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Prof. Sean Galagher
Family: An evolving concept
The nuclear family is now a thing of the past. Not because it does not exist anymore but because it has lost its importance in moral issues in most western countries. What used to be ?odd? and ?uncommon? is now and everyday reality. With the dramatic change in the way families work and the way individuals within the family interact with each other, the old teachings about how to handle these interactions became obsolete, or it seems. Like atoms, families are the bricks of a society. The way they work or don?t, their strength and their weaknesses influence the health of the community they belong to.
Everything it seems is about families anymore. Talk shows on television are filled with the extraordinary adventures of dysfunctional couples and their children. From Ricky Lake to Oprah, the family issue has invaded the T.V. media. Radio shows and newspaper and not spared either. We are fed ?family? on a plate constantly. Politic is not isolated from the phenomenon. Europeans and American politicians have a knack for mentioning the issue that kills: the family matter. It is said that misunderstand and miscommunication has now infected the holy sanctity of the Mother-Father-Children triangle. The problem is said to have many consequences on the difficult matters everyone has to deal with every day from crime to depression.
The rebirth of Religious sentiments of the past two decades whether it is in Europe or the States plays an important part in the coming back of the family issue under the bright lights. The sixties and the seventies saw the fall of such issues but as the eighties pointed its nose the rebirth of conservative values would follow. The Christian community in particular is coming in strong on such issues. That explains why western civilisations tend to accommodate to such morality fluctuation based on Religion. But the morale issues of the past seem to have a hard time matching today?s reality. Family is not what it used to be. Actually it fails to find a general definition. Since western society opened their eyes on the reality of divorce, single-parenting or even homosexuality the very definition of the ?brick that builds a society? (cf. p1) has been shaken.
Nothing has been created or invented within the family structure. What used to be odd is just accepted or almost. Half a century of family theory is based on what has always been considered the norm: the stereotypical nuclear family of the fifties. The situation back then was not really different from what it is today. The only thing that changed is that the world is finally recovering from a cultural blindness that made it insensitive to the newly recognised issues. The myth of the family has done great harm to the families of today. By avoiding reality, most western countries have lost contact with problems that are rotting the roots of these nations. It is during times of major economic instability that these problems are uncovered. They are used as scapegoats for the internal dysfunction that large communities go through.
A conservative attitude towards such major changes does not help. You can?t cure what is called a dysfunctional family of today by using the cure based on the architecture of the family of the past. The situation has changed and became more complex. As popular as the family issue can be in the media and in politics; most of these people still fail to acknowledge the changes. So based on the vision of the past, today?s family seemed too catastrophic to handle on a simple level. A Belgian proverb says that sometimes the way to solve a problem is to stop calling it a problem. Applied to the family matter it does not mean ignoring the problems but more as redefining the issue and matching it with the reality of the present. What seems to be a catastrophe through the eyes of mythical expectations can in fact just be a mere issue when replaced in its natural context.
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