The Finding of Social Contracts in The Family

Family has always been the foundation of my life as well as the stability that keeps me sane in the midst of my ups and downs. As I have grown up, and subsequently grown more aware of my surroundings, I have come to realize that my family is far closer than others. My parents have made it clear, over the years that they are there for my sister and me, no matter what the circumstances may be. If I need them in the middle of the night, I should never hesitate to call. If I need advice, I should never hesitate to ask. And, if I need somebody to be there for me, regardless of what else is going on, I should never hesitate to rely on them.

Never have I thought about my family’s close relationship as a contract, nonetheless a social contract. Upon reading Rousseau’s reading about Social Contracts, I began to view my relationship with my parents in a different light. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that they uphold their end of the “contract” as long as I uphold mine.

Think they're signing their family's social contract?

Think they’re signing their family’s social contract?

In my family, the way in which we treat one another and the responsibilities we take on within the family confines are things that go unsaid and unwritten. It is as though upon being brought into this world, I was agreeing to an unwritten “contract” or agreement about what it meant to be a member of my family and what responsibilities come along with it.

A couple of weeks ago, I was on the phone with my Dad, before doing my homework which included Rousseau’s reading. He was giving me a quick life lesson prior to my long night ahead at the library; something that he did not have to take the time to do. After the reading and previous conversation with my Dad, I could not help but to think about how my life, could in someway, relate to what Rousseau was saying. I found this personal connection to be easier to find than I had imagined.

Rousseau discusses how society should be split into the sovereign and the government. His belief is that if people enter into contracts (or in my case, unwritten agreements) with one another, then society (or in my case, the family) will have little to no problems and will ultimately work very well together.

The Government ( the parent) helping the Sovereign (the child)

The Government ( the parent) helping the Sovereign (the child)

Delving into this comparison further, my parents act as the government and my sister and I act as the sovereign. In order for the “society” (family) to run smoothly, both ends need to uphold their end of the contract (agreement). My parents have the best interest for my sister and me in mind, just as Rousseau believes the government must have for their people. They have done and continue to do everything in their power to give us every opportunity necessary to succeed. This article, from the New America Foundation, discusses how the social contract, in terms of family, can infect be improved to help newer generations. Children are dependent on the idea that their parents view their well-being as a priority. On our end of the contract, my sister and I do everything in our power to take the opportunities and tools my parents have given us in order to become the best possible, independent, people we can be. Rousseau believes that due to the social contracts, governments have their sovereigns best interest in mind. When members of society lose sight of this, it causes issues to arise. The same goes for family social contracts; when children forget this, issues can arise in the family setting, which could potentially lead to Hobbes’ theory of social contracts. Hobbes believes that without government, people are naturally violent and malicious in their state of nature. So, if people lose sight of their government, they might resort to this natural state of behavior and thus, act poorly. Thomas Edsall, shares his opinion in the New York Times about this potential broken social contract.

Although Rousseau’s ideas of social conctracts can be compared to that of family contracts, there are pieces of his reading that do not fit in with the family setting. For example, he discusses bringing as many people together as possible to create a union which will eventually grow to become as large as possible. This does not make sense within the family setting, as most families do not intend to grow as large as they physically might be able to.

I believe that Rousseau’s theory is more comparable and relatable to the family social contracts, and more specifically, my individual family’s social contracts and agreements. I believe that although it is not a written out agreement, a family’s social contract is the most important. This ideal was defined by Rousseau and supported by the countless examples that my family, and many others, exemplify.

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4 thoughts on “The Finding of Social Contracts in The Family

  1. Like everyone has already said, I enjoyed the uniqueness of your post a lot. I think it offered a completely different take on the subject material presented in lecture, which I really appreciate. I want to challenge you, though, on the idea of the parent-child relationship truly being a “contract.” Sure, we expect things from our parents as their children and vice versa, but I don’t think the mere expectation of them constitutes a social contract. For example, say you were a really unruly kid that didn’t listen to their parents (in breach of the social contract). Your parents would not, in consequence, stop loving, caring, or devoting all of their time to you. This is because the relationship is not maintained by a contract, it is maintained by love and a conscious decision to be devoted to one’s family, regardless of what they receive in return.

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  2. Your post forced me to view the definition of a contract in an entirely different light. In lecture, when we were prompted to consider the relationships in life we feel shouldn’t be dictated by contracts, many students responded with family as an answer. At the time, I totally agreed with that understanding; no longer can I say that. Families, just like any other collection of people, function because those involved agree on their respective roles. As you make clear, each family member carries out different tasks and responsibilities that reflect the concepts in Rousseau’s social contract theory. A successful family operates because power is both structured and respected. I think it’s healthy to be aware of the value social contracts have in our daily lives. Again, thanks for sharing.

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  3. I really enjoyed reading your post. I loved how you connected Rousseu’s idea of a contract to your own family. My family seems to have a very similar dynamic. We talked in class about when it is necessary to have a contract and when it is not. We established the idea that having a contract in business exchanges is important, where is in a more casual setting such as a friendship, it is not necessary. However, I never considered a contract in terms of family. Personally, my parents expect certain things out of my siblings and me, and we expect certain things back. While there is not written contract, it is the idea that each member of my family has certain roles. We are all there for each other and support each other regardless of the situation. I loved how you emphasized the importance of having an “unwritten family contract.” I believe that families are the closest and most well-functioning one everyone is aware of their roles and expectations, much like a contract. I loved reading your post, great job!

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  4. This blog post has so many unique points that grasp my attention and gives me a better outlook of a contract. Rousseau has a very interesting point of view when he talks about a contract. I like how you compared Rousseau’s definition or explantation of a contract and related that to your family setting. Much like in your family, my family is ridiculously similar. My parents and siblings are my best friends and role models and give me the best advice. My mother always tells me, “What is my main job… to keep you safe and healthy. There is an unwritten rule in my family and much like this contract you talk about, it relates to my family. Having an unwritten contract or rules in a family gives each one of them a standard for what the family is looking for and what they want to accomplish. I like how the comparison between the government and the sovereign was related to a mother and her child. The relationship is extremely similar and is right on point. Overall, I have no complaints about this blog. Very well written and it was nice to read something else besides a sport related blog.

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