Considering Alternate Family Formats

I’ve recently spent a few days visiting some close friends abroad. I was in town specifically to visit them and not to be a tourist, so I had a lot of time just hanging out in their house and doing things with their family. Within about a day I easily slipped into a routine and a place within their family, helping out with dishes, keeping an eye on kids, gathering up picnic supplies, changing diapers, and the like. I felt like a second husband.

I knew very quickly that both of them valued my presence there. One extra set of hands reduced stress and opened up a lot more free time for each of us to enjoy ourselves and each other. It made me consider again how strange and challenging the nuclear family model really is.

I have another set of friends, two couples, who live in a house together. They each have kids and they share their parenting duties across both families. Each of the kids essentially has two dads and two moms. I’ve always enjoyed how their big family works and how much easier it is for them to coordinate work, school, and free time across 4 rather than 2.

I’ve often heard the adage “It takes a village to raise a child.” Many use this to describe the social connection to community a child can benefit from. Yet I think functionally there is also a benefit when you are truly in a big house with many parents to not only share their wisdom but also their hands and shoulders.

I often hear my North American raised friends talk about how strange their foreign acquaintances are for living in houses with members of their extended family, or staying at home with parents past 20 years old. We often look on this like it is outdated or stifling. Yet I think it is our nuclear family model that is truly outdated. When I look at the financial and emotional support these big families are able to offer their members (when, like anything, they’re working well) I wonder why we aren’t learning from them.

It’s very easy to get caught into a particular social construct because it feels uncomfortable to challenge it or because we have never even stopped to consider whether it truly is the best structure to meet our goals.