Transitioning away from the nuclear family

9 06 2010

I think a lot about the nuclear family, because I am in it.  I have a child, a home and, up until a little while ago, a partner.  We lived in a house, strove to save money, accumulated stuff and generally played out the role of the nuclear family.

And I definitely don’t define myself as a person who is caught up in mainstream society.

However, there is little alternatives.  The nuclear family is what we are offered.  I have, in my past, lived in community houses, on intentional community land and in different communities around North America.  I loved it, and, after having a child, moved away from that dynamic, as I found that there were little skills, inkling or knowledge within those particular communities about how to be the village that raises the child.  I reclused into the nuclear family because the nuclear family structure was what was really at the bottom of the hearts of most of the community members I was working with.

I look at the nuclear family structure as comprising several distinct elements:

1.  Social isolation from others in the community/neighbourhood

2. Private ownership of things

3. Need to deal with/hide “family matters” from others

4. Hierarchical structure of family and, often, into community

When we all live in little boxes, with fences between them, with just our immediate family of two adults and then any children that come along, many issues occur.

We get children who, often, do not have their emotional needs met, as the needs of one child are so great.  So, we get children who are then becoming increasingly more stressed, ill, apathetic and disconnected.  As children are only exposed to the viewpoints of their parents, they are often sheltered from other viewpoints, and this causes greater prejudice and judgment to occur in little minds.  We get mothers and fathers who need help but are afraid to reach out to the greater community for child care, emotional support or any number of other things.  We get a network of segregated, isolated and disempowered people.

But, wait you say, this is supposed to be a post about moving away from an oil dependent society, as that’s the theme this week and you haven’t even mentioned anything about it.

Oil dependency, consumerism and the rise of the nuclear family can all go hand-in-hand, I would say.  When we transition away from any one of these things, we transition away from all of them.

We have the ability to be physically comfortable in a nuclear family model only because of our oil dependency.  In countries where there is less abundance of oil, less consumption and generally less income, there is a higher rate of community togetherness.  Why?  Because no one can afford to do things by themselves.  They must help each other, because together they are stronger and actually able to acquire resources and get things done.  They build homes together because no one hires help to build homes for them.  And because of this, they have homes, and they are stronger as a community.

Our consumption and affluence allows us to isolate ourselves from each other, because, if we can afford it, we can get a faceless-nameless someone to do it for us.

So, how can we transition ourselves away from the nuclear family model, to allow us to support each other and our children, more amazingly?

Luckily, it’s pretty easy, though it does require a little bit guts to approach strangers.  I always think this: “strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet.”  That usually helps the process.

So, here’s a list, as I like them and find them helpful.  This is by no means comprehensive, but just gives you an idea of what you could do.

1.  Meet your neighbours.  Knock on doors, stop and say hello when you see them outside, wave at them in their living room when you’re passing.  Remember your winning smile.  See who they are, what they like doing, where they work, all that good stuff.

2.  Gather with your neighbours.  Once you’ve met them all, invite them all over for dinner.  Or out to coffee.  Or to a movie.  Whatever floats your boat.  I always like potlucks, because sharing food is such a powerful symbol and, is a great common connector.  Everyone eats right?

3.  Talk to strangers on the street.  Saying hello and opening up conversation with people on the street can spark the most wonderful connections.  You just never know who is walking down the street.

I remember once, I was walking down the street in Toronto and passed a man, said “hello” and ended up getting a series of healing sessions from him for free and did several massage workshops with him.  It was an instant connection that happened because I took a step in connecting.

4.  Share your things.  If you have something, like say, a lawnmower, and you don’t use it everyday, offer it to the neighbourhood to use.  This way, there is something that can be used, consumption is lowered and you make closer connections.  I have a mom friend that says “a great way to make friends is to share your toys.” and it’s true for adults too.

5.  Ask to borrow.  Before you run out and buy that thing that you only need a tiny bit of, like WD-40 or dried tarragon, ask your neighbours if they have any.  Then let them know if there’s anything they need, to feel free to ask you.  It saves you all, most people don’t mind sharing a teaspoon of tarragon (or whatever) and it creates stronger community bonds.

6.  Start a buying club.  Do you buy food?  Would you like for it to be cheaper?  Then you can join or start a buying club.  These are people who buy the same sorts of things and, when bought in bulk, are cheaper.  You could go in with two other people on 50lbs of flour or rice or whatever it is you eat.

6. Share your feelings with others.  When your neighbours ask “how are you doing?” open up.  Let them know that your dog just died, your grandmother just remarried at age 96 or that your child just discovered the word “mama”.  These things open up deeper and more meaningful relations.

7.  Share your backyards.  Take down the fences.  Explore the joys of seeing your neighbours, throwing a burger on the barbeque together, letting the kids play together etc.  It removes the isolation and allows our children (and ourselves) to create meaningful relations with those immediately surrounding us.

8. Create a child care collective.  Share your kids.  Meet others children and allow yourself to take some time away.  This builds a network of mutual support for children and parents. And saves money on child care.

9.  Read community building books like “the great neighbourhood book“.

10. Co-house.  Live with other people, either in the same building all together, or in the same building in separate units.  Co-housing options are amazingly diverse, for every type of person.  Research what might work best and pursue.

In short, there are so many ways to come out of our nuclear family bubbles.  All of these will help transition us to a more caring, cooperative and resilient society. And, we might just all find the village that it takes to raise our children.

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