Short history quiz. When did the nuclear family appear on the world stage?
b. When God established the first family in the garden.
c. When Social Security and other transfer payments became large enough to make independent living affordable for grandma and grandpa — roughly the mid-1950s in the U.S.
Answer? C, of course. Adam and Eve initiated a gigantic, multi-generational clan. Their sons may have had their own households, but their descendant Moses was the patriarch who led a family estimated at 1 to 4 million (!!) relatives into the wilderness. The Levitical household included multiple generations, some of whom were begotten by multiple wives and female slaves.
My own family included three generations on the same farm until the early 1960s on my mother’s side; my father spent part of his childhood living close enough to his grandmother to remember eating grapefruit warm, ripe, and sweet from her trees.
And as I research my family’s history, I find households that look far more Levitical than nuclear: a Colorado clan large enough to run both a farm and the local pharmacy; a trader (I’m going to guess) who eventually brought his Cherokee bride and several of her children down from the Blue Mountains to live on the Georgia farm where his English bride and her children were established.
The New Testament tells us that an elder should be the husband of only one wife. This leaves me wondering, in light of the lifestyles of its day: does it mean never divorced, as we’re prone to interpret it? or without multiple wives and concubines from assorted tribes demanding attention and potentially dragging him off the Gospel track?
It also has Christian women clamoring for clarification in countries where AIDS or gender-selective abortions have skewed the ratio of men to women in the adult population. Where many men are dead from AIDS, could Christian polygamy be an acceptable option to safely repopulate the country? Where few women live due to selective abortion, could shared Christian wives allow roving mobs of angry young men to settle successfully into responsible adulthood?
Here in the U.S., the nuclearization of the family has created anxiety among educated parents (who seem to live in a frantic rush as they seek to ensure outstanding resumes for their children), entitlement among children (who understand that they are the center of their parents’ universe), and an almost complete loss of the civic core of our culture. We’ve lost any ability to learn from our elders because we are nowhere near them. They were left behind, somewhere between the third and fifth career move, which was of urgent importance because it would allow us to better ensure the future advancement of our children.
Among those less educated, the nuclear family has long since fissioned into its most rudimentary elements, combining and recombining in ways no one could have predicted 50 years ago: here a household of children raising themselves; there a teenage girl briefly coupling with her second or third “baby daddy”; there a household of young men creating good incomes for themselves and their various relatives from pursuits quite outside the law; everywhere grandmothers and grandfathers raising children ignored by their youthful birth parents.
And I say, with the Christian conservatives: the problem is that we have forgotten God’s model for the family. And I say, against the Christian conservatives: the problem is that we have forgotten God’s model for the family.
It’s time to nuke the nuclear family. God’s plan for the extended clan — His relatives looking after His relatives — is always best.
Have you found a way to be part of a multigenerational Christian ‘family’? What’s it like for you?
- The Decline of the Nuclear Family (the Resurgence)
- Who Is Your Family If You Are Single with No Kids? Part 2. (psychologytoday.com)
- New Review: Unhitched (thefword.org.uk)
- Franken spars with family advocate (politico.com)
- Franken v. Minnery Redux (outsidethebeltway.com)
- You: Rise in single-member households reflects concerns about income (search.japantimes.co.jp)
- Al Franken (D-MN) Can’t Trust Focus on the Family’s DOMA Testimony (my.firedoglake.com)
- Sen. Al Franken Slams Focus On The Family During DOMA Hearing (mediaite.com)
- Al Franken Distorts CDC Study to Claim Distortion of Study (outsidethebeltway.com)
- Rich Harris Speaks Out on Colorado Family Law (prweb.com)
- Sen. Al Franken Destroys Focus on Family member over DOMA Hearing (crooksandliars.com)
- Yet Another Example of the Christian Right’s Intellectual Dishonesty…. (redquixote.wordpress.com)