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It Is Time to Rethink the Nuclear Family

Photo by Larry Crayton on Unsplash

The nuclear family is new. Brand, spanking new. It is a few centuries old in Western nations and no more than a few decades old in Africa. Family units became smaller because of the demands of urbanization and the rise of the wedding and real estate industries.

The nuclear family is also attractive. The ideal nuclear family is the result of a courtship, a wedding… a great romance. It’s really too bad that more marriages fail than succeed.

And that’s the thing about nuclear families. They’re brittle, easily breakable, and too unstable to be the main way that we as a society raise our children. Take, for example, two recent scandals involving beloved influencers. Both scandals revolve around personalities in the public eye. Specifically, people who have built public personas around their families – ‘mummy and daddy vloggers’.

In the first case, infidelity and a shocking lack of discretion were the cause of the scandal. The openly religious couple was ‘exposed’ by a gossip account on social media and the news rippled through the internet. Whether the claims were real or not and whether the couple was clout chasing or not is irrelevant. The whole situation would leave even the most casual observer wondering if there were any adults in the room as the parents dealt with the fallout of the scandal. Not to sound judgemental, but who was watching the kids?

The second case was more straightforward. A popular vlogger in the ‘mum’ space made her case to the public. This was after her ex-partner accused her of denying him access to their children. She went on to describe in detail the ways in which he has been failing as a parent and a person. She stated clearly that she was disappointed in him and that she felt she had done all she could to make their situation work. Nobody said that co-parenting was easy but here too one wonders. Maybe if there were more people to share the responsibilities of caring for children there would be less conflict.

So if we pretend that the nuclear family ideal has been a social experiment on a global scale, perhaps it is time to admit that the concept is a failure and scrap it. The fact is that overall, the nuclear family set-up has been a net negative. We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. 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.

Single parents – especially single mums have to go it alone. They are the sole support for their children and that, even in the best circumstances, is a crushing weight to bear. Whatever happened to it takes a village?

Extended families do have their problems. Privacy is limited and they add peace of mind only if you trust each member. There’s also the issue of agreeing on which morals and values you would like to pass down to the next generation. Of course, no one is suggesting that you pack up your family and move back to the village or bring the village to you. Your chosen extended family doesn’t even have to be made up of family members. Imagine with me for a minute, raising children in a community of friends – people who share your values and beliefs. You can immerse yourself in a group with a diversity of ideas and opinions but one that shares your fundamental beliefs. The wealth of knowledge inside of a group like this will seem limitless compared to that of any two parents.

In a world that asks us to be more individualistic and self-obsessed, the gains of extended families are even more attractive. Maybe we’ll all stop working so hard towards individual successes and focus on collective goals. Big, supportive communities may offer a chance to rest for a generation plagued by burn-out and anxiety.

If any of this has struck you as selfish or lazy, why? This is how we lived for millennia. We let the marketing and real estate people win at first, but we can still go back to what we know will work better.


Joy Matiri

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