiving centers. In the case presented by Hansen, grandma has many challenges since some of her family members are either incapacitated or imprisoned. For this reason, Hansen presents a redefinition of family with the same concept of the traditional one, in terms of functions.

Therefore, the traditional form of the family may be weak in the United States; however, adopting the concept of a family network brings back different members of the society to perform the same functions through corporate voluntary responsibility. Note that the traditional concept routes for core members like the father, mother and children; however, the American society has become so liberal that people make choices and are ready to live with the consequences of the same. This is why there are gay marriages, single parents, children-free couples, and even single people by choice. Pushing for a straightforward definition of family in light of these groups has always been a problem to the American scholars. In fact, an increase in such cases has been noted to be the main reason for the American family’s decline in terms of functions and roles. However, it comes out clear that coming up with a family network whose membership is voluntary, one is free to join and leave at any time (Hansen, 12). Furthermore, no restrictions are given as to who qualifies or who does not qualify; what matters is the desire to contribute to the family functions. Hansen’s family concept is an idea that redefines the whole meaning of family and roles that different people play in order to function for the better of the society.

Works Cited

Braithwaite, D. O., Bach, B. W., Baxter, L. A., DiVerniero, R., Hammonds, J.R., Hosek, A. M., Willer, E. K., & Wolf, B. M. (2010). Constructing family: A typology of voluntary kin, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27, 388-407.

Coontz, Stephanie. Introduction, The way we never were: American families and the nostalgia trap. New York, NY: BasicBooks, c1992.

Hansen, Karen V. Not-so-nuclear families class, gender, and networks of care, New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, c2005.

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.