The family is the most important group to which most people ever belong. They are born into a family, grow up in it, and remain in their parents’ family or, after they are married, in their own family throughout their lives.
The family does many things for its members. A family lives together and cares for the needs of each person. Within the family, members find love, sympathy, and companionship more easily than in any other group. A general definition of a family is that it is a small group of people related to one another by birth, adoption, or marriage, sharing a household and caring for one another.
In the United States and in other industrialized countries, the father, the mother, and their unmarried children usually make up the family. This kind of family is called a nuclear family.
In parts of the world where people live mainly by farming, often a father, mother, their married sons, the sons’ wives, and their children all live and work together. This kind of family is called an extended family.
Families may differ a great deal from one place to another and from one age to another. But all have certain basic functions: providing for the care and rearing of children, either by parents or other groups; and providing for the needs of parents.
The first stage in the family life cycle begins with marriage. In this stage the family consist of the husband and wife. This stage goes back as far as Adam and Eve. In the Hebrew family unit the husband was the master, who is over the house and everyone in it. The wife is charged with running the household. She sees to it that the wishes of the master are carried out at home.
Then the second stage of the family life cycle which begins with the first child birth. In times past, many families had four or more children. A large family was regarded as a great blessing. Now two children are regarded as the ideal number and many families have only one child.
The reasons for this change in family size is clear. Women have emancipated themselves from the ear-marked duties of motherhood. Birth control equipment is more available. Women are no longer robbed of pregnancies in close succession. Today women have the time, health, and above all the spirit to agitate for better conditions for themselves, for education, and careers. As a young couple with a small family, they can aim at having a higher standard of living.
There are many kinds of families. In the equalitarian family the father is considered the head of the family, but the mother and children also have a part in making decisions. When the father makes almost all decisions and his wife and children are not supposed to make any objections this is an authoritarian family type. In other families the oldest male member—the grandfather or his oldest son—makes the decisions. Such families are called patriarchal. Matriarchal is when the women is in charge.