essay midterm 2 - Part II: Essay #3 The roles, dynamics,...

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Part II: Essay #3 The roles, dynamics, and expectations of the US family changed from the colonial period to the present. Due to the effects of industrialization, the corporation, the Great Depression and then the aftermath of World War I and the Cold War, the ideal mother and role of the father adapted to the increased presence of women outside the home and expectations of society at the time. The central role of children also emerged throughout the twentieth century alongside the changing parental expectations. However, due to class and racial differences, African Americans, immigrants, and working class Americans were often unable to benefit from the same structural changes that aided middle class white American families. The change in the US family was not a linear transformation for all of society. Instead, the social, political, and economic context affected parenthood and childhood experiences of different classes and races in a varying manner. The US family ideal in the colonial period was the subsistence family. Most white families in this time period lived on their own farms and produced goods to support the family. Labor was seen in terms of productive labor for household consumption, reproductive labor, and domestic labor. Due to the fact that work remained in the home, the colonial family’s importance was heightened (Cowan). Unlike later in American history, husbands and wives shared many interchangeable roles and thus, there was an equality of roles that faded in the twentieth century. Yet, it was the fathers who were given the responsibility of teaching their children (Bloch). Additionally, the children were seen as economic investments, born to augment family labor, not as having their own childhood culture. After age seven, children were put to work and expected to continue the subsistence family cycle. The African American parenthood and childhood experience of the colonial period were extremely different than the US subsistence family. Africans were brought to America as slaves and 1
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therefore, the institution of slavery restricted the authority of the parent. Fathers were unable to protect their wives from being raped by their masters and were often on different plantations than their children (Roediger). Since families were frequently separated, slave families adapted the fictive kin structure where non-blood relatives were seen as family (Stevenson). African American families were more egalitarian as well, a trait that persisted until the present, because fathers and mothers were both slaves and on a more equal level. Marriage was also something controlled by the master. The fact that black men had to ask permission to wed, undermined their role as the protector husband and father. In the mid-nineteenth century with the abolition of slavery, African American families looked to legally legitimize their marriages and find lost family members (Cott). While the institution of slavery prevented the slave family from fully functioning while in slavery, former slaves sought to
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This note was uploaded on 01/19/2011 for the course HISTORY 248 taught by Professor Butch during the Spring '08 term at University of Michigan.

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essay midterm 2 - Part II: Essay #3 The roles, dynamics,...

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