Functionalism is a structuralists theory with the belief that the institutions and organic analogy is what keeps the society in agreement and working properly. Religion plays a big part in the family and society; if a family is religious this will be taught to the new members of family, the family may choose to send a child to a religious school, which is the family teaching the child the role of religion due to there choice. Law is also an agent of the family’s role, the family all have to abide by certain rules there for the offspring and new members will be taught this by the family maintaining social order. Parsons (1995) said the family is a cause of ‘personality factories’ which means the children off the family are sharing norms and values and are committed to belonging to society, being the same as there parents. The family is a big cause of social control, they control the family to maintain consensus in society, and marriage for example has functions to control sexual relationships. Hetro sexual sex for example within marriage is defined as acceptable behaviour as it is inside a marriage and prevents chaos and un-regulated relationships. He also said that the family has functions to relieve stress of day to day living. Referred to as the ‘warm bath’ theory. Meaning the family should make a relaxing environment for the male to come home too and relax, just like a warm bath.
These are all functions that the family use within there role of the family. There are gender roles in a family, for example the male should be the bread winner, going to work and etc. While the female stays at home as a house wife, and is keeping the house tidy making dinner looking after the children etc. The children should be at school learning, and all meal times should be held together as a family. This is described as the ‘cereal packet’ family, 2 parents with children all working and living in peace together. This is a functionalist view of how the family should be in society, almost seen as the ‘perfect’ family. Therefore single parent/homosexual families, even though perfectly functional would not be seen as ‘ideal’ in a functionalists view. The family has many roles, one is to teach the basic norms and values. Children will generally copy the adults or older siblings and will use a role model (older sister/brother, parents etc) to learn there social role.
The family will teach the child how, when and where they eat and have family time which the child will pick up by learning from the family members teaching the child about family relationships and building bonds with people, a key skill needed in society. Positive and Negative sanctions are taught within the family and this encourages the child to behave and know when they have done wrong, by using rewards or punishments. Functionalist’s view of the family is that it is always positive and beneficial to society, this is not true. Child abuse and violence backs this up, showing how the family can actually be cruel.
Emelie Durkheim believes that society works like the vital organ in the body, all needing each other to work properly. Society is seen in this way, using vital institutions such as the family to all work together in society for it to work, for example schools. The family works individually with these institutions, and that the family benefits society as a whole and the individual members of the family. Murdock argues that there are 4 functions, that only the nuclear family can teach sexuality and gender roles. The nuclear family teach that heterosexuality is the ‘norm’ and to express sexuality in a socially approved context. This means that other types of relationships for example adultery or homosexuality would be seen as ‘abnormal’ in a functionalists eyes. Murdock also says that the nuclear family is where Primary Socialization occurs, teaching the children everything they need to know to be able to get on well in society.