Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Was the Nuclear Family a Mistake?

The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake.

"If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life, to smaller, detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familial system that liberates the rich and ravages the working-class and the poor."

I do not have a family as everyone here knows. There's no ties to any family members left. I cut all the Facebook ties too, my account had been restricted from all, but now they are unfriended and blocked.   My cousins chose my mother too and talked to me with disrespect that went deep. There's no one left in my life I am related to.

A world of isolated nuclear families grew the isolation and also grew the power that narcissists held over our society.

As I grew deeper into my no contact, I questioned the mythos of family and the structure of our society, so seeing this article was very interesting to me. The nuclear family is failing, just look at all the abuse and pain it's brought so many. I am glad to have my husband but I have no family now, all they brought me was suffering. Going no contact was the best decision I ever made. My life grew vastly better without them. It was nothing but a collective of people who only cared about competing with each other and appearances. Compliance and authoritarianism like too much religion was the highest values they aspired too. People are starting to question the societal structure of nuclear families and how imprisoning they are. That's a positive.

It's horrible too how religions focused so much on family especially in conservative churches.  Even as a married woman, I felt ostracized simply because I was childless in Christian churches. One IFB advertised itself as "family-friendly" I noticed not one divorced or single person over the age of 20 attended there. The Catholic church was totally family focused. If you don't have children or have the white picket fence "family" life there's many places in American society you simply don't fit in. Even now, many parts of society are slow to get the memo that many people are living single, never had children, or are childfree, and aren't part of the normal mainstream definition of family. Single, childless, trans, and gay people are left out.

Traditional family life is impossible even economically now for many. Visit Reddit sometime and read how most millennials have decided not to have kids. This is due not only to the lack of money for many but the fact that family life was no bastion of joy. That was part of my decision making, the inherent fact, that my own parents were so miserable, angry and upset with their children, why would I replicate the same path for my life? The childfree movement is not only based in economic lacks, but based in negative experiences as well.

If you can't take care of yourself, how do you bring little children into the mix?  Add in d
istance, the forced economic nomadism in America and other changes. Read the book Bowling Alone by Putnam. Now add to this, not everyone dreams of life in a nuclear suburban family, there's been many cracks in that facade for some time. There's a lot of oppression buried in that 1950s dream where the Leave it to Beaver lifestyle was promoted as the "ideal", that really wasn't the reality back then,but many look back on the past with rose colored glasses. Mr. Cleaver was very wealthy even for that time.

Some people claimed the author of this article is a neo-liberal who wants everyone living alone in their $1,000 a month pod, but the nuclear family has failed for many people. Family is a word that brings to us not memories of fondness and loving moments, but memories of abuse, "never being enough", and rejection.  All the distance alone where too many in America are forced to move for economic survival, family became strangers to many from distance alone. I had this revelation that one theme of my life, was that everyone lived far away and I was forced to leave them or never see them due to limits on money and the pressure of distance. Even as a child, while other cousins enjoyed close relationships with aunts, uncles and other cousins, I was the kid who lived far away. I was always left out. Isolated nuclear families, gave the narcissists far more power to abuse their kids, because there were no outside relatives to observe or stop anything. Every home was a little fiefdom where one crazy Mom and or Dad or two of them could rule without censure. This definitely allowed the malignant narcissists more leeway.

I noticed without fail in fundamentalism and evangelicalism, that most adherents had life follow the "family script", they all had large families, were home owners, and had children. James Dobson and the rest in evangelical circles, all preached on the centrality of the family.  In my second IFB, they called themselves "family-focused" as the preacher there paraded his endless stream of locally living adult children and grandchildren.  Those without a family were basically ignored. I was outside of this just by the economic and other facts of my life. That world alone became painful in shoving "family" down my throat.

The nuclear family is tied to the hyper-individualistic society. In conservative regions of this country, things became so family focused, that not to have a family left you out of the warp and weave of culture. I have to admit when organizations put on "Family Day", there seems to be some prejudice towards those without one.

"In 2004, the journalist and urbanist Jane Jacobs published her final book, an assessment of North American society called Dark Age Ahead. At the core of her argument was the idea that families are “rigged to fail.” The structures that once supported the family no longer exist, she wrote. Jacobs was too pessimistic about many things, but for millions of people, the shift from big and/or extended families to detached nuclear families has indeed been a disaster.

As the social structures that support the family have decayed, the debate about it has taken on a mythical quality. Social conservatives insist that we can bring the nuclear family back. But the conditions that made for stable nuclear families in the 1950s are never returning. Conservatives have nothing to say to the kid whose dad has split, whose mom has had three other kids with different dads; “go live in a nuclear family” is really not relevant advice. If only a minority of households are traditional nuclear families, that means the majority are something else: single parents, never-married parents, blended families, grandparent-headed families, serial partnerships, and so on. Conservative ideas have not caught up with this reality."

Economics are changing, where the nuclear family of yesterday is really only affordable to the very few who can afford the house, the children and all the trappings. The nuclear family is falling apart in America as young people fall down the ladder. Child birth rates are in the basement because young people aren't making the right money to support a family.  We lost community and more when every household was to be an isolated subset and unto itself. It is bothersome to me how as I got older people stopped hanging out with friends and became more and more "nuclear" family centered. This without fail was leaving people out.

Family as Sacred Cow


  1. "That was part of my decision making, the inherent fact, that my own parents were so miserable, angry and upset with their children, why would I replicate the same path for my life?" - I was in that boat for many years.

    I read the Atlantic article you linked to awhile ago from a friend. Food for thought.

    The sad fact is that there are some families who would still be abusive even if they were extended. So I think it matters more which kind of family you are born into - and that is something none of us has control over.

    On the nuclear family era:

    I think it was made much worse by suburbia, big lawns dividing the houses at bigger distances, nowhere to go for children, cars (which kept children in a bubble while their parents competed for road space and shouted about obnoxious drivers). It was the grand era of isolation. Of course, there are always two sides to this: if you were from an abusive extended family, you could set out on your own, make your own money, pick the mate you wanted without parental approval, and your children wouldn't be influenced by bad relatives. So, there was freedom to it, especially in days when the middle class was very strong and making a very good living wage.

    But the downside out-weighed the benefits. Child abuse actually went up, and now it is sky-high. Our parents may have had the attitude: "the inherent fact, that my own parents were so miserable, angry and upset with their children, how could I make a good loving life for my own children?"

    It became the era of generational conflict of values, of dress, of interests, of peers-over-parents, of who gained your respect, and so much so that parents and children really had no common ground. And to add to the estrangement factor, parents put their children down all across America. It became a fad to insult your teenagers and tell them how to (put your own "how to" here).

    Insults don't make people close, but so many parents decided that they felt better by devaluing their kids.

    I have a lot of friends from my highschool days who were either not close with their parents, or who were downright estranged. The generation from before? Estrangement was unheard of.

    Perhaps people who wanted estrangement in the old days took the Oregon trail, never to see their relatives from the east coast again?

    I was just on a forum where survivors were talking about how they felt they had to hide their accomplishments and happiness from their parent: over awards, a big transition in their career, a dream coming true ... because their parents were so insecure, or would snipe about it or even downright sabotage it. So it has gotten to this now ... very sad. As though their parents were enemies instead of congratulators.

  2. Yeah there's a reason the childfree movement is growing, who wants the "family" life when family was something so abysmal.I had the health problems and infertility but inside having children to me felt like having chains latched on to each wrist and living in hell. I had the fear even if I had a kid, it would turn out like THEM, my family is so full of dead emotion narcissists, it actually was a fear. Health-wise it never was an option so I don't have to blame myself on that score, but yeah those things come to people. I believe know making livings and the rest is so hard, people aren't signing up.

    It's true even extended families could be abusive. My mother wrestled control even over people who lived hundreds of miles away, it was insane to watch and to the last cousin as well.

    Yeah suburbia worsened things, more distance between neighbors, isolation, "get off my lawn" where kids in urban areas could see neighbors far easier and go down to corner shops, the kid in the suburbs, couldn't go to the store until they had a car at 16 unless Mommy was driving them. I hate the suburbs in my case. Even if I hit big money, I never would enter that type of lifestyle, they seem so ISOLATED, everything is too spread out. I live too far on the edge of town for my liking but I always have to be within half a mile of a library and STUFF to do.

    I do think freedom ran that show when people could set out on their own. This is when people started moving away from home for hundreds and thousands of miles but back then, the MONEY made it possible.


  3. Yeah you notice historically families became more at odds, the "generation gap", I think the youth were more adrift too in a world centered all around their parents instead of the community. They had no common ground, the kids sent off to their huge impersonal schools [high schools numbering in the thousands] and their parents off to their office jobs.
    I think in the old days while there was always abusive parents things were better, families were supportive, they "had each other", it was kinship against the world kind of thing, but during the time of boomers and the suburbs, you are right, too many parents saw their kids as "enemies" to battle it out with, how many narcissists saw "the kids" as competition to be sabotaged? This of course has ties to the competitive capitalist culture as it grew and grew, and where "winning" became everything, cooperation was thrown out. I used to wonder as a kid, why do people have kids, I knew about birth control from books by age 10--snuck reading a few things at library...and they seem so damn miserable and angry, I get the feeling many had them because they "were supposed to" but the function and design of society was not enabling the same type of families that existed before were there was cooperation, social networks and more. The kid's in other words were becoming more of a liability that stood in the way instead of an asset. I mean if your whole life is dedicated to "winning" and getting as much money as possible in the "greed is good" era, kids don't help with that.

    I agree many kids in my high school did not get along with their parents either. I have met older women who talk so lovingly of their parents and it's different. The only exceptions were classmates whose parents were immigrants, the family was a bastion of love and support, not just older people pissed off issuing edicts from on high, who no interest in getting to even know their own kids. My grandmother was a narcissist too, but there's levels of abuse that society, culture and societal expectations, put the breaks on things a bit, and those things were removed for me.

    I think the West was settled a bit by those escaping families, so there were bad families even then, but definitely the relationships in general between parents and children have changed. I believe authoritarianism in American society has changed where everything is about controlling the kids and that has changed the parenting into something else negative and ruined the previous idea of family. If your family is just people who try to sabotage you and tell you everything you do is wrong, what good are they?

  4. "I believe authoritarianism in American society has changed where everything is about controlling the kids and that has changed the parenting into something else negative and ruined the previous idea of family." - so true.

    1. Thanks Lise, I also think this is one reason the child-free movement is growing like gangbusters. who wants 20 years of an adversary in your home?