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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,011
Feb. 27, 2020
The Nuclear Family - Part 2 of 2
By Mike McManus

In last week's column I reported upon the death of the "nuclear family," of a husband and wife and two kids. Due to divorce and cohabitation only a third of Americans now live in a nuclear family.

It is the highly educated and affluent families who are married and stable. College educated women aged 22 to 44 have a 78% chance of their first marriage lasting 20 years.

Among Americans aged 18 to 55 only 26% of the poor and 39% of the working class are married. About 40% of children are born to unmarried parents. More American children live with a single parent than children from any other country.

This failure of the natural family has led to great loneliness, sadness and rising rates of drug and alcohol addiction and suicide. Many older Americans are now "elder orphans," with no relatives or friends to take care of them.

David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, has written an article for the current issue of The Atlantic which describes this sad state of the American family.

However, he also reports on a "revival of the extended family" which "has largely been driven by young adults moving back home." In 2014, 35% of American men aged 18-34 lived with their parents. Another chunk of the revival is due to Americans over 65 moving in with their children. A fifth of seniors now live with their kids.

In fact, a 2016 survey reports that 44% of homebuyers were looking for a home that would accommodate their elderly parents. One construction firm calls these houses as "two homes under one roof." The "in-law suite" for aging parents has its own entrance, kitchenette and dining area.

The "Millennial suite," for boomeranging adult children has its own driveway and entrance too.

The most interesting extended families stretch beyond kinship lines. On the website CoAbode, "single mothers can find other single mothers interested in sharing a home," Brooks reports. They have separate sleeping quarters and shared communal areas. Common, a real estate development company launched in 2015, operates 25 co-housing communities in six states.

A co-housing community in Oakland, Cal. Is Temescal Commons that houses 23 members, ranging in age from 1 to 83, in a complex with nine housing units, with a shared courtyard and a shared industrial-size kitchen where residents prepare a communal dinner Thursday and Sunday nights.

The adults babysit one another's children and older parents counsel the younger ones. When members if this extended family have suffered unemployment or major health crises, the whole clan has rallied together.

These extended families work because they are what Brooks calls "chosen families" that "transcend traditional kinship lines."

Two years ago, Brooks started something he called "Weave: The Social Fabric Project." It exists to "support and draw attention to people and organizations around the country who are building community." The Weavers provide "the kind of care to non-kin that many of us provide only to kin - the kind of support that used to be provided by the extended family."

One example is in Salt Lake City, a group called the "Other Side Academy" which gives serious felons a new extended family. Many have been allowed to leave prison early, where they were serving long sentences. But they had to live in a group home and work at shared businesses, a moving company and a thrift store.

They dine together, and gather several evenings a week for something they call "Games." Often they scream at each other. Gigantic men covered in tattoos shout at one another. But afterward, men and women who have never had a loving family suddenly have "relatives" who hold each other accountable.

Nursing homes have been set with preschools so that senior citizens and young children can go through life together. In Baltimore, a nonprofit called Thread surrounds underperforming students with volunteers, some of whom are called "grandparents."

Brooks himself is part of a forged family in Washington D.C. called All Our Kids or AOK-DC. David and his wife, Kathy, created the group with their son in a D.C. Public School, who had a friend named James with nothing to eat and no place to stay. So they suggested that he move in, as did others. Soon 25 people were having dinner every Thursday night, and several slept in the basement. When a young woman in their group needed a kidney, David gave her one of his.

Americans are learning to live in new extended and forged families.

It's a new day for a different type of family.

Copyright (c) 2019 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to www.ethicsandreligion.comm. Hit Search for any topic.


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