What shall I talk about now? Families?

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I thought that this week’s subject might be politics, but I decided to check if I had already selected politics as a topic to talk about. So I searched my posts for the word “politics” and lo and behold, I had addressed it, along with the Trump phenomenon just over a month ago.

I hope to produce something original, at least, original to me, in each post that I make. Clearly, there are topics that I return to time and time again. That’s very depressing! So I won’t be talking about politicians and why they are one of the least trusted professions, and I am going to talk about some aspects of society and how we as humans manage it.

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That sounds more high brow that it will no doubt turn out to be, and I’m not even going to bother to check if I’ve addressed it before!

The very basic societal unit is the couple, I’d say. Very few people go through life as a singleton, even the most anti-social of us. The bond between a couple is often lifelong, though breakups happen often enough that we are totally disbelieving when a couple does split.

Public art: anachronistic 1950s nuclear family...
Public art: anachronistic 1950s nuclear family plus lovable pooch in Edinburg/Scotland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stable and possibly lifelong couple are recognised by the state of matrimony. This not only recognises the bond between the couple, but adds a layer of legalisation to the state. Married couples may share possessions equally or one, usually the male in a two sex couple, may control their joint assets.

The female in a two sex relationship may have less say in the control of the joint assets, and in return will be provided with protection and can expect that any children would also inherit that protection.

English: Hindu marriage ceremony from a Rajput...
English: Hindu marriage ceremony from a Rajput wedding. ‪Norsk (nynorsk)‬: Rajput-par i ein hinduistisk vigsel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, in most societies, assets are under the joint control of both partners in a couple, both may bear some responsibility for bringing an income into the partnership and both are responsible for the care and protection of any children.

In spite of the more equal status of two partners in a couple these days, it is evident that full equality has not been achieved. While there is room to move in the direction of complete equality, the fact that the female has to bear the children, seems to imply that full equality is not physically possible.

Family (mother, father, son, daughter)
Family (mother, father, son, daughter) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously I’m referring to heterosexual couples above. Bonds between same sex partners have only relatively recently started to be recognised in our society and others. Since the partners start off more equal, one would assume that complete equality between the partners would be easier, but I think that roles would be assigned unequally in practise – one partner does the cooking, the other the cleaning. One may control the purse strings while the other does the actual shopping!

The arrival of a child alters the dynamics of the couple, and the three form the basis of a family. Of course the couple reside in a familial soup of siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins and so on, but the inter-familial bonds are a lot stronger than these looser ones.

English: Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong with extended ...
English: Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong with extended family. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That brings up another point about familial bonds – they change and weaken over time. A baby is completely dependant on his/her parents, a toddler less so. A teenager even less, and a mature child may have only a remote relationship with its parents.

When a couple gets married, there is an implicit “hands off” warning to others. This warning can be ignore, and may result in a catastrophic break up of the couple. In the past this was frowned upon by the establishment, usually the local religious hierarchy, but these days things are a lot less strict.

English: Old marriage at Plac Kaszubski in Gdy...
English: Old marriage at Plac Kaszubski in Gdynia. Polski: Rzeźba przedstawiająca starsze małżeństwo na Placu Kaszubskim w Gdyni. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While the strongest bonds are between the couple and their children, the other familial bonds are fairly strong too. Your parents don’t stop being your parents because you have moved away and are married to someone not part of the wider family.

There are other groups, like neighbourhoods, and even nations that everyone is part of. A person may profess membership or belief in a religion. One might take part in a sport and become a member of a team. One may be part of a group where one works, and such a group may be a part of a hierarchy at work, which is part of an industry, which makes up a significant sector of a country.

Strathcona neighbourhood
Strathcona neighbourhood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The nuclear family, father, mother, and any kids, is often seen these days as the foundation of society,  which it is, and as the smallest functionally and financially viable unit of society. This latter is much more debatable. While such families have been around for a long time, it is only relatively recently that nuclear families have been able to operate as independent units.

In many countries and societies the nuclear family exists and operates within an extended family group. On a farm, several generations may have lived and often still do live in close quarters and may even live within a single large dwelling house. This has obvious advantages as aunties and grannies can share cooking, cleaning and babysitting chores, freeing up the parents for other jobs.

English: Family portrait taken in front of the...
English: Family portrait taken in front of the family home at Gayndah, Queensland, 1890s Portrait of an unidentified family in the Gayndah district, ca. 1890s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The rise of the nuclear family as an independent unit can be attributed to the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution provided jobs outside the family business, it produced enough financial surplus to fund the provision of single family houses, and it spurred the transport revolution which allowed people to move from the countryside to the cities.

Transport and communications has enabled people to live in small family units, while still maintaining a slightly looser connection to other family members. Family members may live on opposite sides of the globe and still be in frequent contact with each other. We have lost the intimacy of having several generations and branches of a family being in constant physical contact, but we have the consolation of the looser electronic communication.

Highways in the USA circa 1825
Highways in the USA circa 1825 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In days past, even just over a century ago, emigrating to a new country thousands of miles away would mean only the possibility of sporadic contact with family members via letters carried over unreliable routes, but these days we can email from one side of the globe to the other and remain in contact with family thousands of miles away.

Contacts–from-email–scree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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