In today’s fast-paced, materialistic world, nuclear families are replacing joint families. Is this a positive trend? What are the pros and cons of living in a nuclear family? Let’s read on to know.
With change being an inevitable part of life, nothing escapes transformation. This has happened with the family structure as well. In India, the joint family system is disintegrating and being replaced by the nuclear family. But, what exactly are the characteristics of a nuclear family? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of this setup? Read on to learn all about the nuclear family system and whether it suits your need.
What is the nuclear family system?
In his book, 'A Dictionary of Sociology', sociologist G Duncan Mitchell defines a nuclear family as "A small group composed of husband and wife and immature children which constitutes a unit apart from the rest of the community".
This definition of a nuclear family means that two adults and their child(ren) live under one roof by themselves, i.e. without other relatives living under the same roof.
Usually, in a nuclear family system, after the children get married, they leave their parents home and move into a separate dwelling to establish another nuclear family.
Reasons for the increase in the number of nuclear families
As per the data from the last Indian census data, the percentage of nuclear families has actually declined from 70.34 per cent in 2001 to 70.11 per cent in 2011. However, in absolute terms, the number of nuclear families has increased from 135 million in 2001 to 172 million in 2011.
The rise of the nuclear family setup can be attributed to various factors such as increasing urbanisation, scarcity of living space in big cities, changes in attitudes, desire for more privacy, impact of westernisation and so on. Although the nuclear family system continues to flourish, like any other system, it isn’t perfect and has its fair share of merits and demerits.
Importance of nuclear family
It is often argued that a nuclear family has a vital role to play in the development of the personality of individuals. In this type of family system, the children have an opportunity to be more close to their parents and discuss their problems with their parents in a free manner.
So, let's look at the advantages and disadvantages of living in a nuclear family setup.
Merits of a nuclear family:
More freedom and privacy: Being able to catch up with each other during dinner is of great significance for married couples. Also, things like sharing a few moments of privacy, trying to understand the partner's needs and extending support, are also essential. These are non-negotiable in the modern family system where men and women are considered equal, unlike joint family systems where couples have to wait to enjoy these privileges. What's more, living in a nuclear family means that couples enjoy greater freedom, are able to take decisions together and with their children. That may not be possible in a joint family.
Shared responsibilities and interdependence: Most nuclear families follow the modern thought process. The husband, wife and children share the responsibilities of running the household such as shopping, cooking, setting up the dinner table, cleaning the home and so on. Doing activities together is a great way to bond, extend support and be equally involved in family matters. It makes everyone in the family feel responsible and understand how interdependent they are on each other.
Better bonding between husband and wife: Shouldering family responsibilities together makes the husband and wife look at each other in a different light. Both run the family and are equal partners here. So, they bond more like friends. For the children, nothing works better than watching their parents care for, understand and love each other; and have open conversations. The concept of 'inner circle' or the immediate family sinks in much deeper.
Confident women: All of the above makes the woman financially independent and more assertive. The woman in a nuclear family often has a career, has a say in all matters related to the family. She is a key decision-maker when it comes to the needs of her family and home — the school the children will go to, arranging get-togethers, playdates, or even, deciding on the decor of her home. This makes her feel confident of her own abilities.
Comfort zone: The feeling of coming home to one’s own family is the definition of comfort zone for both a man and woman. For example, if the work day has been a taxing one, there is nothing greater than the joy of sitting and having a chai with one's spouse, simply having a chat, watching TV together, or discussing the school day with the children. These are great ways to unwind and can become a family tradition.
No parenting conflicts: Parenting is tough and more so in a joint family setup as parents are often bombarded with opinions and suggestions by other family members. This makes it difficult for the parents to find or fine-tune their own style of parenting and letting it evolve. In a nuclear family, such issues do not crop up. It is easier for a couple to co-parent and come up with their own unique way of bringing up their children. They seek opinions/help when they really need it and they value each other's contribution.
Demerits of a nuclear family:
While the advantages are numerous, the nuclear family system also has some disadvantages. Like the following:
Problems with work–life balance: This is the biggest issue faced by couples aiming for growth in the personal and professional sphere. Many a time, working couples face difficult situations such as the child falling sick, working to meet a deadline, or school/daycare declaring holiday on a regular working day. They struggle to face such situations and usually, it is the mother who shoulders the burden, because when it comes to children, she tends to be the primary caregiver. During such times, the lack of support from extended family is acutely felt for many nuclear families.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation: When parents have hectic work schedules, they find little or no time to spend with their children. As a result, some children may feel lonely. Some of them resort to spending too much time watching TV or use gadgets to fill the void. During such times too, the presence of an extended family member such as a grandparent or an aunt is sorely missed.
Difficulty resolving conflicts: A nuclear family is a closely-knit group. When the children are young, they do what their parents tell them to. But, once the children step into teenage, they begin developing their own ideas which often differ from that of their parents. This gives rise to conflicts between parents and children. Then, if each family member is unwilling to consider the views of the other or change their stand, conflicts don't get resolved.
Of course, every family structure is unique in itself. There can be a nuclear family that is very accommodating of every member's point of view; similarly, there can be a joint family where couples are also able to find privacy and comfort. After all, it depends on the individuals who make up the family — whether joint or nuclear family system.