The Nuclear Family


By Richard Kieninger


The nuclear family, consisting of but one man and his wife with their children, is largely the product of the high mobility of our population during this century. The need for wage earners to follow the job market and opportunities for economic advancement cause people to move from farm to city, from city to city, and from neighborhood to neighborhood. The expanding requirements of a growing family, the desire and ability to move up to more prestigious neighborhoods, the flight from or into chang­ing or deteriorating neighborhoods cause people to move to a different home several times during their child-rearing years. Such moves separate a couple from their kin and make them almost wholly dependent on their own resources. The resultant sense of isolation from the other transient people in the constantly fluctuating neighborhoods turns the family in­ward on itself in order to provide a measure of security from the pervading sense of rootlessness of their outer environment.


Periodically moving away from relatives, old friends and familiar, supportive groups of people in clubs and church forces the nuclear family to cling together and try to be all things to both the parents and the children as they move from location to location. The transience of all human relationships outside the home discourages attempts to reach out to establish meaningful linkages, and the home tends to become a kind of ghetto. The plight of children in our mobile, socially aloof neighborhoods is dehumanizing. Children have no sense of caring about the unknown people teeming about them, and they feel alienated from the temporary neighbors, temporary fellow students, and the various sharpsters who prey on their innocence. Such children don’t put down roots or give trust or even feel wanted by society, let alone needed. They tend to strike out rather than reach out. Their own little nuclear family is stifling, and the implied or stated demand that they give their love exclusively to their parents in exchange for being fed, clothed, educated, and entertained becomes burdensome and guilt engendering.


A child needs the love and support of his parents, and he needs the freedom and safe opportunities to learn to care for and love many people other than his parents as he expands his awareness and grows through his childhood and teen years. Many parents feel threatened by their child’s healthy need to form many social and emotional attachments with young and old adults and with his peers. “Why are you helping with old Mr. Jones’ garden when you won’t even help your own sacrificing mother with the dishes?” Parents who are themselves isolated form the neighbors cling to their children unnaturally to fill their own emotional needs.


The family has come under fire as obsolete and non-functional, along with marriage, by observers who see that the modern family is not producing happiness or providing sustained romance (probably at an exaggerated expectation) for the parents and that it is not producing children who are disciplined, socially well adjusted, psychologically sound, caring for the welfare of the larger community, happy or productive. The family, nevertheless, is the best known transmitter of the culture, but it is admittedly crippled, uprooted, and unstable at the present time. Pres­sures within the culture have caused couples to many for the wrong reasons, too early, and under the delusions of mythological expectations. Sound marriages are the foundations of sound families. Psychological health and mature attitudes of the marriage partners are requisite to any hope for sustained fulfillment of their legitimate emotional needs and a firm grasp of child psychology. Preparation for marriage must begin in early childhood. It is possible for communities to provide an atmosphere free of pornographic taint and sexual perversion so that children need not be discouraged from exploring relationships and expressing love lest this lead, as it does in the outside world, to the risk of exploitation by sexual misfits.


Whatever is necessary to hold existing families together must be found, because a society without a strong, stable family life is doomed. The Russians follow a policy of breaking down family structure in an occupied satellite country in order to cripple and dominate it. The Rus­sian-controlled government of East Germany attempted to relax the mar­riage laws of that country in order to sap the character and vitality of the people. The East Germans protested so vigorously that the proposed revisions were withdrawn, but the courts nevertheless began to interpret cases of family law according to the rejected legal revisions. This illus­trates the importance attached to a stable family by the communists. Russia’s own experiments with the family a few generations ago ended in disaster—divorce was easy and the state appropriated the children, legitimate and illegitimate, to be raised in communal boarding schools away from the influence of parents. By one means or another those children were ruthlessly eliminated by the Russians during the time of the Nazi invasion. The Soviet leaders re-established family law inside Russia itself and from that time have used the methods of undermining families as a technique only within its satellites to weaken their resistance.


A society depends on stable people in order to accomplish its work and pull together for its advancement and preservation. People are stable when they grow in an atmosphere of love and order. A disordered family cannot produce the responsible and caring people who are so essential to a great civilization. A healthy family is not an option for a society—it is a life-and-death matter. Even in America, the courts rescue children from delinquent parents.