Family has always played a vital role in ordering society and in determining life chances of various individuals. The word family holds different meaning for different people and used to symbolize many different views. Giddens defines the family as a “group of persons directly linked by kin connections, the adult members of which assume responsibility for caring for children”. By children he meant who are dependent on their parents for their livelihood; are aged under 16 or 17 and are in full time education. Till today families are responsible for the upbringing and nurture of children. They are the ones who provide not only love and care but also financial support to children. The main functions performed by the family is to teach a child discipline, judge between what is right and wrong and an acceptable behavior pattern. In this essay, we shall discuss to what extent is family central to the lives of children in Britain.
Gordon Brown had expressed that family is the foundation on which our communities, our society and our country are built. However, it has been found in recent years that the traditional beliefs and values of families have undergone lots of social and economic changes. Earlier the foundation stone of families used to be love and care but today it has been replaced by looser and material needs of money and selfishness. These factors have led to the emergence of new types of families like lone parent families, step families, symmetrical families and cohabit families. (cited in Duncan & Phillips, 2008:1). The demographic transition in Europe started from the 1950’s and is still continuing today. Ansley Coale’s has described demographic transition “as a change from the traditional society in which high mortality and natality rates existed to an industrialized society in which natality and mobility are stabilized at low levels.” This transition has been the result of various social and economic changes such as urbanization, education levels, productive structure and secularization etc. The changes in the trends of life of people have brought about a major change in the way children perceive family in Britain (Pairo, 1997). According to Squire, a family structure changes with experience and life events as a child grows from childhood to adulthood. Every family functions in a unique way due to variations in household types, family structures and the division of domestic labor. Also the composition of the family is influenced by the social, cultural and economic characteristics of different ethnic groups. These factors affect the extent to which a family may or may not be central to the lives of children. Although all family structures are unique but they have one thing in common – they all provide emotional and mutual structural support to all children. A family helps to locate a child socially and thus act as one of the key socializing agents (Squire, 2003:60). A child’s happiness and healthy development depends on a large scale on the kind of relationship that exists between parents, grandparents and other caring adults in the family and most crucially among children and adults. According to research in 2008, 64 % of children live in married families with couples, 23% of children live in lone parent family and 13% live with cohabiting couples (Mapalthorpe et al., 2008:4).The research also reveals that marriage is not necessary for the successful running of the family but good relations matter. Also, 78% of individuals have agreed that it is not divorce that harms children but parental conflicts. According to the individualistic theory, families should become more liberal, with children having a say in important family decisions. Also, biological parents should provide parenting to their children lifelong which will help in their growth towards adulthood. However, research says otherwise –step fathers can equally take care and bestow love on them as compared to biological fathers. Traditionally family had been seen as