Family of the
By Royce Carlson
A couple of friends of mine are in a difficult situation.
They are about to become single parents due to divorce. They will probably each
end up with custody of their children. They will not only have to take care of
their children by themselves, they will also have to earn money to support
Taking care of a child or two, particularly if they are young, is more than
a full time job. In spite of receiving child-support payments, a single parent
usually must work another full-time job just to pay for it all. It is not the
happiest of situations.
I spent last weekend visiting with a couple who are close friends of mine
who have two young boys, four and two years old. Taking care of these beautiful
children is very demanding. I am not a parent, myself, so the experience was
eye opening. They are happy being parents and they are also often frustrated
and exhausted by the experience. It is a tremendous amount of work for a
couple, so it must be much harder for a single parent.
My exposure to these two situations got me thinking about the nuclear family
as it exists in Western culture. The "one family - one household"
idea puts a lot of pressure on parents. There may be a better way.
With a change of structure to the idea of family, raising children could be
shared amongst a wider group. There are non-western models that can be used as
a basis for change. In many tribal cultures the tribe was the family. Each
child had many parents and many siblings. The biological father and mother
assume a less central position in the lives of their children. This arrangement
allows for sharing of resources as well as sharing child rearing. It seems to
me to be a much more efficient way to do it than the nuclear family model.
Even our western heritage contains a model for easing the pressure on
parents. This is the extended family model. The extended family consists of
relatives by blood and marriage living in the same household. Before the people
of the West became so mobile and put such a high value on self-reliance, they
often lived with several generations of their families. The grandparents,
parents, brothers, sisters, and children lived together in the same house or
set of houses. This provided plenty of help in the raising of children. This
still goes on to some extent today but it often involves shuttling between
cross-town locations and is not particularly convenient for many.
Here is a proposal for an experimental family model that just might be
better than the tribal, extended, or nuclear family. Because of the advances,
in the last 50 years, of communication and transportation technologies we are
now more capable of finding like-minded people and then physically moving to a
location where we can live together in community. Individuals do not have to
stay where they were born. They can move. People do not have to live with
others they feel they have little in common with. They can find like-minded
people to share their lives.
Imagine a new "family group" consisting of five to ten adults and
their children. They share similar interests and philosophy of life and then
live together or adjacent to one another. They share the jobs of raising
children, cooking, property maintenance and all the other activities necessary
to manage a household. What a relief this kind of arrangement could be to a
single mother, father, or couple with a young family. This arrangement can also
be of benefit to society, the individuals involved, and the environment.
It is beneficial to the environment because of shared resources. Instead of
three separate nuclear families in three separate households, with multiple
redundancies of resources, appliances, etc., many of these resources can be
shared. It can also be good for the environment because this kind of
arrangement can allow parents to have only one child without the risk of the
social problems that an only child supposedly is subject to. Three couples can
each have one child and each child will still have two brothers/sisters. This
contributes to a reduction of human population, which in my opinion, is best
way to reach sustainability on Earth.
It is of benefit to the adults involved because it will allow them more free
time and less stress. Sharing the workload should give them time to pursue
hobbies and other interests that todayís parents have to mostly put off until
their children are older. The stress of finding and paying for childcare and
baby sitters can be reduced because there are other adults on hand that can be
easily available to supervise the children.
It can be of benefit to the children because they can be better supervised
and have more role models to choose from in the adults that surround them.
There will be that many more people to love them, teach them, and care for
I would think that there are many other benefits that can be realized, too.
Iím sure that there will be problems, also, but there is probably no way to
escape all problems.
I envision something like a small housing complex with three or four houses
or apartments around a central courtyard. Each nuclear family would have their
own unit and the ability to participate in the sharing with the other families
at the level they want to. It would not be a commune where absolutely
everything is shared and it would not be a large community where
decision-making can be slow and agonizing.
As with any experiment, there will be a lot to learn. This way of living
has, Iím sure, been tried in the past and exists now somewhere. I would be
interested in hearing about existing arrangements like this from those who have
experimented with alternative family arrangements. What worked? What didnít
work? What were the unexpected benefits? What were the unexpected problems?
Please send me your comments and ideas. With a little creativity and enthusiasm
we can learn from each other and maybe create prototypes for the family of the
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