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By: Marius Clifford R. Billedo
Merriam Webster’s definition of culture is the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular
society, group, place, or time. Most people do not think of their family as having a “culture.”
They associate culture with countries and ethnic groups. But the family? For most of us, it’s just
a group of familiar people doing what they always do. Yet it is exactly this—a characteristic way
of thinking, feeling, judging, and acting—that defines a culture. In direct and subtle ways,
children are molded by the family culture into which they are born. Growing up, their
assumptions about what is right and wrong, good and bad, reflect the beliefs, values and
traditions of the family culture.
On the other hand, over fifty years ago, anthropologist George Murdock's definition of
the family was, "The family is a social group characterized by common residence, economic
cooperation, and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a
socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, own or adopted, of the sexually
cohabiting adults." Furthermore, one of the two concepts used by the anthropologist in
discussing family was structure. Structure for him refers to the number of members of the family
and to familial positions such as mother, father, son, daughter, grandfather, grandmother, uncles
and aunts, cousins and other kin. For example, a nuclear family is composed of two generations,
the parents and the children, while the different extended family types are composed of at least
three generations, for example, the grandparents, the parents, the children, as well as kin on both
sides. Structure may also refer to the positions of the members of the family, e.g., mother and
father wherein society’s culture has assigned specific roles to the family members. For example,
traditional roles of the nuclear family in North America and northern Europe in the middle of the
20th century were the working father, and the mother whose role was the "housewife" and
responsible for raising the children. All societies have unwritten social constructs and values
regarding the proper roles of family members, although there are individual differences in all
societies as to agreement or disagreement with these roles. For example, many women in almost
all societies today, even in countries such as Nigeria and Japan, disagree that the mother's place
is in the home and believe the woman should be educated and work. On the other hand, many
women agree with the traditional roles that society has assigned them.
Indeed culture itself laid a great impact in the structure of families in our society.
Cultures differ in how much they encourage individuality vs. interdependence. Here in our
country, It’s been an integral part of our culture the so called close “family ties”. A newly
married couple prefers to stay with their family rather than being independent and start a life of
their own. According to an article published by Kerrie Main in the internet, traditional Chinese
families, including those living in a rural environment, many households include five generations
living together for the reason elders of the family are revered for their wisdom. Moreover
according to the website, Vietnamese household traditionally
followed the extended multi-generational pattern. The parents, their sons and their wives, their
children, and unmarried siblings usually constituted a Vietnamese household. In this structure,
frequent contacts were maintained, and this constant closeness to family was emphasized from
childhood and continued to be important to Vietnamese throughout their lifetime.
In western cultures, and particularly in European American culture, families typically
follow a nuclear model comprised of parents and their children. When important health care-
related decisions must be made, it is usually the parents who decide, though children are raised to
think for themselves and are encouraged to act as age-appropriate decision makers as well. Upon
reaching adulthood, when parental consent is no longer an issue, young American adults may
choose to exercise their right to privacy in health care matters. In cultures such as American
Indian, Asian, Hispanic, African, and Middle Eastern, individuals rely heavily on an extended
network of reciprocal relationships with parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles,
cousins, and many others. For example, in some Hispanic families the godparents play a critical
role. In American Indian families, tribal leaders, the elderly, and medicine men/women are key
individuals to be consulted before important decisions are made.
Yet the end point of all of this goes down to how influential one’s culture is and its
undeniable affect to the fundamental unit of our society- the family.