Sociology of the Family: Steve Nock In Focus

We hear a good deal nowadays about the crisis of the American family and even its impending death. The state of marriage has become severely weakened in Western nations over the past decades. Divorce, the postponement of marriage, a rise in the proportion of the never-married, an increase in non-marital cohabitation, and the ready availability of contraception are forces that have eroded the family and compromised its ultimate function, the licensing of reproduction.

The American family has held on, and many believe actually flourished. Some population experts say that families are back in style. And some sociologists insist that the family is a timeless entity, rooted in our social and animal nature. However, since society is always changing, the family, as the basic unit of this larger entity, must change to reflect this fact. As viewed from the family reorganization perspective, marriage and the family are changing to reflect personal lifestyle choices available in today’s society. Accordingly the family is not only a resilient institution; it is a durable feature of the human experience. Steve L. Nock’s opus Marriage As A Public Issue described this phenomenon in the shape of the myth of the model family.

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Nock touches on the laments about the condition of the family imply that at an earlier time in history the family was more stable and harmonious that it currently is. Yet, despite massive research, historians have not located a golden age of the family.

He contends that the marriages of the ancient times were based on family and property needs, not on choice by affection. Families were often devastated by desertion and death. She views the family as an institution in difficulty and cite many signs that they take as evidence of decay and disintegration: Loveless marriages and increasing remarriage cases, the tyranny of husbands, high death rates, and the beating and abuse of children are up to a grim image. And she holds ancient Christianity accountable for this paradoxically antifamilial phenomenon.

Nock believes that the really critical event in an individual’s life centers on moving into a relationship marked by intimacy, commitment, and love. It is true that far more marriages break up today than in the past. The divorce rate has increased eightfold since the early part of the century, to the point where millions of Americans go through marriage counseling and divorce courts every year.

As well, Nock suggests that family violence, and domestic abuse are much more common than most Americans had suspected. The expression coming out of the closet is an apt one when applied to battered women and victims of abuse and sexual coercion. They have been as reluctant as gay persons have been to reveal their sexual preferences. Traditionally, they have attempted to keep the indignities they have experienced locked inside the family home.

Family or domestic violence includes the use or threat of physical force or restraint carried out with intent of causing pain or injury to a family member, and consist of pushing, shoving, slapping, kicking, biting, hitting with fists, hitting or trying to hit with an object, beatings, and threat or use of a weapon. Although both men and women engage in violence, men typically do more damage than their female partners. Women are affected by violence the most, in that their mental and physical health suffers in violent relationships where they are in more danger of killing or being killed by their partners. Some men find it easier to control the weaker members of the family by force because it does not require negotiation or interpersonal skills. This way, Nock proves that men really take all the advantageous aspects of a marriage.

Women put up with battering for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the fewer the resources as wife has in the way of education or job skills, the more vulnerable she is in the marriage. For another, Americans place the burden of achieving ideal family picture or at the least, family harmony on women, with the implication that they have failed if the marriage disintegrates.

From a cultural perspective, as maintained by English social principle, women were regarded as chattel; initially, as possessions of their fathers, and afterward of their spouses. Moreover, many women become entrapped in abusive relationships, a process whereby they escalate their commitment to a previously chosen but failing course of action in order to justify of make good on their prior investments. That the women come to believe that they have too much invested to quit. Finally, the more a wife was abused by her parents and witnessed violence in her childhood home, the more likely she is to remain with an abusive husband.

Nock says that the mothers in incestuous families are commonly passive, have a poor self-image, and are overly dependent on their husbands, much the same traits found among battered wives. The victims of molestation are usually shamed or terrified into treating the experience as a dirty secret. The sexual abuse of children often leads to behavioral problems, learning difficulties, sexual promiscuity, runaway behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, gastrointestinal and genitourinary complaints, compulsive rituals, clinical depression, low self-esteem, and suicidal behavior.

In the modern age, the matters of family violence and domestic abuse have emerged as major issues. Even so, considerable ambivalence still exists on these subjects. Much needs to be done to assist the victims, if not to save the model family. Should the trend continue, industrial societies will be impaired because they will not replace themselves. As well, the changing roles of American men and women have also reduced the benefits of marriage, increasingly separating marriage from sexual behavior and making parenthood simply an option. Like many Americans, Steve Nock similarly shares a concern about the directions in which family life has been moving in recent decades. They view the family as an institution in difficulty and cite many signs that they take as evidence of decay and disintegration.

Indisputably, Marriage As A Public Issue tells that the meaning of marriage has been changing and with it the family institution. But pronouncements concerning the death of the family, or at least its impending doom, seem greatly exaggerated. While its obituary continues to be written, the myth of the model family still has to find if it will have a happy ending or tortuous development throughout American history. In the interim, the troubled family and an outsider will have to work together to help the former perceive what is happening between them that is creating problems for one or more of the members. The focus is on altering the spaces between people and their relationships, rather than on changing the processes within maladjusted individuals so as to irrationally piece together a picture-perfect model family.

True, gender roles probably represent the earliest division of labor among human beings. Consequently, we are all born into societies with well-established cultural guidelines for the behavior of men and women. In any society, they emphasize monogamy in relationships. Steve Nock expounds that in order to achieve maturity, people have to go through the rite of passage through matrimony. As part of the life cycle, successful marriages determine an assured good afterlife while unsuccessful ones a guaranteed loss in the spiritual realm.

Sexual inequality has been sustained historically by assigning the economic provider role to men and the childbearing role to women. In contrast, contends Nock, if a man did not contribute what a woman felt to be his fair share of the housework, the relationship was not usually jeopardized. If put against the metaphor of the chopsticks, this reality will prove inequitable in the American society. Figuratively speaking, if chopsticks will not work together as a pair, the entire universe will not even turn out manageable. Families, villages, and the society as a whole will lose grip on the sense of balance epitomized by male and female roles.

American men seemed preoccupied with dominance and power. In fact, they could take pleasure in their partner’s success only if it was not superior to their own. In contrast, women were found to be happier and relationships were more stable when the male partners were ambitious and successful. Most married couples pooled their money. However, regardless of how much the wife earned, they measured their financial success by the husband’s income only.

Most of the married couples had sexual relations at least once a week. People who had sex infrequently were just as likely to have a long-lasting relationship as those who had sex often. While couples were happier when the opportunity to initiate and refuse sex was shared equally by the partners, in more than half of the cases the husbands were still the primary initiators. But whereas the women tended to link sex and love, men often did not. Less than a third of the couples engaged in extramarital activities. Husbands were more often repeatedly unfaithful than wives, but their transgressions did not necessarily represent dissatisfaction with either their partner or the relationship as a whole. Women, in contrast, often strayed just once, mostly out of curiosity; but for them, infidelity was more likely to blossom into a full-fledged love affair.

According to Nock, women were more likely than men to say they were the emotional caretakers of the family, although almost majority of the men indicated that they focused more on their marriage than they did on their work. In about a quarter of the marriages, both partners claimed they were relationship-centered.

Furthermore, Marriage As A Public Issue also tackles the obstructions that women had to deal with whenever they make introspective evaluation of themselves and see in their husbands’ shadows the genuine picture of themselves revealed back to them. The imagery of women is depicted as a frustrated segment of the society that is stuck on the long-term customs and habits women are obliged to undertake day in day out, even if it goes to a sadistic extent. Indeed, husbands so objected to doing housework that the more they did of it, the more unhappy they were, the more they argued with their wives, and the greater were the chances the couple would divorce.

Divorced mothers with teenage sons find their situation particularly stressful, in part because they have greater difficulty establishing control and authority. Financial problems complicate the difficulties of many women. Only half of divorced mothers receive any money at all from their children’s fathers, and this is seldom much.

The states began formalizing laws to help children whose parents lacked the financial means to care for their physical needs. Local governments often provided the funds for these programs. These programs were intended to help children whose fathers were deceased; sometimes assistance was also provided to children whose fathers were disabled or absent through divorce or desertion. These early programs were called mothers’ aid or mothers’ pensions.

Proving that men are really at the favored side even at the aftermath of a marriage, children are usually left to the lone custody of the mother. Being a single mother of several children requires making sacrifices. Many single-parent mothers whine of a lack of free time, spiraling child-care costs, loneliness, and unrelenting pressures associated with the dual demands of home and job. Although many women do not choose single parenting, most are proud of their ability to survive under adverse circumstances.

On the other hand, and looking from the minority single fathers’ perspectives, single fathers also encounter many of the same problems. Juggling work and childcare poses a good deal of difficulty, especially for fathers with preschool youngsters. Many fathers first attempt to have someone come into their homes and care for the children there while they are at work. But the vast majority finds that this arrangement does not work out. Many fathers then gravitate toward daycare centers and nursery schools where they feel that the staff has a professional commitment to children.

Experiences of deception, betrayal, aggression, codependence, and breakup forcefully remind us that communication can be a very difficult and risky business in the American society. the negative patterns of communication constructed by relational partners are the result of imbalances in the dialectical tensions in a relationship. One dialectical tension is that people need both autonomy as separate individuals and intimacy with others. In this case, the other chopstick either wants to have a better mate or to be alone.

In other societies like China, if the co-headship of the husband and wife renders imbalanced, cultural villages as that of Lahu might gradually perish. Unfortunately, the image we gain from the non-Lahu theories is one of essentially passive individuals who are programmed for behavior by adult bearers of culture. Children are given cues to their gender roles in a great variety of ways. Parents often furnish boys’ and girls’ rooms differently, decorating those of boys with animal motifs and those of girls with floral motifs, lace, fringe, and ruffles. Steve Nock proves there is nothing wrong with this divisive definition of gender roles. However, the complementary companionship of the two should precede, prevail and even push the marriage until after physical death.

Once the children start elementary school, fathers usually allow them to stay alone after school. Many single fathers report that their greatest difficulty in making the transition to single parenthood is losing their wife’s help and companionship; they say that it is more difficult for them to become single than to become a single parent. Overall, the single father is neither the extraordinary human nor the bumbling Mr. Mom depicted in many popular stereotypes.

Indeed, marriage is a partnership born out of love, founded on thought-out goals, and sustained through procreation. With such “heavy and big concepts,” no doubt mature conduct should be a pre-requisite and a growing footing in such a relationship. Even before Steve Nock prophesied the family myth, back in the day, the myth against women was already developing when educators of the Medieval and Enlightenment periods started to worry about the strength and character of the American family. In colonial and frontier times people expressed anxiety about the disruption of family life. And in the 19th and early 20th centuries, worry about the family was cloaked in recurrent public hysteria regarding the peril posed to the nation’s Anglo-American institutions by the arrival of immigrant groups with alien cultures. In sum, the model family question despite its many guises, is not new. So, given the lesson of history and the certainty that families will continue to adapt in unforeseen ways, it is safe to assume that debate will continue.