What is the child’s view of the family? Is family only a caregiver or caregivers who take on the role of caring for a child or children? Moreover, what happens when the child becomes the caregiver in the family? No longer a binary concept family in today’s western world come in all shapes and sizes and from a broad range of contexts. How does a family look when viewed by the child through a lens that has a common denominator being an emphasis on children’s attachments?
The research proposes the notion that children require strong attachments in order to develop. These emotional attachments came into focus in the late 19th century by psychologists and psychiatrists. This resulted in several changes in parenting, social care and educational forums not least of which were mothers who had started working during the war return to the home to care for their children.
Children’s perspectives help us to understand how families function outside of traditional nuclear family gender-based roles. Recent research discusses children’s perspectives into family dynamics in particular in same-sex or divorced families. Researchers and children use non-binary constructs of the mummy and the daddy in identifying the more traditional role of the primary caregiver in the household.
Mummy in this context becomes more fluid with children identifying that their “daddy is like a mummy only with a beard” (p 124-125, Malmquist (2014)). Furthermore, sperm donors are often seen as external to the family dynamic and are often referred to as fathers or seed relating more external biological ‘parents’ as fathers reconfirming traditional biological roles (p 124-125, Malmquist (2014))
Systematic observational research into how foster children in Africa spend their time gives insight to how support systems and financial security can impact on how families can care for children and how roles for foster children change within the family dynamic (p, Verhoef and Morelli, 2007).
Cultural differences can play a crucial role in how communities approach children, and childhood can affect how childhood is facilitated and perceived. E.g., a community that idealizes intellectual development might gravitate towards more academic-based activities for their children. Due to the costs involved in pursuing more formalized education activities, parents may need to increase their work hours and the care of the children might fall upon the grandparents.
In comparison, traditional families in Mongolia live together as an extended family unit. Grandparents take the role of matriarchs of household, and the care and education of the children are shared amongst the household. Children learn their family’s trade by working alongside their family members from an early age.
Family and childhood is a fluid construct which is directly impacted on by research, policy development and shifts in cultural attitudes and beliefs. Although these have changed substantially over time binary roles of mother and father still appear to carry the stereotypical notation of the mother being the homemaker and primary carer and fathers being the less able secondary parents.
Economics plays a crucial role in parents planning to have children and who takes on the primary caregiver role with some families in Asia having fathers take on this role as it makes more sense financially to the family. In western countries where the cultural expectation is of the mother as the primary caregiver is more prevalent women face difficulties in balancing career and family goals.
This can lead to more women electing to freeze their eggs to safeguard future maternal opportunities and using IVF and donor eggs. In this way, biological connection, although in many families is preferred, it is no longer a defining element of what families are made of.