Nuclear families, which include a mother, father and children living in the household, are what many consider 'typical.' However, as the social landscape changes, so do ideas and perceptions of different family types. Every family structure has advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of the Nuclear Family
Approximately 68 percent of children live in a nuclear family unit, according to 2016 U.S. Census data. In general, people view this family structure as an ideal or dominant arrangement to raise a family. Two married parents and their children living together provides a favorable image for many reasons.
Strength and Stability
Children born into a marriage tend to have more stability than children born into cohabitation. Pew Research Center found that 20 percent of kids born to married parents experience divorce, while nearly 50 percent of kids in cohabiting families experience divorce. Both of these groups of children have a better chance to one day live with a married couple than kids born to single moms. Committed spouses or partners model a loving, caring, and supportive relationship for their children. This translates into future success when children learn how to seek positive relationships and interact well with others. Children see partners work together to solve problems, delegate household responsibilities, and support one another through positive and negative issues.
Financial Stability Equals More Opportunity
Many nuclear families have enough economic stability to provide children with luxuries, opportunities, and a safe environment. Pew Research Center notes 57 percent of households with married parents were well above the poverty line while only 21 percent of single-parent households were. Children in nuclear families may be able to attend dance, gymnastics, music or other types of classes, especially when both partners work outside the home. Children with these opportunities are more likely to be successful academically and socially.
Consistency Means Behavior Successes
The successful nuclear family provides children with consistency in caretaking. Children who have both stability and consistency in their lives are more likely to exhibit positive behavior, earn good grades in school and become more involved in community and extracurricular activities. The nuclear family may eat dinner together on a regular basis, go to church or temple, and take family vacations which strengthens relationships and builds a solid foundation for future life goals.
Children born to parents with college degrees are more likely to attend and complete college themselves. An analysis by the Council on Contemporary Families indicates educated parents are less likely to divorce and have more resources to provide for children. Pew Research Center adds that parents with degrees are more likely to be in the labor force, which increases family income level in educated, nuclear families. The placement of value on education combined with a higher income level improves the academic future of children.
Overall, research suggests children in families with married, biological parents have better social, emotional and physical health than other children. One reason for this is because married parents are less likely to abuse children. Nuclear families are also more likely to use emergency rooms and may have the means to provide good healthcare for children. The emotional strain on children living in a non-violent household with two parents is significantly less than children living with one parent or other caregivers.
Communication between family members in a nuclear household features fewer obstacles and distractions. With technological advances, these families increase communication from outside the home. According to an analysis by Pew Internet & American Life Project, nuclear families are the most likely of all family types to use internet and cell phones. This allows parents to better monitor child internet use and participate in online activities with children. Kids with cell phones have the means to keep in contact with parents about schedule changes and emergencies.
Connection to Family During the Aging Process
Those who grow up in a stable nuclear family have a better chance of keeping family ties intact and therefore having familial connections during the aging process. As children from nuclear families age, they will tend to have more familial support versus children who have one parent and no siblings. This can leave those from nuclear families at an advantage when it comes to economic and emotional support as parents and/or siblings experience illness and eventually pass away.
Disadvantages of the Nuclear Family
Every type of family experiences problems and emergencies throughout life. The nuclear family format is not always a viable option for several reasons.
Extended Family Exclusion
The nuclear family unit provides a strong bonding experience for immediate family members. The smaller family size allows individualized attention towards partners and children which creates lifelong bonds. However, one analysis published at Preserve Articles points out that the nuclear family unit can isolate people from other relatives and relationships. This breakdown of the extended family unit, won't be beneficial in hard times. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins have a place within a family structure, but the nuclear family doesn't always foster these relationships.
The Realities of Burnout
Acts International suggests family members, particularly mothers, have a tendency to burn out from attempts to meet every person's needs. The focus on children can be overwhelming and leave little room for parents to take care of themselves. Without help from extended family, parents may need to take off work to care for sick children. The struggle to balance the demands of work, family and friendships without outside assistance leads to stress, depression, anxiety or other problems.
Conflict Resolution Skills
While less conflict and decreased family stress is an advantage of the nuclear family, it also puts the family at a disadvantage. Conflict is a part of life, and conflict resolution skills are beneficial in school, the community and the workplace. Nuclear families can develop like-minded thinking, leading to fewer arguments within the family unit. However, it can increase the disagreements with extended family members. Extended family with differing opinions and ideas can help families see alternate viewpoints and learn to deal with outside opinion and conflicts.
Small Support System
Emergency situations, such as an accident or even a time of illness, can leave small nuclear families in crisis. The Preserve Articles analysis points out how extended family structures offer built-in help for these scenarios. In a nuclear family where both parents work and have young children, the ability to meet all expectations and needs solely within the family unit is not always feasible. Multi-generational households offer assistance as needed.
The emphasis on the nuclear family as best practice exacerbates stereotypes of single mothers, family structures based on religion, and cultural family structures around the world. The International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family suggests nuclear families are not as historically prevalent as originally believed. The symbolism this idea represents is an ideal for all to seek while those in other scenarios earn criticism. This normalized ideal influences public policy and government programs, which can exclude different family types.
According to the Concordia University - St. Paul, the traditional nuclear family is child-centered. This means the focus is on the immediate family, children in particular, for all facets of life. The family unit strives to meet its own needs and places secondary emphasis on others. This viewpoint can lead children to selfish tendencies and thinking. It can also create a narrow worldview where the greater good of society gets little consideration.
Traditional Nuclear Family Is Not Same-Sex Inclusive
Research notes that any stable two-parent household regardless of the parents' gender can create a healthy, loving environment for their child or children to thrive. The nuclear family definition is non-inclusive and excludes same-sex households despite the fact that they can provide just as stable of an environment. Children who grow up in stable homes with two parents have a higher chance of upward economic mobility versus children who grew up in unstable home environments. This means that the nuclear family is not the best option when it comes to providing family stability, it is simply just one option of many.
Preferred Family Structure
The nuclear family is preferred by many to raise children, although the incidence of single parent, divorced and multigenerational households are on the rise. The choice to raise a family by the nuclear model does not guarantee success or happiness but can provide a basis for obtaining those ideals. Awareness of the possible advantages and disadvantages allows a big-picture view of this family structure. No family is perfect, but when you work together with family members, you ensure the best possible outcomes for everyone involved.