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Essay on Various Functions of the Family

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Primary and Secondary or Essential and Non-essential Functions:

MacIver classifies the functions of family into two types: Essential and Non-essential func­tions. According to him, the essential functions include (i) the stable satisfaction of sex need, (ii) production and rearing of children, and (iii) provision of a home. Under the non-essential functions he includes, religious, educational, economic, health and recreation, and other functions.

The Primary Functions:

Some of the functions of family are basic to its continued existence. They are referred to as essential functions by MacIver. They may also be regarded as Primary functions of family. They are explained below.

(i) Stable Satisfaction of Sex Need:

Sex drive is powerful in human beings. Man is susceptible to sexual stimulation throughout his life. The sex need is irresistible also. It motivates man to seek an established basis of its satisfaction. Family regulates the sexual behaviour of man by its agent, the marriage. Thus it provides for the satisfaction of the sex need for man. Even Manu, the Hindu Law­giver and Vatsyayana, the author of Kamasutra, have stated that sexual satisfaction is one of the main aims of family life.

(ii) Reproduction or Procreation:

Reproductive activity is carried on by all lower and higher animals. But it is an activity that needs control or regulation. The result of sexual satisfaction is reproduction: The process of reproduction is institutionalised in the family. Hence it assumes regularity and a stability that all societies recognise as desirable.

Thus family introduces legitimacy into the act of reproduction. All societies surround this function with norms and support them with strong sanctions. By fulfilling its reproductive function family has made it possible to have the propagation of species and the perpetuation of the human race.

(iii) Production and Rearing of the Child:

The family gives the individual his life and a chance to survive. We owe our life to the family. The human infancy is a prolonged one. The child which is helpless at the time of birth is given the needed protection of the family.

Further, family is an insti­tution par excellence, for the production and rearing of children. No other institution can as effi­ciently bring up the child as can the family. This can be referred to as the function of ‘maintenance’ also.

(iv) Provision of Home:

Family provides the home for its members. The desire for home is strongly felt in men and women. Children are born and brought up in homes only. Though, often children are born in hospitals, clinics, maternity homes, etc., they are nursed and nourished in the homes only. Even the parents who work outside are dependent on home for comfort, protection and peace. Home remains still the ‘sweet’ home.

(v) Family—an Instrument of Culture Transmission and an agent of Socialisation:

The family serves as an instrument of culture transmission. The family guarantees not only the biological conti­nuity of the human race but also the cultural continuity of the society of which it is a part. It transmits ideas and ideologies, folkways and mores, customs and traditions, beliefs and values from one gen­eration to the next.

The family is an agent of socialisation also. Socialisation is its service to the individual. Socialisation is the process whereby one internalises the norms of one’s groups so that a distinct ‘self emerges unique to the individual.

The family indoctrinates the child with the values, the mor­als, beliefs, and ideals of the society. It prepares its children for participation in larger world and acquaints them with a larger culture.

It is a chief agency which prepares the new generation for life in community. It emotionally conditions the child. It lays down the basic plan of the personality. Indeed, it shapes the personality of the child. Family is a mechanism for disciplining the child in terms of cultural goals. In short, it transforms the infant barbarian into the civilised adult.

(vi) Status Ascribing Function:

The family also performs a pair of functions—(i) status ascrip­tion for the individual, and (ii) societal identification for the individual. Statuses are of two kinds: Ascribed and achieved.

The family provides the ascribed statuses. Two of these, age and sex are biological ascriptions. Others, however, are social ascriptions. It is the family that serves almost exclusively as the conferring agency or institution.

People recognise us by our names, and our names are given to us by our family. Here, the family is the source of our societal identification. Various statuses are initially ascribed by our fami­lies.

Our ethnic status, our nationality status, our religious status, or residential status, or class status-sometimes our political status and our educational status as well-are all conferred upon us by our families. Of course, these may be changed later.

Wherever statuses are inherited as in the case of royalty and nobility it is the family that serves as the controlling mechanism. Status ascription and societal identification are two faces of the same process. The importance of family in this regard can hardly be exaggerated.

(vii) Affectional Function:

Man has his physical, as well as mental needs. He requires the fulfillment of both of these needs. Family is an institution which provides the mental or the emotional satisfaction and security to its individual members. It is the family which provides the most intimate and the dearest relationship for all its members.

The individual first experiences affection in his parental family as parents and siblings offer him love, sympathy and affection. Lack of affection actually damages an infant’s ability to thrive. A person who has never been loved is seldom happy.

Secondary Functions of Family:

In addition to the above described essential or primary functions the family performs some secondary or non-essential functions in some way or the other. Of these, the following may be noted.

(i) Economic Functions:

The family fulfils the economic needs of its members. This has been the traditional function of family. Previously, the family was an economic unit. Goods were pro­duced in the family. Men used to work in family or in farms for the production of goods.

Family members used to work together for this purpose. It was to a great extent self-sufficient. A clear cut division of labour between sexes, that is, between men and women, was evident. But today, the situation has changed.

The family members do not work together at home. They are engaged in different economic activities outside the home. They are no longer held together by division of labour.

The economic role of modern family is considerably modified. The process of industrialisation has affected family. The centre of production has moved from home to the factory. The factory is giving job only to the individual worker and not to the entire family.

The factory is producing goods which are consumed within the family. Thus, family has become more a consuming unit than a producing one. Its members are busy with “earning wages” rather than with “making a living”. Family is thus slowly transferring its economic functions to the external agencies. Still, the institu­tion of property is embedded with the family.

(ii) Educational Functions:

The family provides the basis for the child’s formal learning. In spite of great changes, the family still gives the child his basic training in the social attitudes and habits important to adult participation in social life.

“The manner in which he learns how to get along with his family will be carried over to his interactions with school authorities, religious leaders, the police and other agents of social control”.

When the child grows up, he learns to manage situations outside the home and family. He extends his interests to other groups. With all this his intelligence, his emotions, and his social habits develop until he weans himself from the original dependence on the mother, father and other family members.

(iii) Religious Functions:

The family is a centre for the religious training of the children. The children learn from their parents various religious virtues. Previously, the homes were also centres of religious quest. The family used to teach the children the religious values, moral precepts, way to worshipping God, etc.

Even today, it is in the family that the foundations are laid down for the moral standards that are to guide the children throughout their life. The family meets the spiritual needs of its members. It is through the family that the religious inheritance is passed on to the next generation.

(iv) The Recreational Functions:

At one time, recreation was largely family based. It fostered a close solidarity. Reading aloud, visiting relatives, family reunions, church socials, singing, danc­ing, playing indoor games, etc., brought together the entire family.

Elders would organise social gathering among themselves in each other’s homes. Children would organise their own recreations among themselves or together with other children. Often parents and children would join together in the same recreational activities. The effect of this on-the cohesion of the family was considerable.

Recreation is now increasingly organised outside the family. Modern recreation is not de­signed for family-wide participation. Whether in the form of movies, sports events, plays, cricket, ‘kabaddi’, tennis, dinner parties, or ‘yakshagana’, it is designed for the couple or individual partici­pation.