Maybe The Death Of The Nuclear Family Is Good For Us
Last month we shared some New Year’s intentions for ethical non-monogamy, sexploration and dating with a posit that 2023 is the year to be #open. Well, here we are, a mere two months into the new year, and non-monogamy has been hot on the tongues of many mainstream media outlets – especially the non-nuclear family structures it might present within.
Ethical non-monogamy – otherwise known as consensual non-monogamy – has been written about in The Today Show, Business Insider, People Magazine, Daily Mail and The Independent UK in the last month alone. Cosmopolitan even launched a new monthly column called “Navigating Nonmonogamy” that shares the columnist’s experiences with non-monogamous dating. Whilst we noted the rise in writing about ENM last year, 2023 seems to be off to a particularly spicy start – and we’re not complaining!
The mainstream media has recently highlighted a closed quad (a 4-person polyfidelotous dynamic) who share their journey raising 4 children together on their TikTok platform @polyfamory. In fact, they appeared in over 20 news stories from 15 different countries in the last month! For them, ‘polyfamory’ describes a family that is united by love, not blood, and they are amongst a growing number of content creators seeking to normalize non-nuclear families.
READ MORE: Struggling To Practice Compersion With Metamour(s)? Here’s 7 Ways To Master It.
Isn’t the nuclear family a good thing?
Non-nuclear families reject traditional notions of marriage and relating where a heterosexual couple has biological children. This includes couples that are voluntarily childless, queer couples, and couples that find each other after a divorce, according to study.com, although somehow non-monogamous configurations are left out of their definition. Nevertheless, apparently modern families are increasingly non-nuclear, which very often means non-monogamous.
Non-nuclear family structures are as diverse as the people in them; they can look and function in a variety of ways. And they collectively demonstrate just how creative we can be when we reimagine “family” for ourselves. After all, the “ideal” of the nuclear family can put huge strain on the unit as a whole, whilst parents / the nuclear couple struggle to keep up appearances, often hiding the reality of how challenging it really is.
Atlantic Writer David Brooks stated recently, “The family structure we’ve held up as the cultural ideal for the past half century has been a catastrophe for many,” and he’s right. A 2021 study investigated the effects of the nuclear family on health & wellbeing and concluded that gender roles and limited traditional views within the nuclear setup discourage families from seeking out the support they need, which negatively impacts the health of the family as a whole. The culture of the nuclear family glorifies martyrdom, often with the woman having to sacrifice her wellbeing for that of her family and/or children.
Nuclear Family 101
Before the Industrial Revolution, it was normal for multi-generational extended families to live together as a unit in many Western countries. Naturally, these families were more resilient and experienced greater social support. They were able to share farm labor and even children had day-to-day farming duties.
When factories opened in big cities in the U.S., children started leaving their families earlier and getting married younger, so they could start nuclear families of their own. And as farm employment continued to decline, multi-generational families living together declined with it. Children were no longer raised to fulfill economic duties on farms —they were raised to become independent adults.
READ MORE: Polyamorists Deserve Same Rental Protections As Monogamous Couples, Says NYC Judge In Controversial Housing Case
Many forms of Indigenous kinship and African diasporic kinship have continuously emphasized raising children collaboratively amongst aunts, uncles, moms, and dads. There is often also communal closeness, where land and resources are actively shared. Still, by the 1920s, nuclear families with a male breadwinner had become the dominant familial structure in many Western countries. And the colonial actions of nation-building imposed this structure on cultures and communities around the world.
In the U.S., for example, Indigenous concepts, roles, and responsibilities associated with family-making and kinship were intentionally devalued. Africa Today journalist Haley McEwen writes, “nuclear family supremacy functioned as a form of cultural imperialism, which attempted to destroy indigenous societies, beliefs, and knowledge systems through the reeducation of indigenous people into Western gender roles and gendered divisions of labor within public and private spaces.”
Is A Non-Nuclear Family Better?
Practically, living in a non-nuclear family system eases the financial burden of simply being alive, especially in this housing crisis and cost of living crisis era.
Cohabiting with more than two adults allows people to secure housing they most certainly wouldn’t if they were single. Furthermore, it supports disabled people in accessing secure housing and having the social and emotional supports they need. And sharing the responsibility of childcare amongst many adults helps families to thrive. The children often feel more loved, supported and engaged, whilst the parents don’t have to sacrifice so much of their wellbeing to get there.
In 2013, the first empirical study that examined the effect of children growing up in polyamorous families was conducted and found that children benefit from having multiple “loving parents who can offer not only more quality time, but a greater range of interests and energy levels to match the child’s own unique and growing personality”.
Further, it emphasized the benefits that parents experience when they share the emotional, physical, and energetic responsibility of parenting with other adults.
We’re So Over Nuclear Family Supremacy
People remain suspicious of non-nuclear family dynamics. The Public Discourse, the Journal of the Witherspoon Institute, pushed back against non-sexual marriages in a piece titled “Why We Should Push Back against Platonic Marriage”. Conservative magazine National Review published a piece titled “Children Don’t Benefit From Having Promiscuous Parents” that suggests polyamorous parents are raising their kids around orgies.
And yet, more and more people are realizing that non-nuclear families exist and deserve protection. The Chosen Family Law Center in the U.S. works to cultivate “equitable social and legal recognition of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA) and polyamorous families and individuals, as well as other underserved family forms such as platonic co-parents or multigenerational families.”
During a New York City Housing court case last September, a judge decided that polyamorists (and other multi-partner relationships) should be granted the same rental protections that monogamous couples have. And in Cuba, an update to the Cuban Constitution redefined what families are and now includes protections for non-nuclear families.
READ MORE: Here’s The Secret To Feeling Secure In Non-Monogamy
More and more content creators and educators, such as @polyfamory, are sharing ways they dismantle cultural norms around family, sex, and love. And it shows! #open community member Jessica Levity, who is the genius behind Remodeled Love, often shares her experience of living in a sexless (and incredibly loving) marriage in a kitchen table polyamory dynamic where she co-habits with her husband and metamour (a.k.a. her husband’s other partner).
“The liberation of the individual must include the dissolution of the nuclear family via the return to the village,” she says. “The future is mutual aid and community. It always was. Colonialism and capitalism created the lie of the nuclear family in order to dissolve connection, because Connection is where our power is.”
And if you yearn to expand your chosen family or simply reject the Nuclear Family structure altogether, there’s a place for you in the #open app, too.