The “functions of the family” is an a-level course / exam staple and you can drag it out of the 20th century Murdock / Parsons duopoly by adding a neo-functionalist twist.
For Swenson (2004), the focus is on adults as providers of a stable family environment for primary socialisation. This involves:
1. Roles conceived as both expressive and instrumental.
2. Providing children with a safe, secure, environment that gives free range to both expressive and instrumental roles and values.
In this respect neo-Functionalism suggests parents contribute to the socialisation process by giving their children a knowledge of both expressive and instrumental role relationships.
The key thing here, for Swenson, is that it doesn’t particularly matter which partner provides which; all that matters is they do – and the significance of this idea is that it means gender roles in contemporary families are not necessarily conceived as fix, unchanging and immutable – even for Functionalists.
Rather, we should see such roles as fluid in a range of ways:
Dysfunctional families are not a quality of particular family structures (single-parent families are not automatically dysfunctional, just as dual-parent families are not automatically functional).
What matters is the quality of parental roles; as Swenson argues, “families become dysfunctional when poor parenting produces poor socialization outcomes”. “Good parenting”, therefore, successfully integrates both expressive and instrumental roles and values into the socialisation process.
The Micro-Macro Bridge
If you want to explore and develop these ideas further, another dimension to Neo-Functionalist thinking about contemporary families involves looking more-closely at how it acts as a bridge connecting the micro world of the individual with the macro world of wider society.