Children in Families Essay

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Families have changed a lot through history.  At first, people did not really live together, except in large groups.  But as time went on, the current structure developed.  People began to rely on one another more and live together and help one another.  The way children were viewed changed, too.  In the early days, children “magically” appeared via women, and often died early on due to rough life conditions.  This changed dramatically as the family structure changed, and also as life became safer for people to live.  Although major changes occurred frequently, there are a couple of epochs that stand out when looking at how family structure and the view of children has changed.

In the early days, families were basically clans or hordes of people who were blood relations and lived together, according to Conway and the femalestream research.  As this family type developed, men began to understand that they were fathers, and this changed a lot of things.  Men still hunted and women still gathered, but men took care of their women and children.  Groups of people still lived together, though, and men took care of all the women and children together.

By the period of civilization, however, things had begun to change.  Men and women did yet marry, but they lived in monogamous pairings, like married people.  This occurred because people came to understand that women could become pregnant at any time.  Therefore, it was possible to know who impregnated the women, so that paternity could be established and understood.  Men and women raised children together.  Men demanded obedience from their wives and their children.  The society was very patriarchal.  All children were given their status based on who their father was, and also their sex.  Female children were married off into other families who held similar power or social status.  Male children were the heirs to whatever their fathers had (or didn’t have).

During this time, children went from being somewhat of a mystery to men – for a long time men did not understand that they had anything to do with producing children, and they were jealous of women for their ability to have children – to being a major part of their lives.  Children were not just the continuation of the species that magically appeared via women; they were now something to be proud of, or even bargaining chips for some men.  Children were to be protected by their fathers, and in return they gave him obedience.  Men still were not very involved in child rearing, however.  They considered this women’s work, while they were busy running the household, bringing in food, etc.  However, they obviously acknowledged their children as theirs, and they understood how they had helped to create them.

Also in this period, certain laws and rules (mores) on behavior came to be.  Women were forced into certain roles and rituals.  Women were inferior to men at all times.  This went for children, too, especially female children.

In the Industrial Revolution, the family structure changed again.  Women were more heavily enslaved by men at first, and then they were released.  Men held strict beliefs about what women could do, which were different for the working class vs. the upper class.  Working class women were strong and capable (and often called upon to do a lot for themselves), while upper class women were fragile and needed someone to take care of them.  Traditionally, men worked in factories while women stayed at home with the children.  Children went to school if schools were available in their areas.  This industrialization meant that there was an even stronger divide between men and women, because men left for the day and did work that women “couldn’t” do.  Previously, when farming was the staple job, men and women worked side by side.  Industrialization changed that.  It also made farming wives’ products worth less, because stores started to pop up.

However, this changed in the early 1900s.  In WWI and WWII, women were called upon to work in factories while men fought the wars.  Women were finally seen more like equals, because they proved they were capable of doing the same kinds of work that men were.  Children, too, were put to work during this time, because there were not yet any child labor laws.  Everyone in family ended up as being more equal.  Children did not get much of an education because they were busy working all the time.

The way that children were defined in this day and age was as other members of the family.  They were needed to work and help the family make money and live.  They were not paid much, though.

Women were also paid less, something that is still true today.  They had to fight to get well-paying jobs and make the money they deserved.  This became especially tricky for widows, who were competing with men for the good jobs, and who needed to support their families.  Women at this time had custody of the children if their husbands died, which was not true in the mid-1800s.  At that time, women might have been able to care for their children (sometimes), but they were not able to make any decisions regarding their education or anything else important.  Those decisions were left to men.

At this time, women were still not really viewed as equals.  They could not vote or own property, and if they were not working, they were forced to stay at home with the children.  Children were taught skills for adulthood, and were seen as individuals.  Adults recognized that children would be contributing members of society someday, and so they were trained in the necessary skills to have jobs and families someday.  This was again a different view of children, because fathers took care of them, acknowledged them, and prepared them specifically for adulthood.  This is far removed from the beginnings of society when men did not even seem to recognize children.  Many of these views on women came from Conway’s research about the family and family life.  Female research shows a very different perspective than traditional male research.

Children and family in society have continually changed as time has gone on, and it will continue to change as the world does.  How families are formed and how children are viewed has changed as a lot of different things in society have changed, such as increasing divorce rates, new child labor laws, etc.  As society continues to change, and people continue to change, the family will also continue to change.  The family adapts to whatever is needed and demanded of it, and so it will always be in a state of change.  This means there will always be new and interesting research to look at regarding how children are viewed within the family.

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