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Reconstructing the Idea of Family

Society mostly prescribes the type of role people are tasked to play in the workplace, at school, and fundamentally, at home. The following topics addresses the various societal norms associated with families, and alternative ideologies offered against such strictures. Weaving Work and Motherhood Anita Garey discusses the type of role women are consigned to when they enter motherhood. She writes that under the orientation model of family and work, women are pigeonholed into ‘occupations’ which asks them to prioritize child care and domestic concerns before career or paid employment; or to pick one over the other.

“For men, employment and family are not portrayed as inevitably detracting from one another. For women, work and family are represented as oppositional arenas that have a zero-sum relationship… the dominant culture portrayal of work and family for women in the United States classifies women as either work oriented or family oriented” (Garey, 1999: 241). This concept is largely evident in the distribution of parental obligations of mothers and fathers.

The conventional notion of a ‘working mother’ and that of a regular mom is made explicit in the use of the term ‘working. ‘ A term which appears to imply that a mother who stays at home to take care of her children and the household isn’t actually engaging in any full-time work; whereas a ‘working mother,’ is perceived as someone who is employed in a full-time job outside of the household, but at the end of the day, will still need to pick up after household chores, child care, domestic concerns, and so on.

Fathers on the other hand, are not referred to as ‘working fathers. ‘ The use of such a term is considered redundant because men are naturally perceived to be the family’s ‘breadwinner,’ or financial provider; but on the other hand, aren’t as expected and obliged to share domestic responsibilities with their counterparts. Garey proposes that we turn away from this traditional man-made concept and consider the alternative. Women are capable of participating in both domestic work and employment; and these seemingly contrasting occupations are not at odds with each other.

The weaving of work and motherhood acknowledges the well-known fact that women are capable of multi-tasking, and in turn, should be able to balance whatever the odds of combining career and house work may be. They shouldn’t be categorized into labels such as ‘working mother’ , ‘family oriented mother’ , ‘work oriented mother’ and so on, because such terms fail to address the encompassing characteristics of motherhood. And because the integration of motherhood and work employment, will not result in a ‘zero-sum relationship.

‘ Family Rituals and the Construction of Reality Various rituals and traditions dictate and define beliefs and ideologies among families. Traditions also mirror societal norms that exist and abound among these particular group of people. In the film ‘Home for the Holidays’ for instance, the common tradition of families gathering for a Thanksgiving feast is illustrated as an avenue where sociological structures and familial roles take mold, and are made evident.

“Periodic family rituals such as birthdays and holiday feasts, along with other activities, actually construct family boundaries and teach us who we are as family members. Who is in, who is out, and what it means to be part of a particular family are literally created and re-created through these routine ceremonial events… these gendered occasions – along with countless other family practices – combine to create a sense of ourselves as gendered beings: as mothers or fathers, wives or husbands, daughters or sons, women or men, boys or girls. ” (Coltrane, 1997:247).

Despite the breakdown in convention and propriety that ran through the extent of the movie, which was supposed to exemplify an old fashioned and traditional thanksgiving celebration, the film was still able to show roles which family members are pigeon-holed into. For instance, in certain scenes, women were still designated kitchen duties, where they are to prepare and cook the thanksgiving feast, while men lounge around in the living room, drinking, or playing football, waiting for their wife, mother or sister to finish the designated duty which they will partake in later in the day. Congruently, Robert Downey Jr.

‘s character has a hard time getting his family to accept his homosexuality, because each family has already constructed a notion based on societal norms of how a mother, father, sister, brother, and so on, is supposed to act, and who he/she is supposed to be. Women also engage in most of the talking, and urging other family members to share feelings and sentiments regarding anything that may concern them, whereas men joke and tease each other by way of conversing. The stereotype that women address their feelings by talking about it, and men are seemingly devoid of it, is thereby depicted in the film.

Apart from reinforcing of stereotypes, rituals and traditions are an important aspect of familial existence because however conventional or unusual, occasions like these bind family members and relatives ever closer together. Divorce and Remarriage The idea of parents leaving each other and moving on to new partners is a notion that doesn’t exactly strike us as new or unheard of anymore. Terry Arendell notes that between the 1960s and 70s, the divorce rate more than doubled, accounting for a million divorces each year. If such was the case then, one can only imagine how people go about marriage dissolution today.

“One of the first major tasks facing parents in divorce is that of determining children’s living arrangements as family members separate into two households… of the four relationships between married persons that must be altered in divorce – parental, economic, spousal, and legal – the parental divorce is perhaps the most difficult to achieve” (Arendell, 1997:255). Children are primarily on the receiving end of divorce blows, and most are forced to divide their time between individual parents, instead of receiving the attention they require from both parents together.

In addition, children also face the prospect of having to adjust and deal with new parents, stepbrothers, stepsisters, and an assortment of new faces they are now to regard as family. In terms of financial and economic concerns, children living with their mothers are generally not as well-off than those living with their fathers, as the latter is ordinarily capable of providing more in terms of fiscal needs. Marriage dissolutions that lead to remarriages affect children in terms of how they regard family, its components and the people who build up the notion and idea of it.

The assumptions and ideologies mentioned in the previously stated topics underscores the ever-changing characteristics of families, and the diversity of its members. That despite the attachment of stereotypes, women are able to perform as both mothers and employed workers; that rituals and traditions bring out the best and worst in families, but also bind them together; and that divorce may appear to be the end of one family, but on the other hand, is actually the start of a new and composite one.

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