A history of families, theorists, institutions and the



A family is defined as a group consisting of
two parents and their children living together as a unit. Other definitions
state that a family is a social group, related by blood ties, marriage or
adoption. Statics show that ‘There were 12.7 million married or
civil partner couple families in the UK in 2016.’ However other factors can
impact a child’s development such as lone parents, and divorced parents. In
this essay, I will be exploring how the history of families, theorists,
institutions and the government have impacted the lives of young children and


The term “nuclear family” was heavily
influenced in the 1960s. It is defined by two married parents
and their biological children living in the same residence. This allows the family to have more independence
but causes a lack of emotional support. This idea is also shown through Talcott Parsons ‘functional fit theory’ which states that
as society changes, the type of family must
change to fit society. Parson
(1955) believed that women should take on the expressive roles, providing care
and security for children. Whereas the men should take on a dominant role and
be the breadwinner for the family. Parson approach also suggest that the
nuclear family also fitted an industrial society because it kept separate the
worlds of work and family. In comparison to this the Marxist view states that
‘… their central argument was that capitalist system exploits the free domestic
labour of the housewife through the domestic division of labour.’ (Fulcher, J; Scott,
J 2011). This means that they believed that the workload should be shared and
there should be no divide between genders. This quote contradicts Parsons
theory on separating men and women and focusses on the family acting as a unit.
The impact of this perspective is that the parents have more divided roles in
regards to supporting their children.

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Another important perspective is
the feminist perspective of families. Feminists have been criticising gender
roles associated with the traditional nuclear family, since the 1950s. The emphasis
on the nuclear family model often meant that each woman, was encouraged to be a
housewife and mother. The impact of this on the children is that they would
have a stronger attachment to the mother than the father and could cause a
change in power as the mother would be more important. Feminists have also
criticised the functionalist view which sees the family as an institution but
rather argues that the view is focused on the gendered aspect of power in the
family; it is the women who are responsible for the home and the children.  However, evidence shows that children look up
to their mothers and often imitate their behaviour. It is crucial for mothers
to set a positive example for their children. When
reading Crabb,
S and Augoustinos, M (2008) article on ‘Genes and families
in the media: Implications of genetic discourse for constructions of the
‘family.’ They state that ‘throughout history there has
been a growing diversity in family forms in western nations.’ (Crabb, S;
Augoustinos M, 2008 p.303) This is represented through single parent,
heterosexual blended families are increasingly common in today’s society. The
impact of this reading is suggestive that as a society we have adapted the
concept of family and rather focused on how family can shape a child’s

nuclear family is also presented
through Bowlby’s (1969) ‘Theory of Attachment’ and ‘Maternal deprivation
hypothesis.’ Attachment theory is defined by four
characteristics: proximity maintenance, safe haven, secure base, and separation
distress (Bowlby, 1969). 

Bowlby believed
that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers can impact a
child throughout their life. Bowlby suggests that the role of the parent as a
caregiver grows over time to meet the particular needs of the attached child. The
impact of this is for the child to have constant support and security in the
early stages of their life. Later, that role is to be available as the child
needs help as they enter into the outside world. Once the child experiences the
security of physical closeness he or she will develop the courage to explore
away from the primary caregiver. The role of attachment theory is for the child
to go from pursing closeness to moving away from dependence on the caregiver.
This role of the caregiver is crucial for the child as it provides them with
constant support and security.  


on from this idea, Bowlby’s theory of maternal deprivation suggests that
children biologically are programmed to form attachments with others in order
to survive. When reading Vicedo (2011) article on ‘John Bowlby’s theory of
attachment in post- war America’ she states that ‘Bowlby further noted that
children’s need for a mother’s love had clear implications for the organization
of family life.’ (Vicedo, 2011 p406). This quote reinforces the idea that
Bowlby believed that in order for a family to function a ‘nuclear family’ is
the most effective unit for the healthy development of children.  Bowlby theory of ‘maternal deprivation’ refers
to the failure of the child to develop an attachment to a mother figure.  He believed that the separation did not cause irreversible
long-term damage if the child was provided with substitute maternal care. However,
one of the consequences of maternal deprivation is that it can cause the
individual to have an inability to from attachments in the future.


one of the main critics of Bowlby’s attachment theory is Rutter (1981) who accused Bowlby of ‘not distinguishing
between deprivation and privation – the complete lack of an attachment bond,
rather than its loss.’ Feminists also critiqued Bowlby’s theory by saying
that it focuses on motherhood and traditional families in which Bowlby underlined
the importance of the child having a single first attachment figure which
creates pressure on the mother.  The
impact of the feminist perspective is that parents should not totally be held
responsible for the way their child develops. 
When reading ‘The making and breaking of attachment theory.’ (Tizard, B,
2009) suggested that ‘psychologist often criticised Bowlby’s theory suggesting
that his assumption that infants have only one preferred person, who is always
the mother, the father’s role being to support her emotionally and financially
was contested.’ (Tizard B, 2009). The impact of this criticism is that it
suggests that the infant is primarily attached to the mother, creating a sense
of competition between the two parents.


However, in today’s society often
the parents both share the role of providing for the child and allowing the
child to become attached to both parents. Another criticism of Bowlby’s theory
of attachment is the assumption that mothers are naturally devoted or bonded to
their children and opens the door to blaming mothers when developmental
difficulties arise.  The impact of the
mother being a necessity for the child is that it could cause a divide to the
family unit, if the baby becomes attached to just the mother rather than the
mother and father.    


The impact of family in the lives
of young children is also represented through institutions.  Within the first three years of their life’s,
children’s interactive experiences with peers within the family unit vary
across cultural and social class groups. When reading Corsaro (2001) article on
‘Peer Culture in the Preschool’ it states that ‘… but over time children
discover their common interests, and a central theme of the peer culture of
nursery school children begins to emerge.’ (Corsaro, 2001 p.20) This quote
suggests that as children progress into preschool they begin to explore their
environment, develop their needs to participate, create and maintain a peer
culture. The impact of this institution on the family is that it allows the
child to begin to create a social identity and gain independence in their ability
to form new skills.  However, one could
argue that some institutions can suffer from ‘structural neglect’ which
suggests that some institutions may not receive the type of nurturing and
stimulating environment needed for normal growth and heathy development.   

Another perspective of
institutions is the history of Early Education and Care and how this can affect
families and the lives of young children. Often social class has shaped views
about the provision of childcare. When reading Scheiwe and Willekens (2009)
article on ‘The History of Early Education and Care Institutions in the United
Kingdom.’ One particular quote that stood out to me was ‘The perception of the
role of women and the nature of their obligations towards their children has
always depended on income and class.’ (Scheiwe and Willekens, 2009 p.106) This
quote suggests that a mother’s obligation is traditionally towards   their
children, however a family’s income can affect the child’s education. There was
also a long- established tradition, in the upper and middle classes, of employing
nannies for young children. However, for the poor, who could not afford
nannies, day nurseries were the only solution. The impact of these institutions
on children is that they get extra emotional support and allows children to
become attached to more than one primary figure.