This is an interesting bit of history on the roots of the nuclear family. Namely, that the notion was mostly 1) British, and 2) marked by many of the same characteristics that mark family formation in the United States today, hundreds of years after the era used as the springboard for the piece.
Not so long ago, family scholars labored under the assumption, half-Marxist, half-“functionalist,” that before the Industrial Revolution, the extended family was the norm in the Western world. There was more than a little romanticism associated with this view: extended families were imagined to have lived in warm, cohesive rural communities where men and women worked together on farms or in small cottage industries. That way of life, went the thinking, ended when industrialization wrenched rural folk away from their cottages and villages into the teeming, anonymous city, sent men into the factories, and consigned women to domestic drudgery. Worse, by upending the household economy, the Industrial Revolution seriously weakened the family. The nuclear family, it was believed, was evidence of family decline.
The nuclear family was the dominant arrangement in England stretching back to the thirteenth century.
But by the second half of the twentieth century, one by one these assumptions were overturned. First to go was the alleged prevalence of the extended family. Combing through English parish records and other demographic sources, historians like Peter Laslett and Alan MacFarlane discovered that the nuclear family—a mother, father and child(ren) in a “simple house,” as Laslett put it—was the dominant arrangement in England stretching back to the thirteenth century.
Rather than remaining in or marrying into the family home, as was the case in Southern Europe and many parts of Asia and the Middle East, young couples in England were expected to establish their own household. That meant that men and women married later than in other parts of the world, only after they had saved enough money to set up an independent home. By the time they were ready to tie the knot, their own parents were often deceased, making multi-generational households a relative rarity.
As I stop to think about it for just 2 minutes (I just read the piece), it makes perfect sense really. Given that the U.S. was born of British heritage, it should be expected that our family dynamics mirror this.
I am beginning to wonder, however, if I am too naive. Despite my oft-professed realism, I actually believe there’s a reasonable and sane midpoint. One where the overwhelming importance of the two married parents, father-led home is acknowledged as best for children and society, but which also acknowledges that such an arrangement thrives with a little help from a village.
Ideally, that village would be extended family, but experience has taught many people that in the absence of shared values with some blood kin, you have to take support where you can get it. Thankfully if we’re fortunate, Christianity can open the door to heart connections with those of like precious faith onto whom we can lean from time to time when we need it.
Having come from a community where historically the extended family has tried -with minimal success to speak of if any- to fill in the gaps of the broken family nucleus with extended family support, it is my belief that if you have to choose one or the other, then the nuclear fmaily is the only viable way to go.
(h/t): Maea, via TPC