When many people think of the definition of “family” they think of the basic nuclear family structure as defined in the dictionary: “A couple and their dependent children, regarded as a basic social unit.”
But what if it could be more than that?
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The old definition:
Back in the good ol’ days, a family was described as mom and dad and 2.2 kids and a dog and a cat. If that was ever the perfect family unit, (and I don’t think there was anything remotely perfect about it) and if it ever existed (maybe it existed for many as an ideal), well, it doesn’t anymore. It is now up to us to create what family means, and to create a meaningful extended family that provides comfort.
The assumption about being stuck with such a limited model for family is not true. We can broaden our definition of what family means.
The model of a nuclear family as an ideal doesn’t really work for a number of reasons. Mostly because living within the confines of a nuclear family structure makes us vulnerable. If we only have two or three people that we live with, confide in, and share things with, what happens when we divorce? What happens when our kids leave home? What happens when our spouse dies?
The result is something we see all around us. So many people are living alone.
How many people do you know who speak about growing up in their nuclear family as a wonderful experience?
How many people do you know who speak of their growing up experiences in their nuclear family as traumatic, or sad, or lonely? I believe that one of the main reasons for the trauma is that the nuclear family model is a flawed model itself.
“It is just worth remembering that for the past 70,000 years of human history we have lived very successfully in extended families and it is only in the last 100 years that we have done anything different.”- historyfuturenow.com
Here are some of the reasons as to why the nuclear family sucks:
The Nuclear Family is Lonely: When living within a nuclear family, people are often too isolated and the entire network of people they are close to is very limited. This leaves us profoundly vulnerable if we lose someone or have a break up. If you have a total of, like, two important relationships, and you lose one of them, your world will fall apart. There are, of course, the odd nuclear families that are tight and well bonded and this lasts throughout their lifetimes. I do, however, believe, that this is the exception rather than the rule.
The Nuclear Family is Expensive: Paying rent or a mortgage on your own can be crushingly overwhelming. I live in a very expensive city and a huge percentage of my income goes to support our housing cost. If such costs are shared, then the load is lightened.
What Science Says About Social Isolation
I have held a belief for a long time that human beings are social creatures and that we are meant to spend time with others. It looks like science is now backing up this fact. Human beings are biochemically need each other and they biochemically thrive when they live a lifestyle that is interdependent. Human beings need a village, or a community of people in order to thrive.
In the book called The Village Effect, author Susan Pinker makes the compelling case for how crucial face-to-face contact is for learning, happiness, resilience, and longevity. Pinker proves that from birth to death, we are hard-wired to connect with other humans. She proves that tight bonds of friendship and love heal us, help our children learn, extend our lives, and make us happy. She says that it is actual in-the-flesh, face-to-face contact that counts. Connecting with others digitally via Facebook or a pixelated image (via Skype or FaceTime), although fun and useful, do not give us human beings the social connections we need.
Go ahead and use FB because it is fun. But don’t use it in place of real human face to face, heart to heart connection. We should utilize our electronic and online communities as a first step that then allows us to meet in person and form face to face relationships. Pinker proves that there is no scientific evidence showing online activity can transform our health and happiness the way face-to-face networks can.
Looser Connections Count, Too!
Surprisingly, Pinker also points out that it is not just our highly intimate and close relationships that count. She proves that looser in-person bonds also matter. She says that our looser personal bonds, combined with our close relationships form a personal “village” (and I would say, create an extended family) around us. She makes the case that although our digital devices may be great tools to assist us in arranging our face-to-face time with others, that it is the real, in-the-flesh encounters that tie us together and create the meaning and connection that we, as humans, as social animals, need. Pinker proves that in our digital and nuclear world, so many of us have literally left our villages behind. She says we need to recreate those villages and ties to thrive, and even survive.
So, um… this is not to be taken lightly. Just sayin’!
Susan Pinker’s work makes it clear that forging for our human connections, and spending real in-the-flesh time with others, is just as (if not more) important than the engagement itself.
What we need to do is connect with people and make those engagements as important as a daily walk (or whatever your daily must-do routine!). We need to make those engagements as important as brushing our teeth. Every day we eat food, is everyday we need to make a connection with someone. It is that important.
When I was a teenager I moved from our close-knit community of Hammond where aunts and uncles and cousins dropped by, where I lived close to most of my brothers and sisters and my best friend lived across the street, and where neighbours had become close friends. You get the idea. There was always someone there, and popping by was just the thing to do.
Then we moved to 100 Mile House, where we lived as a nuclear family. I was lonely because it was isolating. Although we had some friends, it was not the same. My parents were not as happy, I was not as happy. It felt stressful, and cold, and empty.
I have no doubt that The Grand Universe planned for me to move to 100 Mile house for other reasons, but it has taken me a lifetime to figure out why. I am now 50 years old and I have my very own family village, but it’s taken me years to build my community and friendships all over again. Although I have always been social, I have not realized the importance of building our extended families and communities as a vital part of what we need to do for health, happiness and longevity.
In the Village Effect, what I now see is the profound importance of doing this work. This is not something that we should leave to the way side and do in our spare time.
Like eating vegetables. It is important.
Until next week!