A theory is a set of concepts used to explain, describe and predict how different parts of societies are connected and relate to each other. Family theories place their main focus n the dynamic interactions that exist between family members and describes the changes in the patterns of child-parent relationships and the characteristics of the interactions between families that disrupt development. Looking at the family unit, one realizes that in the social context, it has evolved to support human development. Research reveals that in the 1950s and 1970s families with special needs had different ways of adapting and dealing with the situation (Hamon, & Smith, 2016). Family members were devastated by childhood disability. Children found with disabilities were often termed as defective implying that they suffered severe and immutable deficiencies which brought distress to the family system. This paper is a critical analysis of the use and application of family theories. It is a comparison between the conflict, family systems, and functionalism theory including strengths and weaknesses of each and the relevance to social work practice with families that have special needs and situations.
Family Systems Theory
To understand the family entity, the theory of family systems has been proven to be very powerful. The theory is part of the Functional Theory umbrella hence it shares the same approach of considering the functions and dysfunctions of complex organizations and groups. The family systems theory maintains that the family can best be understood as a conceptualizing because it is a dynamic and complex, and changing collection of subsystems, parts, and family members. Researchers’ interactions with family members are to diagnose where and how the systems of family members work and where they require any interventions or repair. Further, the theory addresses boundaries issues. Boundaries are psychological, emotional, and physical separateness between roles, subsystems, and individuals within the family institutions. It is important to note that boundaries are vital for healthy family functioning. When it comes to treating family members with special needs such as disability, family therapy has proved to be a powerful tool in ensuring a healthier family system. It is important to note that this has both positive and negative effects. Therapy is incredibly helpful as it helps members of the family participate and examine their reactions and actions towards one another and more so the individual with the disability. The family members come together and find a way to support the person who is suffering and needs help. The disadvantage is that helping the individual becomes a challenge especially if some embers are not willing to participate and cooperate in the process or if there are issues with self-reflection.
Conflict theorists maintain that families are private entities where family matters are left only to those within the family. The unintended consequence is that many people end up not subscribing to government aid. Many citizens in the United States end up being resistant to government interventions. This is because many parents do not want to involve the government in how they raise their children or get involved in their domestic issues. The conflict theory notes that power plays a key role within the family. It contends that family is not heaven; it is an arena involving power struggles. Power is exercised in how family members perform their status roles. In this theory, researchers found that people with the most access to resources hold more power (White, Martin, & Adamsons, 2018). As such, men had more power because they used to work in paid labor outside the home. Today, although the family unit is becoming more fluid, conflict theorists maintain that disputes occur over issues such as division of labor in the household, a common cause of discord. Since household labor does not have any wages, women end up without power. Studies have revealed that marriages that experience reduced conflict are where men do more housework. In essence, conflict theorists studied the institution of marriage and life that involved inequalities in authority and power as a reflection of the larger structure. One of the strengths of this theory is that when it became popular a few decades ago, it was adopted in analyzing social problems. Although it has proved crucial in understanding politics, private corporate interests have been winning over the public interests. Politics is about finding compromises and competing interests. It is hard to understand the body of politics without the conflict theory, as a shift that has proved detrimental in many ways.
Functionalists maintain that families are an important aspect of social institutions as they play a critical role in society. Families help in stabilizing society. Family members have different status roles within families and marriage. Notably, family and family members play specific functions that facilitate the development and prosperity of society. George Murdok, a sociologist surveyed 250 societies and found that the family performs four universal and residual functions including educational, economic, sexual, and reproductive roles (Waisbord, 2020). In Murdok’s view, the family has the role of regulating sexual relations between people. Murdok acknowledges the existence of extramarital and premarital sex but also alludes that family provides a legitimate sexual outlet for grownups. The outlet is a way for reproduction which is crucial in ensuring the survival of society. When children are born, the family becomes crucial in training and preparing them for adult life. As an agent of enculturation and socialization, the family teaches children how to behave and think through following social-cultural values, norms, beliefs, and attitudes. In some families, parents teach children civility and manners. Parents also teach children gender roles as they are an important facet of the economic function of the family. In each family, each person participates in division of labor that consists of expressive and instrumental roles. Men assume roles outside the home to provide financial support to their families and establish their family status. Women, on the other hand, take up the expressive roles that typically entail work inside the family including providing physical and emotional support for the children. One of the weaknesses of the functionalist theory is that it does not consider how the functions will be performed by other institutions such as the education system rather than the family alone. On the other hand, the functionalism theory explains how society uses social control and socialization to minimize conflict and how various parts of the society carry out different functions to uphold the whole society. Further, it shows how society adapts itself to overcome economic changes and other changes.
Family theories place their main focus n the dynamic interactions that exist between family members and describes the changes in the patterns of child-parent relationships and the characteristics of the interactions between families that disrupt development. The family systems theory maintains that the family can best be understood as a conceptualizing because it is a dynamic and complex, and changing collection of subsystems, parts, and family members. Functionalists maintain that families are an important aspect of social institutions as they play a critical role in stabilizing society. The conflict theory notes that power plays a key role within the family and that it is exercised in how family members perform their status roles.
Hamon, R., & Smith, S. (2016). Exploring family theories. Oxford University Press.
Waisbord, S. (2020). Family tree of theories, methodologies, and strategies in development communication. Handbook of communication for development and social change, 93-132.
White, J. M., Martin, T. F., & Adamsons, K. (2018). Family theories: An introduction. Sage Publications.