Don’t Nuke the Nuclear Family

Feb 21, 2020 by

by Mona Charen, The Bulwark:

As someone who has focused, perhaps to the point of obsession, on the decline of family life in America, I cherish David Brooks’s contributions. His New York Times columns have taught me a great deal over the years and I admire him as a thinker and as a writer. I am not as persuaded as usual, though, by this entry in The Atlantic, starting with the title: “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake.”

Brooks takes the usual conservative view that the fraying of family bonds has led to a whole skein of social ills and flips it. Yes, he notes, the decline of family life has created great wells of human misery in the midst of plenty, from rising inequality to childhood poverty to loneliness and diseases of despair.

It’s led to broken families or no families; to merry-go-round families that leave children traumatized and isolated; to senior citizens dying alone in a room. All forms of inequality are cruel, but family inequality may be the cruelest. It damages the heart.

But here’s the twist: It isn’t the decline of the family unit that is at fault, it’s the belief in nuclear families in the first place. The sentence that precedes the quotation above is “For those who are not privileged, the era of the isolated nuclear family has been a catastrophe.”

That’s an odd way to put it. It’s a little like saying “For those who didn’t get the vaccine, the era of small pox eradication has been a catastrophe.” Brooks has taken the copious evidence of social decay that followed the retreat from family life and blamed the nuclear family itself for the consequences of its own fall. It was too fragile, he says, and that, in turn, is because the institution was never really the norm we think it was.

Read here


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