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The importance of the family

March 31, 2012

Our need to connect with other human beings, to establish intimate relationships, extends throughout the life span. One mechanism for creating nurturing interactions is through the primary social unit of the family. …The family context provides a stage where much of the drama of adulthood is carried out. Nearly all men and women in our culture are married at some point in their adult lives, and most couples become parents. Marriage and parenthood, usually occurring in young adulthood, set into motion the family cycle, with its own developmental tasks and role changes. When the youngest child begins school the family unit moves into a new stage of interrelating and role performance. Adults in early middle age must deal with guiding teenagers into adulthood while at the same time finding ways to accommodate their own changing goals. As children leave the family for school, work, or marriage, adults once again enter a transitional period. Without the presence of children to deflect their attention, spouses must sometimes learn to relate on a more direct basis. Adults in late middle age may also find themselves ‘parenting’ their own aging [-p108] parents. Finally, older adulthood is characterized by adapting to the roles of grandparent and widow(er). Other changes related to the family life cycle such as divorce, remarriage, or death of a child are generally unanticipated. Nevertheless, these unplanned, off-timed events will have a significant impact on the adult’s life and may require adjustments that some will be unable to make.” Pp107-108

“Because the family structure is the primary social unit in our society, the role of parent accompanies nearly everyone throughout adulthood. In a work not included in this anthology, the protagonist in John Updike’s A Month of Sundays says, ‘Society in its conventional wisdom sets a term to childhood; of parenthood there is no riddance. Though the child be a sleek Senator of seventy, and the parent a twisted husk mounted in a wheelchair, the wreck must still grapple with the ponderous sceptre of parenthood (p.141).’ Middle-aged adults, in fact, may find themselves in a dual parenting role – that of being parents to their own fathers and mothers as well as to their teenage offspring. As some elderly persons become less able to care for themselves, either economically or physically, middle-aged children find it necessary to provide the care once given to themselves. This takes the form of paying bills, making visits (if the parent is living elsewhere), or providing a place either in their home or in an institution if the parent is unable to function independently.” P109

Ref: (emphases added): Sharan B. Merriam, Ed. (1983) Themes of Adulthood through literature. Teachers College Press, New York

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