If The New York Times, is anything, it’s predicable. They featured an op/ed recently on the status of the nuclear family and it was essentially the same article they have been publishing on the topic for decades. New words, same dismissive, simplistic message.

This most recent piece is titled, “The Nuclear Family is No Longer the Norm. Good.” and they mean it as a hooray to the passage of an ideal that they believe has long needed to go away. But what The Grey Lady is doing is focusing on a fiction that never existed in reality, and now is praising its disappearance. Yes, it’s a parlor trick.


Because of their terribly simplistic definition of “nuclear family.” The Times reveals their shortsightedness right out of the gate,

“Even two decades ago, Americans were increasingly moving away from the “mom, dad and two kids” family structure that corresponded with the norms and pop culture of the 1950s.”

Yes, this is news to precisely no one that the caricature of the “off -to-work-dad, dutiful-stay-at-home-mom and their two lovely children with optional dog and freshly-painted picket fence” was merely a “pop culture” television and advertising creation. This means the Times is actually celebrating the disappearance of something they admit never really existed and assume their readers won’t catch the sleight of hand. The Times runs this kind of article every few years because it’s intended to convince readers that people like Focus on the Family and other conservative “traditionalists” worship a golden calf of family that is false. And such articles always quote boutique historians who have made cottage industries out of playing this same game. The Times quotes the leading offender here,

As the historian Stephanie Coontz wrote, the idealized American nuclear family, with a father as breadwinner and mother as caregiver, living atomized from the rest of their community, was a “historical fluke,” and throughout history, parents have always relied on relatives and friends for help with the caregiving of children.

What is Coontz actually talking about?

Do these people not know any homeschool families, a population that is continuing to grow by leaps and bounds? These family traditionalists certainly don’t fit into the Times’ narrow definition of the “nuclear family” atomized from society with their two children. Anyone who knows a homeschooler knows they make fun of themselves because they have huge cargo vans to haul all their kids around in. The Babylon Bee spoofed this reality years ago by announcing Ford was introducing a new “40-passenger van” called “The Homeschooler.” And yes, both homeschool mom and dad are hands-on in educating the children, as well as happily bringing in help from extended family and friends. The journal Education Next took note of this recently, explaining,

Homeschoolers are increasingly teaming up as well. Home-school cooperatives, through which families pool expertise and resources to deliver instruction, have grown; 43 percent of homeschoolers participated in such groups in 2019, up from about one third in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Education survey. 

The Times also says the “nuclear family” is going by the wayside because increasingly, “For many Americans, multigenerational bonds are becoming more important than nuclear family ties for well-being and support over the course of their lives.” Do they mean like the iconic and traditional Waltons where grandma and grandpa live under the same roof with their hoard of grandkids or “Everybody Loves Raymond” where the “grands” live across the street, are reliable staples in homelife, and regularly welcome themselves in without knocking? That traditional family IS a multi-generational, community-connected hoard of people related by blood, marriage and adoption.

Curiously, one of the scholars who the Times cites to make their weak case is Vern Bengtson from the University of Southern California. But Dr. Bengtson is actually a big proponent of the importance of married mothers and fathers, which is the glue that holds the actual nuclear family together.

One of professor Bengtson’s most notable books is Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations, by Oxford University Press. We are great fans of his work here at Focus on the Family as he explains that parents and grandparents are THE most effective influencers of childhood faith, with no close second or third.

So yes, the nuclear connection between mom and dad, their biological or adopted children and that family’s heritage of extended family is essential and deeply effective in the transmission of faith to young people. The nuclear family, essentially. Professor Bengtson certainly does not cheer its demise.

What IS the nuclear family?

Progressives who belittle the nuclear family as a fictitious 1950s creation in the mold of “Father Knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver” demonstrate extremely poor understanding of the origin of the term.

The concept of the mother/father/child triad as the fundamental nucleus of all human society stretches back to the ancient philosopher Aristotle. In Aristotle’s Politics, his explanation for how human civilization functions best, the great philosopher begins in Book I explaining how the exclusive union of husband and wife and their common children serve as the literal nucleus upon which the village, state, and nation are established and successfully sustained.

Aristotle explains, “there must be a union of those who cannot exist without each other, for example male and female, that the race may continue.” He adds, “The family is the association established by nature for the supply of humanity’s everyday wants, and the members of it are called by Charondes ‘companions of the cupboard’ and by Epimenides the Cretan, ‘companions of the manger.’”

And their nuclear role?

It is elementary, as Aristotle explains, “But when several families are united, and the association aims as something more than the supply of daily needs, then comes into existence the village. And the most natural form of a village appears to be that of a colony from the family, composed of children and grandchildren, who are said to be ‘suckled with the same milk.’”

No, the nuclear family is not going away. It cannot.

For humanity itself is established upon the truth and wonder of male and female bringing forth the next generation of teachers, business owners, inventors, leaders, and healers. Each of these start out as babies and their own mothers and fathers are the best ones to turn them into what every society needs. That is what the nuclear family does, and does so with the help of grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and the larger community. But the mother/father/child triad is the irreplaceable, fundamental nucleus that builds it all.

Progressive voices like The New York Times certainly need a more sophisticated understanding of this important truth.

Photo from Shutterstock.