Critics of the American family argue that the breakdown of family as a social phenomenon is mainly due to the fact that the family has lost many of its traditional functions. Really, the social concept of family has undergone several major changes. These shifts are logical and anticipated, given that the social environment, as well as the nature of the societal relationships, constantly changes. Family is not a static construct but a dynamic phenomenon, which is extremely sensitive to changes in external social conditions. As a result, it is not surprising that the family is losing some of its functions, while giving rise to the new ones. For thousands of years, family had functioned as a pragmatic institution built on the values of economic security and material maintenance (Lamanna & Riedmann 30). In many societies, family formation added to the social status and position of individuals and their communities. Family was a result of knowledgeable choices, whereas choosing family mates by default was unreasonable and unacceptable. Today, family is has become a crucial source of emotional security and an effective buffer against the major stresses of life. The quality of emotional support provided by families further predetermines family members’ ability to adjust to the changing conditions of life.
For many years, family had been a pragmatic institution providing its members with material and financial support (Lamanna & Riedmann 30). Today, this function has changed, and family has become an emotional heaven for its members. According to Lamanna and Riedmann, in today’s world, the family is more an emotional rather than material arrangement, although financial considerations are still relevant (30). Families (more specifically, happy families) live in the atmosphere of companionship and intimacy (Lamanna & Riedmann 30). Individuals come home and spend their time with the family, because they know that the family is the source of pleasant emotions. Family is where people can be themselves, even when the family releases their worst selves (Lamanna & Riedmann 30).
Reasons why the family construct has become more emotion-oriented are unclear. Most probably, the growing importance of the emotional security function is a logical response to the excessive pragmatism of the postmodern reality. The emotional security function does not replace or reduce the significance of other family functions, namely, the provision of economic support and quality child care (Lamanna & Riedmann 30). However, the importance of the emotional security function should not be underestimated. No other agency or professional can provide the comfort of the family environment. The emotional security provided by the family is unique and invaluable. The most challenging is the way different individuals and families interpret the concept of emotional security. Emotional security perceptions and values vary greatly across cultures (Lamanna & Riedmann 30). Today’s families need to learn how to balance their pragmatic and emotional priorities; otherwise, family members’ longings for companionship and affection will readily become the source of serious emotional tensions (Lamanna & Riedmann 30).
Family functions change over time. For centuries, family had functioned as a pragmatic union of individuals for material maintenance and economic support. Today, emotional security has become one of the main functions of the American family. Individuals expect that their families will mean having a unique place where they can be themselves (Lamanna & Riedmann 30). However, many families experience difficulties balancing their emotional and pragmatic priorities. Both pragmatic and emotional functions of the family are important for their survival. Therefore, contemporary families must understand how they can achieve the desired emotional balance and successfully cope with their pragmatic functions. Otherwise, the emotional security provided by the family will easily become a major source of stress for family members and the rest of the developed society.