Intimacy in Family

The term “intimacy” has captured a large number of sociologists’ attention throughout the history in that the role intimacy plays is of significance in terms of human experience(Miller and Perlman, 2009). Moreover, the understanding of interpersonal relationships and ties within the notion of family has been consisitently updated and deeply analyzed from a sociological point of view. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to gain a general acknownledge of the extent to which sociology has contributed to the comprehension of the family through reviewing and discussing sociologial theories and analysises.

Firstly, it discusses various perspectives on defining the term “intimacy” by examining difference between overall relationships and intimate relationships. Secondly, the definition of “family” will be given from various points of views. Eventually, it explores characteristics and changes of parenting, one of major relationships within the scope of family, through analyzing sociological theories and empirical evidences. THE DEFINITION OF THE TERM “INTIMACY” When it come to the definition of the term “Intimacy”, there is no single definition has been fixed for this term.

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Given its complicated and changeable as a result of various social contexts (Lindsay and Dempsey, 2009), critical thoughts have been normality. It is stated that charactristics of intimate relationship should be distinguished from other kinds of relationship. Reasons are as follows. Overall relationship, generally believed, could be established by the biological relatedness(i. e. blood ties and matriel ties) and, from more objective point of views, legal connection, especially in Western countries. (Lindsay and Dempsey, 2009). In contrast, intimate relatinoship refers to be associated with subjective status rather than objective one.

For example, in the thought of Jacqui Gabb(2009), intimacy could be classified into sexual terms as well as caring interactions among friends, parents and children, which is, to great degree, agreed by Lynn Jamieson(1998) whose opinions also include sharing, love, deep understanding. However, in spite of critical defintions, four kinds of intimacy, respectively, cogntive, experiential, emotional and sexual, are of relatively importance(UF Counseling & Wellness Center).

THE DEFINITION OF THE FAMILY AND ITS INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP. Concerning that intimate relationships discussed in this paper are restricted within the field of family, features of restricted intimacy are more distinct than those of universal intimacy. Exactly, intimate relationship happening in the family is associated with particular people(i. e. Parents, chileren, husband, wife, grandparents, etc. ) and with certain topics(i. e. Family structures, relationships, problems, etc. ). Nevertheless, the term family still covers a wide range of characteristics, behaviours and experience, which is defined as “the very cradle of human nature”(Leslie, 1967).

For instance, it is likely for a person to be brought up from a newborn infant to an adult with personal values through family experience and education(Kingsley, 1947). In additional, the theory Gidden insisted is a relatively systematic method towards the definition of the family(Gidden, 1997). A) family refers as a specific set of individual groups, in terms of legal. People involved in this definition are automatically burdened with entitlement and responsibilies (Lindsay and Dempsey, 2009). Take parenting as an example, parents have obligations to bring up their children until they are 18.

B) family is defined as “a set of functions”(Gidden, 1997). A more detailed explanation is from Morgan(1985), he explored three practical functions family have including common residence, economic cooperation and reprodution. Sexuality is added to family’s functions as family is sometimes consided as the most basic institution in society(Lindsay and Dempsey, 2009). C)family indicates a set of ideas (Gidden, 1997) in subjective aspects rather than “objective blood or marrige ties”(Silva and Smart, 1999).

Even though method proposed by Gidden is comaratively organized, it is unlikely to evaluate this method as the ultimate consequence because the definition of family varies according to distinctive angles and contexts. Recently, given the tendency that individuals become increasingly important even under the context of family, some sociologists proposed that whether family is flexible enough to describe connections and interactions on the whole in the comtemporary society(Lindsay and Dempsey, 2009). For instance, n order to capture various relational lives, “personal life”, to a great content, is preferred to be put into application instead of “family”(Roseneil and Budgeon, 2004; Smart, 2007). PARENTING Parenting is an intimate relationship established between adults and children, which occupies a significant part of family relationships. Although being a parent is regarded to be natural(Lindsay and Dempsey, 2009), parenting is different in terms of gender, that is to say, roles played by mothers and fathers definitely vary from each other in substance.

Mothering. Mothering, assumed by Flood(2003) that caring children is the narutal obligation of women, was taken for granted in the 1950s and 1960s(Lindsay and Dempsey, 2009). This assumption was also confirmed by Parsons, who has made enormous contributions on the development of functionalism (Parsons,1951; Parsons and Bales, 1955), viewing family from functionalist perspective, men served as instrumental roles which was called “breadwinner” while women played expressive roles-homemaker,embracing caring children, doning household and providing emotional supportment(Parsons,1951).

However, even mothers were idealized as a person who is “perpetually” available(Pocock, 2005), statistics from the research carried out by Deborah Lupton(Lupton, 2000) indicated that caring children was found by mothers as difficult tasks instead of inherency after the birth. The degree of mothering changed as a result of the appearance of paid work market. Take a research on three generations of women in NSW (Lindsay and Dempsey, 2009)as an example, meanings of mothering in three generations are entirely different.

While for women aged from 65 to 70 are classified into the first generation, mothering is regarded as women’s inherency and within expectaion(Everingham et al. 2007,p. 424), in addition to the original condition inside home, paid work are added to the second generation aged between 53 and 58(Everingham et al. 2007,p. 426). In contrast, empirical evidences resulted from the third generation aged from 26 to 31, suggested that women are likely to play a role as either mother or worker.

Moreover, some women from the third generation also stated that there is no need for them to depend upon breadwinners as a consequence of being workers(Everingham et al. 2007). However, expectations and conventional views towards fathering are quiet dissimilar. Fathering The position of fathering also changed throughout history. After the Second World War(Lindsay and Dempsey, 2009), men served as breadwinners, as mentioned, in the family from functionalist perspective(Parsons,1951).

Specifically, the term “breadwinner” refers to support the entire family for the financial sake, and meanwhile, caring children and making household are excluded in the obligations of men(Singleton, 2005). During the period between 1960s and 1970s, the term”new father” appeared substituted for the previous “breadwinner” as a result of the “second-wave feminism”(Lindsay and Dempsey, 2009). In the thought of Singleton(2005), new father could be equated with who should take emotional as well as physical care of his children and keep balance between a worker and a father.

However, roles fathers performe are more likely to be equated with someone who appears only when children requires help because of limited amount of hours a day fathers stay with children(Craig, 2006). Statistics indicated that the amount of time fathers spend with children are far less than that mothers spend. To be specific, cacompared to 12 hours a day, almost half of spare time, mothers spend with children, fathers only spend nearly 8 hours, which only occupies one fifth of their leisure time(Craig, 2006).

Meanwhile, these statistics also prove another finding from Smart(2002) that fathers do not have an direct intimate relationship with children and mothers serve as mediators to be ture. Eventually, in comtemporary society, tendency is that fathers become more active in spending time caring children(Lindsay and Dempsey, 2009) CONCLUSION Although there is no fixed definition of intimacy, it is likely to conclude that intimate relationships are more subjective whilst overall relationships tend to objective. Moreover, features of intimate relationships under the context of family life become more specific(i. e.

With particular people and topics) and covers a wide range of experiences at the same time. The relatively systematic definition of the family proposed by Giddens could be divided into three parts, respectively, a specific set of individual groups, a set of functions and a set of ideas, which is definitely not the ultimate defintion on account of changable social tendencies. In terms of parenting, consisting of mothering and fathering, charateristics of it have undergone significant changes from past to present. Therefore, it is evident that sociology has indeed made a signicicant contribution to understand intimacy.

However, the major weakness in this essay is that only one main family intimate relationship has been explored, and it would be more persuasive if this paper involoves more relationships in the field of family from various perspectives.


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POCOCK, B. 2005, ‘Mothers: The More things Change, The More they Stay the Same’, in M. Poole(ed. ), Family: Changing families, changing times, Allen and Unwin, Crows Nest. ROSENEIL, S. AND BUDGEON, S. 2004. ‘Cultures of Intimacy and Care beyond “The family”: Personal Life and Social Change in the Early 21st Century’, Current Sociology, vol. 52, no. 2, pp. 135-59 SMART, C. 2007, Personal Life: New Directions in Sociological Thinking, Polity, Cambridge. SMART, D. 2002, ‘Relationships, Marriage and Parenthood: Views of Young People and their Parents’, Family Matters, no. 3, Spring/Summer, pp. 28-35. SINGLETON, A. 2005, ‘Fathers: More than Breadwinners? ‘, in M. Poole(ed), Family: Changing Families, Changing Times, Allen and Unwin, Crows Nest. SILVA, E. AND SMART, C. 1999, The New Family? , Sage, London. UF COUNSELING & WELLNESS CENTER. (n. d. ). UF Counseling & Wellness Center. Retrieved November 20, 2012, from http://www. counseling. ufl. edu/cwc/types-of-intimacy. aspx WARNER,W. L. (1933). “A Methodology for the Study of the Development of Family Attitudes,” Social Science Research Council Bulletin, No. 18, 1933.

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