Family Interaction and Power

Fred Strodtbeck, “Family Interaction, Values, and Achievement,” in Talent and Society: New Perspectives in the Identification of Talent, Princeton, Van Notrand Company, 1958, 183-4

…the less the mother and son are dominated by the father in the power area, the greater the disposition of both to believe that the world can be rationally mastered and that a son should risk separation from his family…Lack of potency in the family might well lead him to infer that he could never control his destiny anywhere and that he had better stay near his parents; if he could not influence his family, how could he be sure that he could influence the larger community? Leaving the family under such conditions would be foolhardy….

Perhaps…sons are more likely to get ideas about leaving the family and controlling their own destiny, not from their mothers’ value system, but from a family situation in which the father has less power (whether because he is inadequate, or because the mother is stronger, or because he believes in democratic methods)….

The son may be said to go through at least two stages of socialization critical for development of his latent potential. In the first (covering the ages of roughly 4-8) he is exposed to differing amounts of stress upon early mastery, independence, responsibility and the like. This stress, through strongly determined by the values of the mother, stems in part form the parents collectively. When the mother-child relationship is warm and the required acts of independence are slightly beyond the son’s level of easy performance, then the child is exposed to the complicated system of rewards which requires him to withdraw from the intimate circle of his mother’s activities in order to win the affection which is contingent upon his achievement. The strain of this relationship in which affection has become conditioned upon more mature performance has two effects. First, the more mature achievant behaviors which are rewarded are accepted into the response repertoire with a strength and resistance to extinction which may be likened to traumatic avoidance learning or, at least, the persistence of responses built by certain aperiodic conditioning schedules. Second, this substitute for direct interpersonal gratification creates a relatively greater sense of personal isolation. These tendencies combined result in behavioral dispositions which are captured…in projective productions and as a disposition to substitute achievant gratifications for interpersonal gratifications in later career crises.

In the second period (lasting from around 8 at least through adolescence) the son tests new limits in which the focus of socialization is not so much his within-home behavior, as it is his beyond-home behavior. Low decision-making power in the family…results in a generalization of this inadequacy to matters outside the family.


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