14 votes

The Nuclear Family was a Mistake

11 comments

  1. [4]
    NaraVara
    Link
    As someone from a culture where joint family arrangement are still common, I've sort of felt this way about nuclear families all along, and this is a pretty good encapsulation of the issues with...

    As someone from a culture where joint family arrangement are still common, I've sort of felt this way about nuclear families all along, and this is a pretty good encapsulation of the issues with it. The article traces through how family life becomes increasingly brittle as the depth and complexity of our ties to kith and kin become shallower.

    Of course, it is a piece by David Brooks, and Brooks is very much on brand with his tendency to take broad, sociological concerns and condense them to problems of individual people being lacking in virtue. He pays some lip service to economic support programs, but then defaults to exhortations for everyone to just try harder. He also sort of ignores that there were issues with the joint family structure that made people leave it as well. It heaps up lots of obligations and expectations that people find crushing, and some people are simply not able to conform to (e.g. gay people). We all want family around, but we also want to live our lives without feeling like we're being judged all the time.

    19 votes
    1. [2]
      joplin
      Link Parent
      That's putting it mildly. It also indefinitely perpetuates the roles that family members put each other into. I can't imagine not leaving home at 18. It was already 3 or 4 years too long for me.

      It heaps up lots of obligations and expectations that people find crushing

      That's putting it mildly. It also indefinitely perpetuates the roles that family members put each other into. I can't imagine not leaving home at 18. It was already 3 or 4 years too long for me.

      5 votes
      1. NaraVara
        Link Parent
        I find this kind of true of lots of people who never leave their hometowns. It's like they get stuck in whatever template people decided they belonged to. It's like you're not allowed room to...

        I find this kind of true of lots of people who never leave their hometowns. It's like they get stuck in whatever template people decided they belonged to. It's like you're not allowed room to evolve into anything else and their frustration with it is often palpable.

        8 votes
  2. [3]
    Micycle_the_Bichael
    Link
    I've read this article 3 times now and I am having such a hard time putting into words the things I disagree with. Which is really surprising to me. I'm a huge believer that a sense of community...

    I've read this article 3 times now and I am having such a hard time putting into words the things I disagree with. Which is really surprising to me. I'm a huge believer that a sense of community and belonging are lacking in American society. I personally have a massive craving for a community support structure. I don't really know what it is about this article, but reading this guy argue FOR what I agree with made me feel weird and question if my thoughts were wrong because reading the way he talks just makes me feel so gross. I don't know what it is though. I can't quite put my finger on it.

    12 votes
    1. [2]
      NaraVara
      Link Parent
      Ha! Before even reading the article my first reaction to the headline was "Yes! Good!" And then I saw the David Brooks byline and was like oh no. I am curious what you found troubling about it...

      Ha! Before even reading the article my first reaction to the headline was "Yes! Good!" And then I saw the David Brooks byline and was like oh no.

      I am curious what you found troubling about it though. Is it different from the issues I mentioned?

      7 votes
      1. Micycle_the_Bichael
        Link Parent
        Its actually just overwhelming the number of this I don't like. Turns out I'm just going to say a whole lot of things. This is more overarching: It feels like the author's way to address criticism...

        Its actually just overwhelming the number of this I don't like. Turns out I'm just going to say a whole lot of things.

        • This is more overarching: It feels like the author's way to address criticism or counter-points is "People will point out xyz, but I think my thing is more important than these drawbacks" and then moves on. It gives the appearance of balance but because no time or writing is given to actually developing reasons people disagree beyond lumping them in one paragraph makes them feel like afterthoughts, when a lot of them are really valid criticisms.

        • "But then, because the nuclear family is so brittle, the fragmentation continued. In many sectors of society, nuclear families fragmented into single-parent families, single-parent families into chaotic families or no families." Even after reading the whole article I don't agree with this at all. Nuclear families didn't pave the way for single-parent families. This is such an (a) oversimplification and (b) implied negative that I don't agree with at all.

        • "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." Disagree with this. By what metric does he decide life is worse for children? I can promise you that I would be a worse person if my racist, homophobic, elitist family on my Mom's side had had a stronger hand in developing my world view. My dad's family all lived within 15 minutes of us and despite virtually raising my cousins, when my dad lost his job and we were barely able to pay the bills, both sides dropped us, so they sure did a good job of "protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life". Almost all of the things that made my parents miserable were obligations they felt towards their family because of this "big, interconnected families" idea they have in their heads. Is seeing your parents miserable because of family obligations "better for the children"? Kids aren't stupid. We can tell when and why people are miserable. I think family can be great for people, I just think the way the author implies "big connected family = better" is really dumb and wrong.

        • At lots of points the author just assumes that everyone in a family will always do the selfless thing to help their family members in need an just like... that's so hilariously easily proven false and so much of the article is dedicated to that idea it makes me question every following point and the author's credibility.

        • He talks about how if one relationship breaks there are others who can take the place, but like, never addresses how people can be forced to reconcile with people who they shouldn't have to because they've been seriously hurt. It assumes there are others in the family who are willing to take that role and are good role models. That's a bold assumption to make.

        • "In a nuclear family, the end of the marriage means the end of the family as it was previously understood.".... yeah? That's not really different in a non-nuclear family? I don't really understand this point and he never expands on it.

        • "Multiple adults teach children right from wrong, how to behave toward others, how to be kind." Again, bold assumption. This assumes the adults in your family have a sense of right from wrong, how to behave, and how to be kind. What happens when they don't? Or lets take the opposite view: What happens when your whole family is racist? Again, the author just decides that everyone in this made up family unit is going to be selfless and kind and have "good morals", whatever the author decides those are.

        • "But while extended families have strengths, they can also be exhausting and stifling. They allow little privacy; you are forced to be in daily intimate contact with people you didn’t choose. There’s more stability but less mobility. Family bonds are thicker, but individual choice is diminished. You have less space to make your own way in life. In the Victorian era, families were patriarchal, favoring men in general and first-born sons in particular." <--- here he addresses some drawbacks of the extended family but of the drawbacks he lists here, I would say only one of these makes my top 5 drawbacks to extended family. The rest are the low-hanging fruit of counter-points.

        • "Children were no longer raised to assume economic roles—they were raised so that at adolescence they could fly from the nest, become independent, and seek partners of their own. They were raised not for embeddedness but for autonomy." The tone of this is said as a negative, while I would argue it is a positive.

        • A big thing that bothers me I think is that the tone of this article, the author doesn't seem to think children should be people. They should be a mindless drones that your family imprints their beliefs, politics, and worldviews on and they accept and will have kids who will grow up in the family also as mindless drones. He kind of says the same thing about women.

        • "Finally, conditions in the wider society were ideal for family stability. The postwar period was a high-water mark of church attendance, unionization, social trust, and mass prosperity—all things that correlate with family cohesion." Really feels like he was super close to making a good point here but is too up his own ass to make it. Unionization and mass prosperity lead to family stability because people get divorced less often if they aren't fighting about money. Also, he talked less than a paragraph ago how women were regulated to the house because employers wouldn't hire women. Maybe the reason families were "stable" is not because things were better, but because women had no option to get a divorce. Again, he says all the words and makes points but doesn't tie them together because doing so would weaken his argument.

        • Dude clearly hates feminism. He also hates women, but seems less willing to be upfront about that one. He might not even be fully aware that he actually hates women. But he hates feminism, female individualism and empowerment, and women making the choice not to be part of a nuclear family, and talks about these at lengths he never does about men.

        • "Fewer relatives are around in times of stress to help a couple work through them. If you married for love, staying together made less sense when the love died." Again, this is a personal preference, but... good? Like.. every child of divorce I know says life was worse when their parents were miserable together and improved when their parents eventually moved on and were happy. If a marriage isn't happy, I don't think they should be together and he clearly disagrees.

        Americans today have less family than ever before. From 1970 to 2012, the share of households consisting of married couples with kids has been cut in half. In 1960, according to census data, just 13 percent of all households were single-person households. In 2018, that figure was 28 percent. In 1850, 75 percent of Americans older than 65 lived with relatives; by 1990, only 18 percent did.
        Over the past two generations, people have spent less and less time in marriage—they are marrying later, if at all, and divorcing more. In 1950, 27 percent of marriages ended in divorce; today, about 45 percent do. In 1960, 72 percent of American adults were married. In 2017, nearly half of American adults were single. According to a 2014 report from the Urban Institute, roughly 90 percent of Baby Boomer women and 80 percent of Gen X women married by age 40, while only about 70 percent of late-Millennial women were expected to do so—the lowest rate in U.S. history. And while more than four-fifths of American adults in a 2019 Pew Research Center survey said that getting married is not essential to living a fulfilling life, it’s not just the institution of marriage they’re eschewing: In 2004, 33 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 were living without a romantic partner, according to the General Social Survey; by 2018, that number was up to 51 percent.

        The running trend. Notes that marriages are happening less often and divorce more often and blanket decides that is a negative. Doesn't discuss that women are getting married later because they are able to be in the workforce now and society punishes women who want to be in the family and the workforce. Divorce rates are higher but doesn't care if in the 1800s is people were happy in their marriage. All that matters is they were married.

        • "They can afford to purchase the support that extended family used to provide—and that the people they preach at, further down the income scale, cannot." Finally a point that I agree with.

        When you put everything together, we’re likely living through the most rapid change in family structure in human history. The causes are economic, cultural, and institutional all at once. People who grow up in a nuclear family tend to have a more individualistic mind-set than people who grow up in a multigenerational extended clan. People with an individualistic mind-set tend to be less willing to sacrifice self for the sake of the family, and the result is more family disruption. People who grow up in disrupted families have more trouble getting the education they need to have prosperous careers. People who don’t have prosperous careers have trouble building stable families, because of financial challenges and other stressors. The children in those families become more isolated and more traumatized.

        This seems to me to be the thesis of the article. Nuclear family = selfish = bad people. Big family = selfless = good people. I think I've sufficiently made it clear I think that this oversimplification and generalization is at best asinine.

        • Can't help but notice gay parents don't work into thee framework at all

        • Can't help but notice that stay-at-home dads don't fit into this narrative he's made at all

        • Can't help but notice that thee only single parents he is concerned about is single mothers, because I don't think he believes single fathers exist.

        • "many mothers who decide to raise their young children without extended family nearby find that they have chosen a lifestyle that is brutally hard and isolating. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that women still spend significantly more time on housework and child care than men do, according to recent data. Thus, the reality we see around us: stressed, tired mothers trying to balance work and parenting, and having to reschedule work when family life gets messy." And the solution can only be large extended families. Maybe.... men could help their wives out more. Just a crazy idea.

        • I don't feel ready or equipped to deal with the, at best, racially insensitive paragraphs. Specifically the ones about African Americans.

        • " As the sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox has pointed out, highly educated progressives may talk a tolerant game on family structure when speaking about society at large, but they have extremely strict expectations for their own families. When Wilcox asked his University of Virginia students if they thought having a child out of wedlock was wrong, 62 percent said it was not wrong. When he asked the students how their own parents would feel if they themselves had a child out of wedlock, 97 percent said their parents would “freak out.” " This is said like its a contradiction because I guess the author has resorted to intellectual dishonesty to make his point stronger? He says progressives don't live what they believe, but that second statistic he uses to make his point is a statement about how progressive's PARENTS would feel. Not how they themselves would feel.

        • dude is way too hyped about economic ruin and inequality for the sake of "extended family"

        • Once he gets to the last paragraphs about social groups replacing family I start getting more on board but still the way he words it and why he says they are important or good still leave me feeling gross, even though I fully agree with him about forming non-familial close-knit communities.

        13 votes
  3. [3]
    skybrian
    Link
    I'm wondering how much of this is based on economics and geographic mobility in pursuit of work, and how hiring practices have changed? I don't have data backing it up, but a traditional immigrant...

    I'm wondering how much of this is based on economics and geographic mobility in pursuit of work, and how hiring practices have changed? I don't have data backing it up, but a traditional immigrant story is that you move to places where you have family and they can help you get a job. Someone has to go first, but if the opportunities are good, others follow. This is still true for some immigrant families in some types of businesses, such as restaurants and hotel management.

    When nepotism is considered a bad thing, hiring is supposed to be based on merit, and people choose careers based on interest rather than on what their other family members can help them with, the hiring process may be fairer, but economic ties are weaker.

    It seems like the pursuit of work now spreads families apart rather than bringing them together? In some professions like academia, it's just expected that you will move anywhere nationally based on job opportunities. In larger corporations it's still the case that moving somewhere else (like company headquarters) will be better for your career. And the logistics of moving seem hard enough with two independent careers per family.

    5 votes
    1. [2]
      Micycle_the_Bichael
      Link Parent
      I've been mulling over this comment for a while now and I think you're right but I want to pitch another aspect that somewhat contradicts your point. With the rise in the number of jobs that will...

      I've been mulling over this comment for a while now and I think you're right but I want to pitch another aspect that somewhat contradicts your point. With the rise in the number of jobs that will hire remote employees, do you think the number of "larger extended families" will increase? Like, if I use to have to move to a major city to get a job, but now I can live anywhere that has WiFi, do I stay closer to my family? I'm not sure. I could work remote 24/7 if I wanted to and live close to home, but I chose to move away because I wanted to live somewhere else. So I can't really relate to what others will do. I also don't want kids though so I'm not starting any sort of family :P

      1 vote
      1. skybrian
        Link Parent
        I think there's a difference between wanting to live closer together and it being something you need to do. A modern-day example would be taking care of older parents; this is something you can't...

        I think there's a difference between wanting to live closer together and it being something you need to do. A modern-day example would be taking care of older parents; this is something you can't do remotely. There are fewer reasons that you need to be close than there used to be, but some people do have them. And if you need to be there, being able to work remotely will help.

        I'm on opposite coasts from my brother and his family, as well as my mother. There is a big difference between being multiple timezones away (a plane flight and visiting for a week or two), being far enough away that you'd have to stay overnight (as with my mother and my brother), versus being close enough that it's a day trip. Right now I don't need to be there, but that could change.

  4. Micycle_the_Bichael
    Link
    Noise: Just did some additional reading. Bold of David Brooks to talk about family and divorce rates when he left his wife to date his extremely young research assistant. He’s probably a great...

    Noise: Just did some additional reading. Bold of David Brooks to talk about family and divorce rates when he left his wife to date his extremely young research assistant. He’s probably a great person to talk about this.

    4 votes