Today we experience a shift from the family as a group with well-defined roles to a more or less close network of individuals: mother, father and child, grandparents, stepfathers and stepmothers, siblings and even very close friends all form the network. They are all part of the network that is continually established and re-established in such a way that it best symbolizes their specific family.
This is where the approach ’doing family’ comes in. How to be a father or a mother is no longer self-evident: What is a caring father? Is he alone responsible for family income or is he sharing this responsibility with mother? Should a mother work? At what age of the child or children? Should she work full time or part time? How best to answer the needs of the child? How much time should be spent with the family? There are many questions and no standardized answers.
Doing family follows from the experience that it is not unambiguous to act as a family: you have to give it active and serious thought, you have to consider, plan and organize. In former times there were commonly accepted rules and norms which gave orientation and value consensus about what people in the family should do: children should listen to their parents, fathers should care for the financial and mothers for the emotional well-being.
The doing family approach focusses on the organization of common meals, leisure activities and holidays, buying a car, furnishing rooms, playing games, organizing time spent together as a family or visiting other relatives as well as organizing time spent apart. It deals with the question of how family members present themselves as a family. What was traditionally done almost naturally, nowadays has to be intentionally planned.
Doing family is necessary because the daily trajectories of the individuals have to be coordinated. However, tight schedule of the modern person often makes this difficult to achieve. This is not true only for the working father and the mother but for the child too: the child not only attends school, but learns music in the music school, participates in sport activities, meets friends in other parts of town or in other cities, goes swimming, practices yoga, attends creative classes and goes to children’s theater. One of the parents, usually the mother, will need to take the child from one place to another, from one activity to another all of which is to be done in addition to her household chores, meeting her own friends, going to the gym, caring for the neighbor’s garden in case they are away, going to the library, cooking and baking, not least for children´s parties, and going to work. As regards the fathers, it is a known fact that they start working even more when children arrive and therefore have an even tighter working schedule. Becoming a father often takes place simultaneously with the endeavors to improve the career, creating extraordinary challenges for the father. Nevertheless, it is expected that he contributes to the household chores equally and looks after the children, which is what the modern father also wishes to do.
Integrating the fragmented and segregated schedule is a matter of planning and organizing. This literally means ’doing family’.
How to support families in such a situation?
Creating and maintaining strong family networks requires organizational skills, and mothers and fathers usually need to develop these in their everyday lives (see our blog on managerial skills). What helps in the process is the knowledge about professionally organizing. In the Internet age, one aspect of this is the knowledge about how to use the Internet to organize family gatherings and events by using specific aps such as Doodle, Google Calendar or social media. Another aspect is public transport making it easier for children to go from one place to another and even travel on their own if they are of a certain age. We should also not forget affordable housing that allows family members to stay within reasonable distance from each other, whilst flexible working arrangements further contribute to the family as a whole.
Doing family is all about organizing. Family members, fathers and mothers especially, develop organizing skills and knowledge that is highly useable in their working lives as well.
Do you have ideas on how family organization can be supported and how best to motivate organizations to respect such valuable organizational skills of parents?