There are many ways in which families are organized and no one way has ever been proven to be the ‘right’ or ‘best’ way. However, it is helpful to understand the various ways in which they operate, noticing the similarities and differences that occur among them. For example, there is the nuclear family, which usually consists of a father, mother, and children who are typically separated in some form, usually distance, from other relatives such as uncles and aunts or grandparents. Then there is the more traditional family which consists of a mother, father, and children all living in very close proximity to uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents, sometimes although not always living within the same house. While it might seem that these two family structures are incredibly different, there remain many similarities between them.
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The most obvious difference between these two family structures is the proximity of the extended family. Often for reasons of vocation, the nuclear family is separated from having the close family ties enjoyed by a more traditional family unit, including missed barbeques, shared family events, and celebrations, and the option of playing with or getting to know cousins close in age. However, they usually have a greater luxury to participate only in those events which interest them and have the freedom of organizing their time around fewer family members’ schedules. The more traditional family can sometimes have too much closeness as several people attempt to live in a single living structure or live very close to each other, such as right next door. If they do not already share their meals together each night, they are still capable of joining together on short notice for various reasons – for everything from graduation and birthday celebrations to informal picnics or swimming pool parties. While this kind of togetherness can be very supportive and nurturing, it can also function to be very confining as family members find it necessary to work around the schedules of many other members, face conflicting celebrations, such as birthdays on the same weekend, and are unable to participate in activities without first obtaining the proper sanctions from the family group.
With all of these differences, though, there are many similarities. For example, in the traditional family, children are often cared for by the older members of the family while the parents go to work at outside offices and the older children attend school. Although older members of the family are not available to care for the children of the nuclear family, children continue to be cared for by someone other than the parents as they either attend child care facilities or in-home babysitting, typically provided by older women. Nuclear families separated from the extended group will also often form networks of friends in which the same sorts of activities enjoyed by the traditional family can be enjoyed with the advantage of a greater ability to opt-out of activities without causing offense. Since these groups are typically formed around the friendship groups of the children of the house, they have the added advantage of the similarity of age groups forming automatic interest groups within the greater group. These automatic divisions into smaller groups can also be seen within the traditional family, but these are usually organized around gender roles or expectations.
While both family structures can be seen to contain a high degree of sociability, the traditional family is nearly guaranteed of this outcome while the nuclear family must seek it. Relationships within the family are usually fairly stable regardless of the family structure (mother is still mother regardless of whether grandmother lives nearby or far away), but these relationships can vary greatly depending upon which woman is the primary caregiver within the home. As it can be seen, although the nuclear family and the traditional family are very different from each other, there are many ways in which they also remain the same.