Fragmented patterns of extended family relationships Demise of three-generation family structure Breakdown in kinship structures Obstacles to extended families
The family unit at one time cared for both the larger society and for its members. Children, elders, and incapacitated members were the responsibility of the extended family. The nuclear family and single parent families, while perhaps economically viable, are not capable of caring for the larger needs of the larger family.
The splitting up of the nuclear family between husband/wife, parents/children, sons/daughters is a critical factor in the breakdown of the extended family where grandparents, grandchildren, in-laws, uncles, aunts, cousins and others are in close relationship. A secondary cause is mobility, which uproots part of the extended family and takes it to a totally different region or even country. Other obstacles to extended families include the belief that the state can and should take care of senior citizens, the belief in having fewer or no children, and the erosion of community life.
Under the strain of 20th Century changes, the family has shifted from the survival-oriented care structure of the past to a decisional unit of community care. In the past, the kinship structure of tribal societies effectively cared for the needs of all ages through a system of inter-family obligation. Nowadays, kinship demands seem unrealistic and no one part of a family can care for the whole. There is a strain between the maintenance of old obligations and operating as a single, self-sustained social unit (such as the obligation to extend credit to kin beyond own financial capabilities). In this transitional situation, there are no structures to supply care for old people or for single parent families. Young people have no strong memory of the kinship system, do not identify with the fragments still remaining, but have no alternative images of family life for themselves. Families that have successfully adjusted as an independent unit may have done so at the expense of their relations, often causing further confusion and alienation.
Nostalgia for "the family" is sabotaging attempts to make today's families, in all their infinite variety, work. Children thrive in any kind of family that provides stable and committed parenting.
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