Is the traditional nuclear family the best environment for raising kids?
- Merriam-Webster defines a nuclear family as “a family group that consists only of parents and children.”
- According to 2016 U.S. census data, 68% of children live in a traditional nuclear family.
- Pew Research Center reports that 1 in 6 children in America is now living in a “blended family,” which consists of “a household with a stepparent, stepsibling or half-sibling.”
- The traditional nuclear family was the dominant family living arrangement in places like England as far back as the thirteenth century.
While the vast majority of American children are still raised in a typical nuclear family, there is a growing number of children who have become accustomed to other types of environments — such as living with single parents or extended family. And with social landscapes and relationships evolving, we must acknowledge that there can no longer be a single definition of what should be considered an ideal family.
A two-parent, monogamous household is widely considered ideal because it exudes the illusion of stability. However, experts today believe that it is not the structure of a family that guarantees its stability, but rather its ability to adapt to pressure. Events like divorces, separation, and even a parent's death are bound to happen in many households. And the fact that many families continue to function well, despite these disruptions, is proof that adaptability and their potential to adjust to change is what keeps the family environment a healthy one.
It must also be recognized that the traditional nuclear family structure is not always inclusive of same-sex couples. Research has shown that any stable household, regardless of the gender of parents, is capable of providing a healthy and loving environment. And there is no evidence that would currently allow us to assume that a queer couple is somehow less capable of raising healthy children, simply because they do not conform to the nuclear model.
Therefore, it is clear that the nuclear model is by no means the best option to raise a family. It is merely just one option of many.
Some parents in western societies have attempted to go against the traditional family structure and parent their children according to what they think is right. Some outcomes of this approach have been children born out of wedlock and raised in a single-parent environment. These situations diminish the importance that stability plays in the care and upbringing of children in the family unit.
Research has shown that the percentage of children from nuclear families in the juvenile system is considerably less than that of children from single-parent families. One reason for this is that the presence of both a mother and a father instills in children different values and discipline, which helps create stability in the child's life and helps prevent them from suffering from behavioral problems. Nuclear families also teach children valuable life-lessons, which help cultivate a sense of belonging for them.
Moreover, the Pew Research Center reports that even if children from married couples experience divorce, they have still grasped the necessary value of stability in a family. And this stability enables them to be successful in creating positive and long-term relationships with friends or potential partners. Subsequently, these children are also provided with the financial stability they need to create a safe environment, as the study goes on to note that 57% of married couples live above the poverty line compared to 21% of single parents.
It is the consistency provided by nuclear families that helps create a healthy environment that is better for children.