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Thursday, 24 April 2014

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The nuclear family is no more – who cares?

Back to the basics of good old family values – that’s what this country needs. And that means... erm, what does that mean?

Seems like nobody really knows. According to a new study of family life in Britain, eight out of 10 people asked to define a traditional family set-up scratched their heads and said: “Go on then, give us a clue.”

The other two asked if they could phone a friend.

Half of the folks questioned by researchers from The Centre for the Modern Family felt much of our national thinking was way out of date with views on what we’ve been taught to regard as the foundation of British society.

But let’s not try to define society – that always gets us into trouble.

Almost a quarter of respondents didn’t believe their family was valued at all and almost a fifth felt judged because of their family circumstances.

The majority reported that the Government, media, TV and advertising companies were all failing to take their family into account when planning, legislating, reporting, representing, supporting and selling to them.

Only a third, 34 per cent, thought a couple should be married to be a family; just under a third, 29 per cent, believed same-sex couples were not “proper” families and less than 17 per cent thought single-parent families were not “proper” either.

But only 16 per cent said their family unit had two married parents – one male, one female – and two children or more.

So, what do we deduce from all that? Other than the fact that we’re all guilty of being harshly judgemental of people in circumstances different to our own, perhaps we should also be concluding that the nuclear family as society’s bedrock has probably had its day.

Its demise won’t be news to anyone beyond politicians banging on about traditional family values as tax incentives and supermarkets selling pre-packed, family-sized groceries (so infuriating if you’re not feeding five mouths at every meal).

Like King Canute, they’re trying to hold back a tide of change long after the waves have swept over the sands and flooded the beach huts.

The Church of England still can’t get its head round legally binding single-sex unions as marriages. And as for adoptions of children into those same-sex partnerships – well, thereby hangs a different collection of panic-stricken coughing fits altogether.

And yet these families have been around for so long now, they’re as traditional as Darby and Joan’s.

Planners looking to the future for housing, education, health, leisure and transport needs are failing to take into account vital expectations of the unexpected.

The family – and therefore communities in general – can and will change form without notice or permission. We should all have learned that by now. But somehow a key part of that message of reality seems to have missed the target by a mile.

Families now come in any and every shape and size. And there are plenty more shapes and sizes they can try later.

They can be scattered across the country – across several countries – as the search for work grows harder.

Modern families may, at initial glance, look to be smaller but our longevity – which remains a mixed blessing for so long as we fail to get to grips with its implications – has grown and extended them so that parents will invariably look to their children to care for them in old age – even as their offspring edge into retirement themselves.

Some families may have never at any stage given marriage the status of passing thought. Why should they? The simplification of divorce has made no marriage inescapable. It is no longer the lifetime institution our parents and grandparents believed it to be. Till death us do part has been updated and downgraded. Till I change my mind or you come home drunk is now closer to the truth.

But even having said that, two or three marriages – and divorces – can bring together an extended family of siblings, half-siblings and stepchildren in a family unit as rewarding as any nuclear arrangement.

It isn’t the structural framework of the relationship that matters. It’s the love and care inside the structure that’s the important bit.

So why is it that – particularly as Christmas approaches – the married-parents-with-three-bonny-kids group is the one with the must-have halos?

Hit sitcom Outnumbered depicts just such paragons of bonded domestic conformity. Trouble is, the ditsy fictional family, with cheeky kids and bikes in the hall of their mortgaged suburban home, aren’t conforming at all. They’re no longer the norm.

Christmas is hard enough – the expense, work, stresses and strains of preparation – without having to add to worries the sense that your family isn’t worthy of its promised joy because you’re not part of a “proper” family.

How long are the movers and shakers going to insist this idealised minority is the only acceptable form of family and deliver according to their prejudice?

Almost 60 per cent of people questioned for the modern family study said they no longer believed that a couple with children had to be married to be a family.

Beyond the subject of marriage, more than three quarters believed that single parents and their children could be a proper family, while more than half believed same-sex couples and their children could just as comfortably be defined as solid family units.

Look around, guys. You don’t even need to employ imagination. It’s what’s under your noses that shows how family life has moved on.

So, what’s keeping you?

Have your say

Wishing you all the best for christmas and the new year too BM x

Posted by sam on 15 December 2011 at 16:24

Sam: Seems you have made up your mind to go ahead and get married quietly. So, on that positive note for yourself, your partner and your kids, here's wishing you all the best for Christmas too. And for the New Year and beyond.

Posted by BM on 10 December 2011 at 20:54

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