The Nuclear Family Has Failed – by Yoram Hazony – Re: How the Formerly Extended, “Traditional” Family Was Better for Individuals and Societies
May 13, 2022
When people talk about the structure of the family, they often find themselves arguing for or against the “nuclear family”, which consists, on most tellings, of a father and mother, with perhaps two or three children in their care for the first 18 years of their lives.
These children are then supposed to leave the house, move somewhere far away, and make nuclear families of their own.
Contemporary conservatives are especially inclined to embrace this image of the family, although it is not entirely clear why.
The “nuclear family” is not the same as the traditional Christian or Jewish family that existed before the two World Wars. On the contrary, the nuclear family is closer to being an invention of industrialisation and the 20th century.
And there are good reasons to think that this form of family is, in fact, a failed experiment, one that has done immeasurable harm to almost everyone: to women and men, children and grandparents.
The time has come for us to consider retiring the ideal of the nuclear family, and replacing it with something that looks more like the family of Christian and Jewish tradition.
What is the traditional family?
I’d like to propose five principles by which the traditions descended from the Bible channelled the natural tendencies of men and women to establish what I’m calling the traditional family:
[Please note I will not be pasting in every point the author outlines in his essay; what follows is a partial list]
1. The lifelong bond of a man and a woman.
… 4. The traditional family consists of multiple generations in daily contact.
The traditional family often consisted of three generations (or even four) in daily contact with one another. The bond between parents and children was not yet imagined as something that undergoes a rupture when a child turns 18 or 21, and so the relationship of parents to children continued throughout life. …
5. The traditional family is part of a broader congregation.
The traditional family was part of a broader loyalty group — the clan, which in later versions became the community or congregation — with which it was concerned on a daily basis.
… As anyone who has lived among such families can immediately see, the nuclear family is a weakened and much diminished version of the traditional family, one that is lacking most of the resources needed effectively to pursue the purposes of the traditional family.
When this conception of the family became normative in America and elsewhere after the Second World War, it gave birth to a world of detached suburban homes connected to distant places of employment and schools by trains, automobiles, and buses. In other words, the physical design of large portions of the country reflected a newly rationalised conception of what a family is.
In this new reality, there were no longer any business enterprises in the home for the family to pursue together. Instead, fathers would “go to work”, seceding from their families during their productive hours each day.
Children were required to “go to school”, seceding from the family during their own productive hours.
Young adults would then “go away to college”, cutting themselves off from family influence during the critical years in which they were supposed to reach maturity.
Similarly, grandparents were excised from this vision of the home, being “retired” to “retirement communities” or “nursing homes”.
Under this new division of labour, mothers were assigned the task of remaining by themselves in the house each day, attempting to “make a home” using the minimalist ingredients that the structure of the nuclear family had left them.
Much of this involved increasingly desperate efforts to keep adolescents somehow attached to the family — even though they now shared virtually no productive purposes with their parents, grandparents, and broader community or congregation; and instead spent their days seeking honour among other adolescents. …
But mothers had the worst of this new family life. …
Feminist writers were mistaken in supposing that the reconstructed household of the post-War era was itself the traditional family. But they were right that the life of a woman spending most of her productive hours in an empty house, which had been stripped of most of the human relationships, activities, and purposes that had filled the life of the traditional family, was one that many women found too painful and difficult to bear. …
… Now that the household is no longer the location of a common business enterprise, of devotion to God and the study of Scripture, of a direct responsibility for the education of the young, of a direct responsibility for honouring and caring for the old, and of significant responsibilities for the establishment and growth of the community and congregation, why should anyone be surprised that what remains is neither terribly sturdy nor especially attractive to the young?
You can read that article in full here.