Families used to care for those who can’t care for themselves - infants, elderly, sick, and disabled people. But over time, the extended family became the nuclear family. Then, the nuclear family became the single parent. Today, more people live alone than ever before, even in areas of high-priced housing like New York City.
The disappearance of important social support has left us all poorer, I think. Some of us keep trying to go backwards in time, but I doubt that it's possible to make the same ways keep working for us in changing world. Instead of fighting to hold onto traditional family values -- regardless of how precious and beautiful those traditions may have been -- I have found it more productive to seek replacements for the support we used to get from our relatives.
When I was growing up, my parents tried to understand me by using their own life experiences like a camera lens through which to peer at the strange and disconnected images they saw of me in order to snap that jumbled picture into automatic focus. My parents were wrong. They reached into their personal memories and updated the people and places, then they simply had to apply the same old story line, and presto - they were instantly ready to offer life lessons. Which didn't work.
No parent can effectively guide any child based on the idea that everyone's journey is the same. Each generation of children is in an entirely new world, facing a radically different set of expectations. So we make up the rules as we go, and it's a bumpy ride.
There are all kinds of new “families.” There are so many changes in family units happening so fast now that it’s not even possible to keep them in fixed categories. I think we should celebrate that.
When our relationships shift, we have a choice. We can give up on one another and mourn our break with the past, or we can stay connected to each other by creating new kinds of alliances. Who are the people you depend on, and does it matter if they are tied to you by blood, marriage, or anything else?