Opinions Expressed in "Rants," while informed by Catholic doctrine, are merely the opinions of the author.

Attacks on the Family Pt. 3 - The "Nuclear Family"

If you've ever watched the Simpsons, hopefully at some point you realized that Homer's occupation in a nuclear power plant harmonizes with the thesis of the show: a satirization of the nuclear family. The nuclear family is NOT a family in the nuclear age, mind you - its a family consisting of mom, dad, and kids, maybe pets, and that's all. This nuclear family is so-called because it is considered the basic unit of our society, the ideal form of a family for social development of children, financial stability of our economy, the NUCLEUS of our society, the basic building block of our culture as a whole. When we talk about the preservation of "traditional family values," we're usually talking about preserving this structure as the ideal to which we should aspire.

However, that this model is in any way "ideal" is a complete fallacy, and a destructive one at that. The reason is that it is too small to maintain, and too difficult to realize for many.

Because the nuclear family is the ideal, divorce, which in modern times has become very common, is seen as an IRREPARABLE blight on the family, particularly as it relates to the upbringing of children. Certainly it is damaging, particularly when there are children involved, but should that damage be so irreparable?

The same reality applies to pregnancies that occur outside of marriage, and in which the dads essentially runs off, failing utterly to live up to their obligations as parents. This is a huge problem amoung many African-American lower income communities in the U.S., but is not exclusive to them.

And it isn't always dad who is the dead-beat either. There are plenty of neglectful moms out there too.

On the other side of the spectrum, realization that this 'nuclear family' is often so difficult to realize has often lead to a complete rejection of it in principle, allowing us to consider alternative forms of the family that don't address the basic needs for the raising of a child - the most controversial being gay couples who raise children.

One problem that I encounter, perhaps more than any other: in counseling teens, it often becomes immediately apparent that these teens have very quickly become MORE MATURE THAN THEIR PARENTS. The parents never grew up in the first place - are still in a teenage, consumer, ME ME ME mentality - and probably should never have had kids in the first place. To become a priest, I need five to nine years of extensive training and discernment. To get married, most cases, all one is required is a one-weekend course. To become a parent, even less.

So, what IS the fundamental necessary unit for raising kids, if its not a mom and a dad? Well, it is a mom and a dad, sort of.

Bottom line (and most psycho-developmental specialists agree on this) is that the healthy development of a child requires that the child be raised by an adult, mature male, and an adult, mature female. The female IS PARTICULARLY needed in the earlier years of development, and the male PARTICULARLY in subsequent years, but they are both required throughout.

The fact that sometimes couples get divorced, while tragic, should not be a burden on the ongoing development of the children - it should not be seen as an attack on the traditional model of the family - because the REALITY IS, throughout the centuries, women have often found themselves without the benefit of their husbands for ongoing parental support - men often got killed in wars, had to travel for work for months at a time, etc And women often died in childbirth or of illness, leaving dad on his own. The single parent is in no way a NEW phenomenon.

But what IS new, is the notion that the community around that family has no obligation to fill in the absent role of that male or female parent. TRADITIONALLY, this is where Uncles, Aunts, Grandmas and Grandpas, male and female members of the community, would collaboratively take a more active role in assisting mom or dad in raising the child. In fact, these members of the "extended family" were going to help raise the kids anyway - now, in light of the absense of one of the parents, they would only step up that involvement. But in our culture, anyone outside of that "family nucleus" is considered free of responsibility is raising these children - in fact, they are barred from interferring in a child's upbringing, it being considered "none of their business." And truth is, most of us outside that nucleus are happy to stay out of it anyway.

But we can't. We need to realize what traditional African tribes have known for centuries: "That it takes a villiage to raise a child," not just a mom and a dad. All children in our society ARE our business, because they are all OUR children. The greatest attack on the family, and in particular on the child, in my opinion, is that we leave one young man and one young woman (and often even less than that) to raise OUR children. We should be helping and guiding them, to grow and mature - they should be open and welcoming of that help too, and know that they are not alone.