By Dr. Denise R. Ames
There is growing uncertainty in a rapidly changing world. One of the factors contributing to a divided country and sense of dissatisfaction is family disintegration.
Many of our stable structures of the past that gave us a grounded mooring to living and acting in the world have become untethered and we are drifting about. The extended family, an institution that was both stultifying and stabilizing has virtually disappeared from American life. I can sing the praises of an extended family; I was raised in close proximity to my extended family and it provided a sense of grounding and security in my early years.
The nuclear family flourished in the early post-war years, but the factors contributing to its success started falling away by the 1970s. The nuclear family offers a reduction of the services that the extended family provides: financial stability, child care, thinking of others instead of just individualism, emotional support, help with household duties, and many more.
As David Brooks points out in his excellent article “The Nuclear Family was a Mistake,” for Atlantic magazine, the nuclear family has now shriveled or splintered to nonexistence among most working class, low income families. It survives in a renewed form among the upper middle-class professional families, who can afford services that extended families used to provide, such as child care and helping out in an emergency.
So what has taken the place of the security and support of the family? The answer is nothing as enduring or reliable. Perhaps the trend of identity politics is an example of a way to create an identity around politics but it is very unstable and not emotionally comforting.
This demotion of the family has had far-reaching consequences that have contributed to an increase in the suicide rate, reduction of life expectancy, the opioid crisis, and many other destabilizing factors. Neither political party has a good grasp on what to do about it, while discussion of solutions often falls in incriminating accusations by both sides.
The right tends to stress individual responsibility, an important factor but not the only one. While the left, calls for more government services to help that also falls short of solving the crisis.
I will be continuing to blog about the cultural divide in our country in March. My forthcoming book—Divided: Five Colliding Worldviews and How to Navigate Them—describes the cultural divide primarily in the U.S. through the lens of five worldviews—indigenous, traditional, progressive, globalized, and transformative. Ideas from the blogs are explained in the book as well.
About the Author
Dr. Ames’ varied life experiences—scholarly research, teaching, reflections, and extensive travels—have contributed to her balanced and thoughtful perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development trainings, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded the educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, developing globally-focused books and educational resources. She has written seven books, blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for the non-profit and clients.
Dr. Ames is now developing a program called Turn—transformative understanding and reflection network—that encourages life-long learners to see things with new eyes, shift perspectives, and understand the balance in all things. She teaches classes and writes about cross-cultural awareness, indigenous wisdom, a transformative worldview, learning from the past, a mythic journey, and transforming travel.