Have you ever considered the value of extended families compared to Nuclear Families?
The idea of large families, consisting of four generations living under one roof, is a mind blowing concept to those of us who live in a nuclear family community. If you think grocery shopping and preparing meals is a problem in your home, imagine being one of these ginormous families.
It was first reported in 2013 that the largest family group living together, had 181 members. Ziona, at 67, insisted “I consider myself a lucky man to be the husband of 39 women and head of the world’s largest family.” He had 39 wives, 94 children, 14 daughters-in-law and 33 grandchildren.
Run with Military Precision
They lived in a four-storey, 100-room house, which was run with military precision. Zathiangi, then 71, was the first wife, and a leader like no other. “I am the eldest and married to Ziona the longest. Everyone in the family respects me.”
While the sons, with their wife and children, lived in different rooms, they all shared the one kitchen. The joint family meal would use 35 kg of pork for a meat meal, and 50kg of rice.
Ziona was the leader of 4,000 people and the head of the Mormon Chana sect. He claimed that he married the women of the village who needed looking after. Ziona died in 2021, at age 76, when the total of the family members had dropped to a mere 167. The family had become a tourist attraction in their own right.
Another Extended Family
The Samanta family consists of 95 people, but there are only four bathrooms. The head wife, Prativa Samanta has a daily grocery list that reads like the needs of a commercial kitchen: 33 pounds of potatoes, 26 pounds of rice, 13 pounds of fish, 22 pounds of chicken, 18 pounds of wheat flour for chapatis, two pounds of lentils, and 2-1/2 gallons of milk. And to cook it all, one cylinder of propane gas for the four kitchen stoves. No family member eats at an outside restaurant.
One of the other women says, “There are no quarrels in this family. If anyone gets into an argument, they must forget it right away.” Any group-outing would be a major excursion exercise.
In India, the practice of extended families dates back thousands of years. They are typically middle-class and usually comprise some 15 to 20 people. Several generations of the extended family live together and jointly share their finances and familial duties. The word of elders is law and sons obey their fathers, and often work for the family firm. Daughters and wives obey the chief matriarch, and struggle to find their place in a world where they will often be treated as children. All salaries go into a central pool, with each family unit receiving an allowance. This allows the family to assist others in the community in need.
However, in large families, personal freedom is inhibited, but this is outweighed by the economic and psychological advantages. Sociologist T.K. Oommen says, “If you can pool what you have, you are in a position to enjoy a higher standard of living than you could if you live separately.”
The Victorian Era
The extended family was most prevalent from the mid-18th century to the beginning of the 20th century, particularly during the Victorian era. The upper-middle class saw the extended family as an economic, emotional and moral unit. However, the families were patriarchal, favouring men and in particular the first-born son.
The lifestyle of the Western World has now evolved to the nuclear family, with elderly parents living in segregated communities, or nursing homes. The thought of large families living under one roof, is alien to us and even large family celebrations have become rarer and rarer, as families become divided as to where they will spend their festive time. The idea of the extended family, with all its tangled, loving and exhausting relationships, is long gone and been replaced by small, detached, nuclear families, who are often isolated.
The Rise of the Nuclear Family
The pace of modern life has sped up, with convenience, privacy and mobility being more important than family loyalty. Divorce and broken families have become more prevalent and the traditional family values pushed to the background.
Life has become freer for individuals, giving them more scope to maximize their talents and expand their options, but society has become more unstable for families. Adults may feel they are better off, but children miss out on the interconnectivity and security of the extended family.
Society has evolved into a familial system that liberates the rich and ravages the working-class and the poor. Children are raised so that at adolescence they fly from the nest, become independent and seek their own partner. They are raised for autonomy, not for embeddedness, and the corporate family has largely been abandoned. Yet, it is in the extended family we create memories that will last a lifetime.
If a nuclear family of four breaks up, there are no shock-absorbers to help the individual survive. People who are reared in a nuclear family have a more individual mind-set and are less willing to self-sacrifice for the sake of the family. The family base is less secure, leading to confusion, more drift and increased pain. Nearly half of all children now spend their childhood divided between their biological parents.
Extended Family Versus Nuclear Family
The wreckage caused by the decline of the extended family goes on and on, with unrelated families forced to attempt to co-exist, though second or third marriages. Elderly parents have become ‘elder orphans’ with no close relatives or friends to take care of them. Social problems are more prevalent, from mental health, behavioural difficulties, to dependence on drugs and increased suicides.
We may see the benefits of the support and benefits of extended family units, as seen in India, but we throw our hands up at the legal, cultural, loss of privacy and the sociological constraints that makes extended families possible.
Yet, we live in an era where there is a lack of connectivity flow and the impoverishment of family life. It is no wonder, that social media thrives, for when you create a vacuum, something will arise to fill it.
We must recognize the primal need to be part of the community we live in and the high value of family relationships, be that organic family or a fostered family. Face-to-face relationships matter and can never be adequately replaced by online relationships, such as was discussed in sisterly love. Your voice has a particular value to those you interact with as you gain comfort and strength from others.
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Wendy is an inspirational writer, for which she has a strong passion. She is also very passionate about her garden and family. She says life is too short to waste, so live it to the fullest.