Historically considered, the patriarchal pattern of family organization was most common, but lately this has been giving way and a newer equalitarian or democratic type is emerging. Patriarchal families are those in which the authority of the husband and father is supreme; wife and children alike obey him as their lord and master. In some societies, such as the early Roman, this power of the male family head went so far as to permit him to beat, torture, or even take the life of a wife or child. Usually, however, it did not go this far, and in many cases control was mixed with genuine affection. Yet, by the very nature of the system, it was autocratic. The newer individualism of our day is changing all this; democracy in the home is struggling to supplant autocracy, consideration is taking the place of patriarchal dictation.
Though the end in view seems highly desirable, the processes required for attaining it are somewhat disturbing. Transitions are always disorganizing, and what has happened here is that patriarchal sanctions have in some cases been released before democratic patterns and procedures within the family have been adequately established to take their place. Then, too, love is always harder to apply than force, real democracy more difficult than autocracy. But, to us, the results seem worth the effort required.
One aspect of this emerging democracy in family relationships is a new set of conflicts between male and female. The traditional roles are being disturbed: woman is becoming emancipated from the lowly status that has been hers, with few exceptions, throughout the ages; man's ego and assumed superiority are being challenged, forcing him to "move over"; the sexes are coming to be more nearly equal in opportunity. This is as it should be in a democracy; but the process is disorganizing nevertheless. For example, woman sometimes mistakes license for freedom, and identity for equality, with the result that her emancipation may mean the loss of both femininity and virtue. Furthermore, with the traditional roles upset, and without new ones of a democratic nature yet established, she and man are both left confused and are thus forced with the necessity of maneuvering with each other for personal advantage or for the establishment of new roles that can be accepted and understood. More of this in a later chapter. Here it can be observed that sex equality, while likely beneficial as an end result, is disorganizing as a process.
Another disquieting, though promising, aspect of individualism in family relationships is the independence of youth. Children in the home, school, and community are less manageable than formerly. Though disturbing to the elders, this tendency toward self-assertion, unless entirely undisciplined and irresponsible, may be the spark of initiative that is needed for the full realization of personality. Modern youth, as a rule, cannot be frightened or beaten into submission. Nor should they be. It is within the folkways of this age that young people are to be more aggressive and more inclined to resist arbitrary authority than formerly. It is only when undirected or perverted that this becomes a problem. Democracy means freedom, and freedom without confusion or license requires great effort. In the home, as in the nation, freedom ought to be capitalized upon for the benefit of progress, never suppressed for the sake of expediency in control.
Familism, then, has been yielding to individualism. It seems probable that both extremes are undesirable, that the most healthy condition for family survival and personality realization is where both family and individuality are valued, but each in balance with the other. Individualism has brought problems which challenge the family. Properly met, however, these can prove to be opportunities, extending toward increasingly higher levels of adjustment.