The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake

If there is one piece to read this week, it is this one from David Brooks on the nuclear family. As I've talked about before, parenting can often be a panic inducing challenge. The cost of child care is crazy, and the nature of families and 'socially acceptable' is constantly changing. The nuclear family had a brief golden age in the post-war decades, thanks to a buoyant US economy and the subordination of women. But extended families are more robust, especially in hard times; they are a better model for most of America now.

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.

The idea that two people should be enough to do the job of raising a child, a task that used to fall to between 4-10 in a household, is an unrealistic expectation. As young parents in a manicured world of social media where everyone else seems to be 'doing it', while often our biggest accomplishment is if our son eats a full meal without most of it ending upon the floor, my wife and I sometimes wonder what we're doing wrong. It takes time to internalize that there is no 'right way' to raise a child, only what works for your family in that moment in time. Learning from one's own parents or siblings, having others to absorb the shocks of life, certainly seems to be where the pendulum needs to swing.


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