When I moved to Texas from Oregon for graduate school I quickly realized everyone else knew someone and I did not. I believed the myth that once people are 18 they should be independent of family and that needing solid connections to a community wasn’t that important. Soon I realized that even people who moved for school from other far away places seemed to know someone — a relative, a friend or their parent had gone to school in the area years ago and had connections.
I also experienced working in an environment where I met several people from other countries. It struck me that they didn’t move to America by themselves. They all had cousins, siblings or someone. Was I the only person in all of Texas living there ‘alone’?
This, among further research in a variety of topics, really started me on a track thinking about how and why we define a household the way we do in America. The status quo states that one should move out of their parent’s house about 18 or 19, perhaps get a bit of education, get married, get working and have a few babies and poof — nuclear (perfect?) family.
When I state it that way most people understand it doesn’t make sense and doesn’t usually work that way. Most people also feel that society in general purports this as truth, especially in Christian circles.
I believe breaking down the myth of nuclear families actually gives us a great place to start talking about a wide variety of topics that Christians deem as major issues — divorce, singleness, cohabitation, abortion, gay marriage, working moms and the list can go on.
I just read an article from 1994 titled, “The Transformation of American Family Structure” by Steven Ruggles from the American Historical Review. The article shows that after World War II a major shift to not living in multigenerational households has occurred. His conclusion, which I didn’t expect, says that the rise of the independent spirit seems the cause for this transition.
The article also brings up, usually as side comments, a variety of other ideas I never thought about. For instance, when looking at if communities promote multigenerational households you need to factor in how many children parents typically bear, since generally only one of the children’s households could be multigenerational. (Parents only live with one child.) He also shows historically that if parents have financial means children would stay in the household, not the parent moving in with the child because of old age like we often think of today. Another comment mentions how many other cultures promote living with siblings but that has never been the case in America.
This briefly starts to touch on why the idea that a nuclear family — husband, wife, 2.5 kids and a dog — may not be the historical or even ideal household structure. I’d love to hear comments from you about living arrangements you’ve seen that work or if you’re from another culture how it works in your culture. Please stay on topic.
In my last post I mentioned Sociological Images — my new favorite blog. They have a couple articles on this topic I thought I’d share with you:
— How Do We Define a Family?
This article looks at a survey asking Americans if they define themselves as a family.
— What is a Family?
This article uses as it’s starting point an image from an Ikea parking lot.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)
Photo by Fylkesarkivet i Sogn og Fjordane