Today the family is being attacked and defended with equal vehemence. It is blamed for oppressing women, abusing children, spreading neurosis and preventing community. It is praised for upholding morality, preventing crime, maintaining order and perpetuating civilisation. Marriages are being broken more than ever before and being constituted more than ever before. The family is the place from which one desperately seeks escape and the place to which one longingly seeks refuge.
(Poster, 1978, p. ix)
For most of us, being a family member is part of our personal experience. The majority of young children grow up in families and in adulthood, many create new families. Each of us at one time or another has occupied one or more roles in a family. We are also constantly exposed to images of ‘the family’ through the media. Government policy presents messages about what families should and should not be doing.
Although we know from our own experience that families differ enormously from one another, the image presented is often that of one accepted model of family life—the small nuclear family of two parents and their dependent children. This image is very powerful and it lingers, despite the fact that statistically, the conventional family is no longer ‘normal’ (Oakley, 1982).
There is no such thing as ‘the family’ in the sense of one accepted model of family life. Instead, variety is the norm. Only one quarter of British households contain children. A