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A discussion of family transitions and their effects on children requires consideration of the function and structure of families beginning with the biological family (parents and children). This basic grouping provides the context and crucible for a child’s development. It is important to note, however, that many other family constellations successfully provide for the needs of children in addition to the two biologic-parents model: single-parent families, children raised by extended kinships (including grandparents), same-sex couples, adoptive families, foster families, blended families, and communal families. Despite moral, religious, and legal issues (as is the case of single-parent families and same-sex couples in the early 21st century in the United States), each of these can be as successful in this task as the biological family can be unsuccessful (Table 19-1).

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Table 19-1 Changes to the Family Constellation

The family serves as a microcosm of society, transmitting core values and beliefs. The children, in turn, learn these values and, in many instances, transmit them to the next generation. These values are not, however, universal: Consider societies where women have inferior status or where children are considered property. In our culture, with its Judeo-Christian tradition reflected in our Western legal tradition, children are protected from physical, emotional, and sexual maltreatment, and the role of the family is to prepare the child for independent functioning.


Picturing the family as a mobile (like those which often hang over an infant’s crib) provides a visual representation of an important aspect of its structure: Each level corresponds to a different generation, reflecting a natural hierarchy (Fig. 19-1). The interconnectivity of family members is also well-represented by this model. As constructed, mobiles are in balance. This balance is dynamic because the elements can move through three dimensions. A force that disturbs the mobile will swing the elements wildly about, but within a short period of time, the mobile returns to its balanced configuration. This homeostatic quality is a fundamental characteristic of families as well. The preservation of the status quo is a strength when it helps ...

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