The Future of The Family
and The Fate of Our Children
by Dr. Deborah Taj Anapol, Ph.D.
"In today's world, virtually all areas of our society are undergoing
vast upheavals. In the face of such significant change, it is crazy to
think that somehow the home will remain intact and miraculously
unchanged." - F. M. 2030
The majority of today's adults were raised in nuclear families where
Dad was the breadwinner and Mom was the homemaker. Imperfect, yes, but
at least it provided most children with a full-time, committed
caretaker. With less than seven per cent of today's children growing up
in this kind of family, who will fill the roles of housewife and
Current socioeconomic conditions have not been kind to families.
Neither have they benefitted children, who now comprise the largest
class of people living below the poverty line. These days, time is
money, and time spent with children rarely produces much in the way of
The nuclear family is a fragile organism. Created for the Industrial
Age, it has been viewed in economic terms as a mechanism whereby the
husband's wages subsidized the unpaid support services provided by his
wife. Today this subsidy has been withdrawn. Vulnerable to the stresses
of the Information Age and no longer financially viable, for better or
worse the two parent/one wage earner family is a dead duck. What will
replace it? What should replace it?
Ask a group of conscientious parents what kinds of condi-tions are
optimal for raising children today. They will unfailingly mention
plentiful, unhurried time with nurturing adults, lots of love and
physical affection, freedom and space to roam and presence of extended
family or other caring adults. Any reasonable person who gave the matter
sufficient thought would agree that these should be our design criteria
for the 21st century family.
In fact, the above conditions may be more than desirable, they may be
essential. The research of psychologists such as Dr. James Prescott
suggests that children who have not received sufficient touching,
cuddling and carrying in early life may sustain permanent brain
dysfunction or damage leading to depression, violence and substance
abuse in adulthood.
What kinds of conditions are typical today? Two-career families,
single-parent families, blended families, abortion, infant day care and
latchkey children. While the old nuclear family was as often violent,
authoritarian and abusive as it was peaceful and supportive, these
modern adaptations leave a lot to be desired.
As sociologist Arlie Hochschild demonstrates in her recent book, The
Second Shift, women are still doing the lion's share of housework and
child care, but now they are trying to squeeze it in on top of full time
work outside the home. Clearly, this is not a healthy situation. Time
becomes too scarce to tolerate a child's dawdling, nerves are frayed,
and stress and fatigue are constant facts of life for children and
parents alike. Meanwhile, quality day care is both scarce and
expensive. Childcare care workers are among the lowest paid of any
occupational group, leading to frequent turnover and minimal
selectivity. Even at its best, full time institutional care can not
provide the individual attention, intimacy, flexibility and opportunity
for solitude that young children need to realize their potential.
Many of the above cultural experiments were initiated by women
desperate to overcome second class status in a male-dominated culture.
In that regard we have been modestly successful. Women are no longer a
rarity in business, government, professions and skilled trades. Sexual
harassment and affirmative action regulations have had an impact on the
workplace. There's a long way to go, but the gap between men's and
women's earnings is slowly closing.
With women struggling for equality largely by conforming to the
priorities and strategies of the authoritarian dominator culture,
children have been left in a lurch. This is not to criticize women for
neglecting their duty as mothers. In many cases women have sought power
outside the home precisely because they were concerned with the fate of
our children. And men, too, bear equal responsibility for the next
generation. My point is that these failed experiments are not the
product of our best efforts to design a family that works for everyone,
rather they are an accidental by-product of the war between the sexes.
We can and we must do better.
What kinds of family situations are optimal for raising children?
What alternatives are there? What kinds of family structures meet our
design criteria? How creative can we be in finding answers?
While there may be many possibilities, I admit that I favor a
seemingly radical solution. This solution incorporates traditional
family values into a new cultural form which not only holds great
promise for children, but could meet the needs of today's men and women,
and the planet, too. I have called this form "cellular family,"
"expanded family," and more recently "combination family" simply,
"combos." The combo family concept goes a long way towards making lots
of things work that currently aren't working.
First let me describe what a combo family is and how it functions.
Three to eight adults, of any mutually agreeable age and gender mix,
form a marriage-type partnership. Possibly they incorporate or form a
family trust, since there is no legal means of marriage for more than
two people in the United States. They live with their co-parented
children in one large or several adjacent houses or flats. They share
domestic and economic responsibilities, just as an old-fashioned family
does, but there are more hands to join in the workand the fun!
Impossible? Too complicated? Unworkable? No more so than our current
arrangements! Of course, we could simply reduce the average work week to
20 hours per week so that two parents could work half-time (for
full-time pay) and parent full-time, but that would be even more
difficult to bring about! And the combo family has the potential of
utilizing a group synergy not found in single-parent or two-parent
families. Even more significantly, it transforms humanity's polygamous
nature from a liability to an asset. Combo families may seem like a big
leap on the evolutionary path, but consider the advantages for children.
First, with three to eight adults per household, one or two would
very likely be willing and able to stay home and care for the family.
This might be a younger person not yet decided on a career path, or an
older person ready for a timeout. Or an earth mother/father type who
prefers full-time homemaking. Alternatively, each adult could take one
or two days a week or a few hours a day of "mother duty." Furthermore,
as any parent can tell you, raising children is one of the toughest jobs
around. You're on call three hundred and sixty-five days a year,
twenty-four hours a day, with no vacation and no sick leave. Sharing
the load of rearing children with several people means less stress and
less burn out without losing any of the rewards. It also means more
loving, hugging and lap sitting, and higher quality parenting for the
A combo family could also provide siblings for those who would
otherwise be the only child of a couple. And it would provide a safe and
inexpensive alternative for infertile couples. Combo families would make
it easier for women to give birth to children during their prime
childbearing years without totally sacrificing education or career, and
without depriving the child the value of more mature parents. Multiple
parents could also reduce the incidence of abortion by helping more
women to have children without taking on impossible financial burdens or
sole responsibility for their offspring. Combo families would benefit
children financially. With both, multiple wage earners and full time
parents, a combo family could earn more and spend less, resulting in a
higher standard of living for the entire group. Many consumer items
could be shared and others purchased at quantity discounts. Group bank
accounts would command better terms for borrowing as well as saving. If
one parent died or became unemployed or disabled, other members of the
combo family would still be able to provide for the children.
Communal living is also ecological, so more people could live better
while using fewer resources, preserving the planet for future
generations. Living intimately with a group would give children (and
adults) the best hands-on education in cooperation, tolerance and
sharing. Additionally, the combo family might make it possible for
families to once again settle permanently in a community and put down
roots. Multiple wage earners would allow combo family members to refuse
employer-generated relocation. Individuals who choose to temporarily
relocate for career opportunities could leave without disrupting
everyone else and still return to a home base.
Children could be much better educated in combo families as well.
With a larger number of adults pooling their resources and their
expertise, children would have direct access to a diverse group of
tutors as well as educational software, videos and databases. The
greater resources of the combo would make home schooling or private
schooling a viable option, as well as making adequate funds for college
more available. Emotional development would also be enhanced as children
gained more exposure to a variety of personalities and coping styles.
Multiple parents and siblings could defuse the often unhealthy intensity
of the one-on-one parent-child bond, reducing the incidence of
symbiosis, child abuse and adolescent rebellion.
So far, we've been focusing on the benefits of combo families for
children, but this kind of family has many attractions for adults as
well. We've already mentioned a higher standard of living at lower cost,
the support of several parents, and more role flexibility. What about
the sexual arrangements?
The combo family offers an opportunity to create a better family
design for maximizing the beneficial aspects of adult sexual love as
well as for raising children. Currently, monogamy is the only lovestyle
style considered legitimate by our culture, even though the evidence
clearly indicates that humans are not monogamous by nature. The reality
is that the majority of husbands and wives have extramarital affairs and
often get divorced as a result. In fact, one form of polygamy, often
called serial monogamy, is now the most common form of relationship
found in our culture. But divorce and remarriage are extremely stressful
for children as well as their parents. Might there not be a better way?
Monogamy has not always been the only sanctioned form of marriage. Group
marriage was favored in the ancient goddess cultures. In biblical times,
polygamous arrangements were permitted for highly placed males; while
faithful 19th century Mormons were encouraged to take as many wives as
they could support. This practice was also common in China and Southeast
Asia until fairly recently and con-tinues in the Moslem world today. In
Tibet, women can have multiple husbands, but polygyny has been far more
frequent than polyandry in cultures where male dominance is the rule.
Infidelity destroys relationships by lies and deceit, while polygamy for
men only discriminates against women. What if we make available
relationship designs which offer both men and women a good measure of
security and freedom, of choice and commitment, of stability and
excitement, of depth and diversity? What if we combine sexual honesty
with equal opportunity?
One such design is called polyfidelity. In this relationship form, a
small group of emotionally mature adults agrees to limit sexual
expression to their group of primary partners. There are no special
subgroups, such as a couple, within the group. New partners can be
added only with everyone's consent. A polyfidelitous design conserves
and multiplies the powerful sexual energies of the group. This abundant
loving energy can then be used to nurture the family's children or
directed toward service in the outside world. Abuse, particularly
sexual abuse, of children would be unlikely in a polyfidelitous family.
Wouldn't sexual jealousy be a problem? My personal and professional
experience suggest that jealousy is far less likely to cause trouble in
polyfidelitous families than in would-be monogamous couples or in open
relationships. Couple boundaries often give rise to conflict in communal
living environments, and stop the flow of energy within the group. The
"open relationship" design, where individuals are encouraged to form
sexual liaisons outside the primary partnership, offers more freedom but
often bleeds off energy from the group. Consequently, "open
relationships" sometimes excite jealousy rather than creating synergy.
In contrast, the polyfidelitous design provides a secure and supportive
atmosphere in which to overcome any lingering fears about sharing
lovers. Multiple committed partners make possible a rich variety of
quality erotic experiences without the need for promiscuity.
Particularly now, with the threat of AIDS, polyfidelitous combo families
provide a safe and wholesome alternative to clandestine affairs and
casual sex. This type of lovestyle style is ideal for bisexuals, but can
be strictly heterosexual or homosexual as well. And it may turn out to
be a better design than the nuclear family for the majority of men and
women whose behavior indicates that they are polyamorous at heart.
Still unconvinced? Well, it's true that the only conclusive test of
the combo family concept would be to integrate it into our culture on a
large scale and observe the results over several decades. This glorious
experiment has yet to get underway, but a handful of pioneers have begun
to blaze the trail. We may welcome this evolution of the family or we
may resist it, but we must begin consciously choosing sustainable family
structures which support the welfare of our children, or we risk the
very survival of humanity.
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© Deborah Taj Anapol