The Nuclear Family

September 21, 2009

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When I was in my twenty somethings I was insistent that I did not want to have children. Yet, when I turned 30 I completely changed my mind. Happily, my husband at the time was also comfortable to have a child and so we had my beautiful Jack. Once he was born, my life changed completely and forever.

I found myself suffering from terrible post natal depression. When we discuss postnatal depression in our society, it is rarely a useful discussion. We are urged to ‘get treatment‘, which of course comes in the form of a pill. We talk about practical support like cleaning the house, cooking some meals and maybe doing some laundry. I believe this is often not enough, and does not address the deeper causes of our high rates of postnatal depression in some western societies.

I came to believe that our nuclear family set up is not healthy for women and children. It is not healthy for a woman, alone, with a small baby to be stuck within four walls day after day, with only a very few other adults in her world for a few of her waking hours. It does her ego no good when she does attend a social function, and is asked the ubiquitous question ‘what do you do?’ , the reply ‘I’m currently at home with my small child/baby’ often results in a glazed over expression from the questioner and a quick end to any conversation. Combine this with sleep deprivation, and you have a recipe for disaster.

It is not healthy for children, especially only children, to spend so much preschool time apart from their peers. Once babies can walk and talk they need their peer group for their social development.

Why do I think this is not a natural way to live? We all need human contact. We are herding animals, more like wildebeest, unlike loners like cheetah. We live in social groups. To isolate individuals at such a vulnerable time in their lives is unnatural, and inhumane. It also places the full burden of caring for an infant upon one person. Consequently, the bond between mother and baby will be stronger than it would in a more social environment, to the extent that babies will become very distressed if separated from their mothers (most, but not all babies). This dependance can from time to time be felt as suffocating, especially if it does not lessen as the child grows older.

Babies do not go home from hospital with an instruction manual. There is a lot of society’s baggage, about what it is to be a ‘good’ mother, and if you get it wrong it’s all your fault of course. Unfortunately for new parents, real learning outside of books is often missing. Because of the structure of the nuclear family, many of us will have no experience at all of how to look after babies or children. We may have had very little contact with babies or children until we hold our own. This is not conducive to a good start as new parents.

For fathers, beginning a family places a huge financial burden. With falling real wages and now increasing unemployment due to the developing recession/depression, this is only going to become more difficult to achieve. Mothers are sometimes forced back into work before they are ready for financial reasons, leaving the care of infants to strangers. I’m not going to go into all the ways this is so wrong as a society here, suffice to say this is not optimal for any of the parties concerned; parents, children, or the caretakers who often leave their own children in other poorer countries to care for kids of others in richer countries.

There is a native American tribe in the Amazon, in Venezuela, the Yequana. Their babies don’t cry. The people live in joy, not stress like we do. The babies are not the center of attention and adults are constantly surrounded by other adults. I believe this is a much better model for women and children, for society as a whole.

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