VOICES: Redefining the nuclear family

Category:  Opinions
Sunday, February 28th, 2021 at 2:47 PM
VOICES: Redefining the nuclear family by Alexander Beatty
Graphic: Eric Johnson

The notion of a nuclear family needs to change. The term “nuclear family” was created in the 1920s, nearly 100 years ago. Times change, people change, life changes.

Defined as "a family group that consists only of parents and children,” it also assumes a mother and father, along with biological children. Think sitcom family from the ‘60s.

That term is outdated. It no longer applies to what family is today or what family has become over the century since the word was popularized. Other types of families have grown to become more widely accepted for who they are. Such examples are polyamorous and multiparent relationships, single parents, families with foster children, chosen families, and more. Family is what you make and should not be boxed into simple rules.

Single parents are the most important aspect to consider when getting rid of this term. Single parents can be the result of divorce, death, or just not having a partner. It can be led by a mother, a father, or a grandparent. Single-parent households have been on the rise in the U.S.

“Almost a quarter of U.S. children under the age of 18 live with one parent and no other adults (23%),” wrote Stephanie Kramer from Pew Research. Nuclear families are less common nowadays, bringing less protection to different families. The U.S. Census Bureau adds that there are 11 million families with single parents — 8.5 million with single mothers and the rest with single fathers.

While some laws, food stamps and public housing, have changed to suit other types of families, a bunch of legislation has stayed in the old times, like social security and tax forms. In the early to mid 1900s, women often ran the household and men brought the money, so these laws favor married families. Even when these laws helped single women, it was under the assumption that they were widowed. Laws have to further change in order to provide protection for different types of families. The current laws are behind the times; protection follows these laws.

On the other end of the spectrum, families can include more than two parents, as seen in polyamorous or multi-parent relationships. An estimated 5% of the population is in this situation, but not many studies are performed. At least 20% of the population has attempted a polyamorous relationship.

A chosen family is another important aspect to consider. Many youths find a family in people that share similar experiences and understandings about the world. This is often found in LGBTQ+ youth. Frank Bewkes from the Center for American Progress has stated these youth often lack ties with their biological or legal family because of rejection. Many of these youth leave home or are kicked out, therefore eliminating them from a nuclear family.

Bewkes wrote: “LGBTQ youth are 120 percent more likely than their non-LGBTQ counterparts to experience homelessness. LGBTQ youth are also overrepresented in the child welfare system, accounting for roughly a fifth of youth in foster care.” Because of this, the community relies on their chosen families for support, or homes, or meals. Chosen family might be a new term, but communities have always relied on one another to get through the day and perhaps through life.

Chosen families don’t just show up in the LGBTQ+ community, but all over. A chosen family can include roommates, coworkers, and friends — anyone that shares similar experiences with each other. These people can look like anything and be anyone. They offer support and a kind of love that is vital to the vulnerable. Chosen family can also be in addition to the nuclear.

As previously mentioned, foster care children are often not included in a nuclear family, but it should be included in the family definition as adults are taking care of children and becoming their guardians.

Things evolve. Each one of these examples proves that the notion of a nuclear family needs to change in order to protect those who don’t fall into that definition. Many laws only cover nuclear families and don't account for everything else. Change is the sole option. Despite differences of appearance, race, age, gender, sexuality, or size, family is all the same because it’s where you belong and where you feel the safest.

Alexander Beatty is a staff writer for The Spectator. He can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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