FOCUSING ON CHILD. AN IMPORTANT SOCIAL VALUE PROMOTED BY THE CONTEMPORARY FAMILY
Abstract: The paper treats some of the most important changes of family life during the last century. Moreover the paper focuses on a very important social value which is representative for the cultural model of the modern family focusing on child. There are also some cases that illustrate the main sociological ideas sustained in this paper.
Key words: family, model, role, children, conflict
In this article I intend to present some of the fundamental changes that marked the family life among the last four-five decades, changes that brought a new family model (or some new family models), where the values that sit to the bases of the relations between the husbands, between the children or between the nuclear family and the extensive family are enough different of the ones that functioned six-seven decades ago. It is the reason for which the ordinary people make analyses and comparisons or they ask themselves if something fundamental was lost, if “then” wasn’t better or if, contrary, something essentially is won. It is the reason for which the grandparents don’t always agree with the way in which their nephews receive the education, having sometimes, the feeling that they are unimportant in their lives. It is also the reason for which the divorce is seen as a solution, not only as a drama and for which a young unmarried mother is not marginalized and stigmatized in the community where she lives.
I inserted, during this material, some illustrative cases for the theme treated here. They are fragments from the interviews that I realized with other occasions, being either written passages made by people that I personally know and that I requested short stories as story telling, interesting for the contemporary family issue.
II. General aspects in the family dynamic studies
To talk about the family from the sociological point of view it means to surprise the essential coordinates in the structure and in the function of this socio-universal institution, together with the identification of the changing main forms and the mechanisms inside the family groups. Many sociologists realized fundamental researches that describe these aspects. The family represented a central theme even from the birth of the sociology as a science, being considerate the base unit of the social life or even a reproduction in miniature of the society, that conditions it and that is conditioned, in its turn.
The family was and is analyzed paradigmatically in sociology: the functionalists put in evidence the family functions and the specific roles inside the family groups; the people that interact put an accent on the importance of the communicative and interpretative processes, where the members of a family model themselves, adopt common definitions and build an own under world; the people that come in relation with the others see the family as a central nucleus inside of some larger social networks, and the conflict people say that the family reproduces, on a small scale, a lot of inevitable conflicts in the global social system (powerful conflicts, property conflicts or competitions for autonomy and favors), but where the members adopt also cooperation models for survival.
Of course, the variety of the family life forms is very big and with all that, the family exists in all kinds of society. The families differ on many criteria: the number of the members and the family structure, the resident establishment model for the new couples, the exert model of the authority inside the family, the transmitting form of the fortune.
A main preoccupation of the family sociology researchers was and it still is the study of the family dynamic, having as an objective the identification of the changes that come in the family models among the time and the comparative analyses achievement on different periods of time and between different areas of the planet. These kind of researches put in evidence many important changes maid in the contemporary societies, and we can talk about a new family model, specific for the beginning of the third millennium (Giddens , Simon , Goody ), with the following main characteristics: the diminution of the marriage installment, the diminution of the children’s number and the increasing of the mother’s medium age at the first birth, the increasing of the birth installment outside the marriage, the increasing of the divorces and remarriages installment, the increasing of the occupied married women’s number on the working market, the increasing of the children’s quality care, the increasing of the medium welfare and the increasing of woman’s contribution on this welfare, the diminution of the large family influence on the new couples, the general extinction of the children rights.
The trend that marked the European society evolution from the last century was the family core. Even if it was demonstrated that this family form it is older than it thought it could be (Gidddens ), although, in many societies that followed the industrial development trend was produced the spreading from the extension family to the nuclear family. This phenomenon meant the spreading of the family model made by parents and their children, with separated residence from the rest of the relatives, a phenomenon that was produced in close connection with the urbanization and the industrialization processes, that created new life spaces, working and educational spaces for the young generations.
In the XIX century and in the first part of the XX century, in the European societies and in the ones with influences from the European culture it was generalized the so called model of the “traditional nuclear family”, where the husband represented the main house income source and the main authority source in the family, the wife was occupied, mainly in the household and it was responsible for the minor children growth, the age of the partners at the first marriage was relatively low , the children number was relatively big and the divorce installment was low.
Starting with the 70’s, this familial model registered an important regress, once with the “increasing women weight occupied in permanent activities outside the family” (The Dictionary of Sociology, 1993, p. 239-240). The women’s implication on the work market and the wonderful increasing of their instruction level had significant consequences on the family life, but also on the social life in ensemble: the diminution of the fertility installment, the roles’ redistribution in the family, the development of the support services for the children’s growing (baby-sitting, crèches, kinder-gardens), for the achievement of the domestic duties (cleaning), but also for the active woman’s personal care (beauty shops, fitness). In the specialty literature appeared the concept of “a family with double carrier”, meaning the situation in which, in a nuclear family, the father as well as the mother build their professional careers of success. In these kinds of situations the couples often decide to postpone the birth of the children until they touch some standards in their professional careers.
III. Values promoted in the modern family: focusing on child, autonomy and expressing the affectivity.
The distinction traditional-modern is absolutely relevant in the family sociological analyse, because it is considered that the fundamental mutation in the family evolution is the one from traditional to modern. (Rotariu, Ilut ).
The reflections on the social values promoted in the modern family are placed into a larger discussion on the worth-attitudinal matrix and on the conceptions about life, marriage and education – themes that are presented in many sociological studies, anthropology or social psychology studies. Social values are understood, in this context, as general ideas about what is good, what is desirable and good to be followed in the society.
Taking about the “family values” in the contemporary societies, the English sociologist Anthony Giddens talks about the existence of a debate between the supporters of the “classic” family and their critics. (Giddens ).
The first ones, being worried about the explosive installment of the divorces, about the liberal attitude upon the specific sexuality from the last decades and the replacement of the principle of the duty upon the family with the one of the looking of the personal happiness, urge to the rediscovering of the life’s moral sense on the traditional family model, being characterized by order and stability.
The others, the firsts’ critics oppose themselves to the returning to the old patterns and promote the diversification of the family life forms and the sexual life forms. In this way, they say, the people can avoid many from the pains and the limits of the past.
Giddens declares cautious upon the both opinions. Neither one, nor the other reflects a viable tendency, but rather “we have to try to reconcile the individual liberties that we got to precious them in our personal life with the need to form stabile and long relations with other people ibidem).
In other words, let’s not wait for to the disappearance of what we called today “a family” and let’s not wait for its replacement with an unsuspected human life together form, but let’s not think that people will give up to the free choice of the marriage partner and to the autonomy in the decisions that affect the life’s couple or the sexual orientation. And this not only because “the families from the past had too many oppressive sides as they can be a model in present, but because the social changes that transformed the old marriage and family forms are irreversible. The women in a bigger number don’t come back to the domestic life that they left with so much pain. The sexual associate and today’s marriage “for better or for worst”, aren’t what they where before. The emotional communication, especially the active creation and the maintenance of some relations became the center of our life, in the personal and in the familial domain” (ibidem, p.183).
The autonomy is one of the main values promoted in the modern family. I consider that, in the perspective of an operational approach, this concept can be understood from the perspective of two important dimensions: the liberty of the decision and the separation of the extensive family.
The liberty of the decision considers the human, as a rational subject, capable to decide when and with whom to be married, to marry or not, what kind of form should have the cohabitation with the chosen person (classic marriage, consensual union, homosexual union) or how many children they must have and when they should be birth.
It is known that in the family traditional model, these things were generally established by other persons than the man himself. The parents and other relatives had a major role in choosing the marital partner, and the cultural model imposed a certain desirable family form. The deviation from this form was sanctioned in the traditional communities (for example, to be an old woman, or worst, to have a love child were undesirable situations in the Romanian traditional communities – and not only!)
In the modern family,
the partner is defined as the most important “other” for the person (Zanca,
2006). The modern couple is build in the impart love feeling base. The erotic
love feeling constitutes, in this familial model, the foundation reason and the
marriage lastingness. “In the old
All these changes in the family life are overlapping over the separation tendency on the extensive family. The new families choose frequently to live separate by their parents or by other relatives. This option means not only the establishing of a neo-local residence, but also the large family diminution on the unfolded life in the new family. “The grew reticence” of the children, becoming adult persons, to live together with their parents doesn’t mean a “rupture” in the relations’ level with the extensive family. The reciprocal help between the generations gets new forms and it is a real fact, registered in the family sociology studies. (Zanca).
The liberty of the decision, associated to the extensive family influence diminution, means also the determination’s possibility on closing the marriage, in the case in which the partners consider that it is not going anymore. The divorce’s big number from the contemporary world finds viable explanations in these specific trends of the family life: if the love feeling diminutions and if the negotiations don’t work anymore, the partners may decide, for their own the divorce solution.
The affectivity expression is strongly valued in the modern family, which “gives a remark” to the traditional family (Zanca), meaning that it promotes the affectivity as an important resource, being necessary in the relation between the partners, as long as in the relation between the children. There are authors (Hunter, Zanca) that explain the adoption by the modern family of an affective expression of the pattern as a solution to the macro-social transformations. So, in a more competitive and unpredictable world, people find the refuge in the family seen as a place of safety, where they focus the affective energies.
The family is a form of a human community, and the community is – after Zygmunt Bauman, postmodernist theoretician – “a warm, pleasant and comfortable place”, where “we are understanding good one with the other, we have trust in what we hear, we are safe most of the part of the time and we are seldom confused or surprised” (Bauman). The affectivity expression is seen also as a fundamental condition of happiness in marriage, of the couple’s durability report.
As for the children, the affectivity expresion is a modern family “base norm”. Showing affection to the children, telling them that you love them, kissing them and embracing them represent – the psychologists of our life sustain this – an important condition for their development, for earning their confidence, for their psychic balance and for the family life harmony. This value associates itself with the non-violence promotion. The specialists, the authors of scientific treaties in the education sciences or the great nannies from the TV channels teach us how to treat our own children with respect, to show them our love and to punish them, to resort to the sanctions according to their age and to their understanding capacity (not using the violence).
Our grandparents used to say: “Kiss the child only when he sleeps!”, “If you spoil them they forget their manners!” or “Where the mother hits, new meat is growing”. These educative principles are marginally today, in the educative models. The special literature assures us that we won’t have rebel children if we are going to tell them three times a day that we love them or if we play with them. Contrary
Focusing the child is other registered tendency in the life of many contemporary families. The fundamental social mutations that marked the last decades in the developed countries and in the ones ready to develop got to the significant diminution of the birth rate, consequence to the changing of the woman’s social status and of the family planning proliferation methods.
Many of today’s parents choose to have one or two children, in difference to the traditional family, where the children’s number is significantly bigger. The diminution of the birth rate is associated with a heighten quality concerning the children’s raising. The occidental family – Lawrence Stone said, a historian sociologist, ever since 1977 – “is a group where there function strong emotional alliances that are enjoyed by a heighten intimacy level and they are preoccupied in raising children” (Giddens).
The modern family promotes the children’s worth and the investment in their education. Frequently, the couples or the lonely persons decide when to bring a child on the world, and this event is extremely important for the parents and for the extensive family, being marked and celebrated as such.
Case 1: M.S., man, 30 years old, attorney, Fagaras – an interview fragment realized in January, 2008.
“It was an extraordinary moment when Alexandra was born. We wanted
very much a child and we’ve prepared serious for her birth. Normally, after
the moments that rummaged me at the maternity, when I hold her in my arms
just exactly after she was born, it followed the nights when I have
celebrated with my friends, my godparents, my grandparents, my uncles and my
aunts…I prepared her the room, I painted it in warm colors and I put little
stars on the walls, I made everything for her to feel great, happy being at
home. When she had two months we baptized her, a truly party at the
restaurant, with all our friends and all the family, including the cousins
We have to know that not every time is happening something like this. In the traditional family, the birth of a child was seen as a normal thing, and the family life rhythm didn’t suffer major changes with this occasion. For the children there weren’t “special conditions”: colored rooms and full of toys, scientifically programs with different kinds of alimentation and special socialization hours - as there are now in the occidental societies. The parents didn’t adapt to the children’s needs, but rather the children adapt themselves to the parents’ conditions, the family’s conditions and the community ones.
We can compare, for instance, the case presented up (Alexandra’s father) with the reports from the following cases, of two peasant mothers from the postwar Romanian rural.
Case 2: Livia C., 75 years
old, widow – an interview fragment realized in 2002, Dragus,
“When Viorica was born, my second daughter, I was alone in the house. It was after Saint Mary’s day, in august 1948. Everyone was gone to work. The pains started and I ran away to Livia Ghicu to call the midwife. The midwife came quickly, she was very able. And we went in the house, on the floor in my knees. So like this I gave birth to her. A girl! The second girl! When the family came at home in the night I told them: “well we have another girl!”. In the second day I went out because I had to work, to feed the animals and to go in the garden. Who should work in the household? You couldn’t stay in bed as nowadays. You had to feed the child and then you had to go to work, that was the order of that time.”
Case 3: Maria J.,72 years
old, housewife – an interview fragment realized in 1996, Dragus,
“I had nine children. I mean nine children alive, because I had all eleven, but two of them died when they were little, they were twins and they didn’t live. Firstly the girls were born, and then two boys. The older girl has now 53 years old and the younger of the boys has 21. What can I tell you; when they went to school I didn’t have time to spend with them. I let them taking care one of each other. For example, when Zenovica stood at home [the biggest daughter of mine], before she was married, she took care of the little ones. When the boys were at school, because they were dodgers, Ana and Dora were the ones that checked their notebooks. The girls were cooking too, when I didn’t have time. And at the field I took them always, even if they wanted or not, they didn’t have anything else to do. But they were all nice children and they didn’t angry us. And today, they all are coming and they filled up the yard, they stay around the table and they all are good.
In the traditional families case, the fertility grew rate was set up on the cultural norms. The children were looked as a gift from the divinity, but there were also pragmatically valences involved in this familial model. A bigger number of children meant more work power in the household and also, support for the parents when they were old. The older brothers took many of the parents’ roles especially the educative ones in the relation with the younger brothers.
Today, the majority of the European states give to the mother (or to the father) paid vacations for the child’s growing, and the social services (crèches, kinder gardens, schools, educational programs, medical assistance) that involve the care and the education of the children mean basic elements of the public politics.
Besides the formal education (from the kinder gardens or from the schools), the parents manifest their preoccupation for the raising and the education of the children in many ways: choosing a quality personal that takes care of the children during the parents’ working program, investing in supplementary activities (sportive, artistically, learning of a foreign language) or by implicating together in the study activities or free time (trips, vacations, cultural and artistically events, family events).
The thematic regarding to the raising and to the education of the children created, at the specialty preoccupations level, two main orientations: one of them, known in the specialized literature as “the perspective focused on the child”, upholds on an important thinking tradition, having as forerunners and founders as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Maria Montessori, John Dewey, Jean Piaget. The adepts of this perspective sustain that the priority in the children’s education should not be our own ambitions and objectives bounded by our children’s future, but supporting them in developing the capacities that they are gifted and the attention given for cultivating their own interests and “spontaneous feelings”. According to this perspective, “our mission consists in offering to the child the occasion of learning what is the most important for him and then step aside and allowing understanding the things for their own.” (Crain, p.18). These educative principles sit at the base of the Waldor’s schools system, where the premise is the one to develop the child’s own interests and to let him to discover.
The other orientation, so called “standard’s current”, has at the basics the idea of preparing the children for the future, offering knowledge necessary packages and forming abilities without of what they couldn’t integrate in the society. This is the official current were the educational systems of the develop states and the ones in course of developing are based, where the children are instructed on some basic standards generally accepted and were their performances are measured by tests. At the family educational level, this orientation is translated by the parents’ concerned of teaching the children – under the word’s domination “it must” – as many things as they are considerate useful for their future as social beings.
No matter which is the dominating orientation in which the parents’ principles and conducts from nowadays places, the preoccupation for life and, evidently for the children’s future represents a fundamental value of their own existence. Paraphrasing the lesson that teach us for many years by the great American doctor Benjamin Spock, a child raised for having dreams won’t miss the opportunities in the future (Spock, 2000). A child raised for learning to be happy won’t miss the occasions to be happy.
Instead of conclusions, I will finish this article with the narration of a very good friend of mine, about the life’s principles of her family. It is an illustrative and synthetic case, I think, about the social values promoted in the modern family.
Case 4: E.V., 35 years old,
engineer, married, two children,
“It is not easy to write what you feel. It is easier to say orally or by gestures and facts, so I’m sorry if I don’t make myself understood”
Describing the social values promoted by our family, I think I should write for years. Indeed, some of them are inherited from the childhood family, others are taken from the experienced models around us and the rest are discovered and adopted during our lifetime, by family with children.
The first principle, before the existence of our first child, was the one of reciprocal respect one to each other, that involves also the respect given to the parents and their families. This respect means actually communication, friendship, understanding and of course love – reciprocally.
In the moment in which our first child came, the life already got a new sense and it became complex. I understood then how important is to adapt us also to the new born personality and not to try to adapt only him to our family.
Of course that for a health and beauty rising of the children the most important is to love them with all your heart and to show them your love every moment. We didn’t have an isolated life or different upon the period before but contrary we involved the children in different family activities or the group ones, activities that didn’t affect the health development.
I tried to develop the feeling on the faith in God explaining them, at their level, that believing in something good it can only help them. Now I let the time to help them understanding actually what faith is, I was trying only to be an example for them.
I have never neglected in the family the meal’s tradition and the cooked meal tradition with passion for the dears.
What we are doing, as people, is reflecting upon them. That’s why they have to have as an example in the family the care for the body, mind and soul.
The relation with the grandparents must be maintained, being very important in the children’s developing, in molding some remembers, knowing the old men and the forefathers, knowing their origins.
Many times we try to offer what we didn’t have in our childhood. I don’t know if it is good, but life is going to demonstrate it.
There are many things to be told, but the most important, we believe, are love and respect. The respect that we preserved and that we praised involuntary and love that fills up our life for better or for worst.
Thank you very much for the patience for reading and understanding the things related up from not such a big experience. While we are living we are learning!
A motto of our life (taken from sport): “You win – go on; You lose – go on!”
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