Family Careers: Rethinking the Developmental Perspective

Books

Joan Aldous

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
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  • Part I: The Family Careers Perspective

    Part II: Couple Relations over Time

    Part III: Parent-Child Relations over Time

    Part IV: Sibling Relations over Time

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    Preface

    An observer could characterize what has happened to the family scene in the United States over the past several decades as a transformation of seismic proportions. There have always been other families besides the garden variety of husband, wife, and children, just as women along with men have long contributed to the domestic purse. Among present-day families, however, there are, in addition to nuclear families, sizable numbers of single-parent households: some due to death of a spouse, others resulting from divorce, and still others the outcome of parenthood outside of marriage. In addition to the other family groups, there are stepfamilies and cohabiting partners. All of them can be labeled families, because they constitute intimate residential units of some duration joined by blood, marriage, or custom and are usually to some degree economically interdependent. Also, with a majority of women joining the paid labor force, regardless of marital or parental status, breadwinning is no longer associated with only one gender, although homemaking largely continues to be.

    Family Careers: Rethinking the Developmental Perspective is the result of just that—a rethinking. To take account of these changes in families, I have had to expand and modify the family development framework to demarcate the expectable sequences, transitions, and outcomes of the various families present in the current era. The thought I have devoted to this task, along with the research I have examined, has convinced me that in the lives of families there are continuities in the midst of transformation. Otherwise, how could we gauge the degree of change? Consequently, I am able to write of the patterns that characterize different family composition types from their formation until their dissolution. The framework enabled me to trace the careers of domestic units, whether initiated by marriage, by living together, or by parenthood, until their dissolution due to the death of a partner, a divorce, or children's leaving home, often to begin their own family careers.

    To do all this in the following pages, I present in the first segment of the book the concepts that differentiate family development from other approaches to understanding families. The next sections contain an application of the concepts to what research tells us about turning points within the family subunits. In my discussion of them, I begin with an analysis of the patterns in partner relations over time, followed by my depiction of the expectable shifts in the interrelations of parents and children. Both these sets of chapters cover long periods of time. Marriages and intergenerational relations after children have left their parents' hearths can be measured in decades. This is also true of sibling interactions, but the lack of research on this subject limits my consideration of this trajectory to one chapter.

    Using the method of presenting the careers of partners, parents and children, and siblings separately has distinct advantages. Take partnership relations as an example. By considering the relation at its inception and then looking at the shifts that the coming of children entails, I can compare those with children and those who do not make this transition. I am able to focus on the partners and the quality of their relation as it modifies or breaks and re-forms within the context of parenthood. Similarly, in applying family development analysis to parents and children, I can discuss not only parents without partners and their children but also two-parent families, whether the parents were biological or stepparents. These different family sequences all occur within the contexts of parents' work and children's school attendance, as indicated in these chapters. In turn, the chapter on siblings provides an opportunity to concentrate on what can be the most durable of family ties as affected by relations with parents, partners, and own children.

    After putting together all the pieces of concepts and research relevant to the family development framework, I am more than ever convinced of its usefulness in making sense of the family puzzle. To convince others of this, I have tried to make the presentation clear, informative, and thought provoking. To help accomplish these goals, I have included a number of quotations from letters I have received, comments from interviews, literary excerpts, and questions to advice columnists. These illustrations and my own explanations of family development are designed to sustain the interest of readers and to pique their curiosity. My hope is that you will want to continue reading and so learn about the perspective. After all, it is not an inconsiderable talent to know something about what to expect in family lives over the extended periods of their existence.

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    About the Author

    Joan Aldous, Ph.D., is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame. Prior to joining the faculty at Notre Dame, she was Professor of Child and Family Development and Sociology at the University of Georgia and Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, where she received her doctorate. She has been president of the National Council on Family Relations and an elected member of the council of the American Sociological Association. She has received the Ernest W. Burgess Award for her contributions to theory and research in the family area. Her research interests have centered on parent-child relations and family policy. She has edited and coedited publications on a number of topics, including two-earner families, the impact on families of workplace policies, family development, and religion and families. Her research articles have appeared in journals such as the Journal of Marriage and the Family, the Journal of Family Issues, and Social Forces.


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