Does the world you live in strike you as being filled with “bitterness and contradictions?” I would hope that, at least for most of you, it doesn’t. But that seems to be the baseline assumption in a couple of recent op-eds from the Atlantic and the Washington Post. You can take your pick between the original piece by David Brooks or the hearty endorsement it received from Robert J. Samuelson. Both gentlemen seem to agree that the world is in decay and one major contributing factor is our social reliance on the nuclear family which isn’t up to the task in the modern era. Let’s take a peek at Samuelson’s explanation.
When the history of our era is written, scholars will search for larger causes to explain its bitterness and contradictions, despite so much wealth. Was it globalization? Populism? Economic inequality? Polarization? Greed? To this list you can now add an unlikely candidate: the nuclear family.
In a powerful essay for the Atlantic — “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake” — New York Times columnist David Brooks argues that the family structure we’ve held up as the cultural ideal for the past half century has been a catastrophe for many…
The great defect of the nuclear family, Brooks asserts, is that if there’s a crisis — a death, divorce, job loss, poor school grades — there’s no backup team. Children are most vulnerable to these disruptions and often are left to fend for themselves. There’s a downward spiral. “In many sectors of society,” Brooks writes, “nuclear families fragmented into single-parent families, [and] single-parent families into chaotic families or no families.”
To clarify the terminology, both authors are referring to the “nuclear family,” as a married mother and father and some kids. What Brooks is suggesting is a different standard model in the form of “the extended family.” This builds on the nuclear family to also include cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents plus friends and neighbors. By this point, you should be getting a familiar feeling of… it takes a village? Okay, boomer.