A happy family

I just had the pleasure of visiting an old school friend, which led to the unexpected (and unusual) experience of spending time with that rarest of modern social units, a happy family. This particular family is firmly based on the traditional, nuclear family — a model i’ve long assumed dead, or at least passé, in these days of broken marriages and mandatory two-job families. It was surprising to see the traditional model working, and working so well.

I won’t breach anybody’s privacy here, but the arrangement is pretty much what you’d imagine from your Leave it to Beaver viewing : WIFE is a full-time homemaker, HUSBAND works in an office to bring home the bacon, DAUGHTER and SON are both doing well in university.

The perks are of this deliberate division of labour were immediately evident :

  • Everyone gets a clean, orderly home to live in. Everyone eats good, home-cooked food.
  • Nobody has to come home tired after work to cook, clean or do laundry. Rather than being catch-up time for chores, evenings and weekends hold free time for family activities.
  • DAUGHTER and SON almost always have at least one parent available when they need help or attention.
  • Everyone gets a reasonable amount of space and time for their own pursuits; nobody’s making anybody do anything, apart from sharing the obligatory chores to keep the household running.

Exactly how they pull this off is, of course, the $64 question. Based on my short visit, here are the key factors :

  • HUSBAND is not wedded to his career. He’s highly experienced in his field, but he has resisted the pressure (and the ambition) to rise up the ranks, in a way that would eat into his free time and family life. He works 9 to 5, and he’s generally outta there at 5:01. Life first, career second.
  • WIFE embraces a more or less traditional housewife role. She does the lion’s share of cooking, cleaning, gardening, home maintenance, and in general keeps the household running. It’s a more than full-time job, and she treats it as such. In a feminist light this is probably the most controversial part of the arrangement, but it’s one they seem to have worked out together over the years.
  • They have settled the ubiquitous money problem that causes so much relationship grief. They decided early on that HUSBAND would work outside the home, because he had the better long-term earning potential. But he hands over the paycheque and WIFE manages the finances, completely and competently. With discipline and good planning they own their home, take vacations, have savings, and are putting their kids through school, all on a single salary. This arrangement didn’t happen overnight; there was a lot of discussion in the early days, such as which one of them would stay home with the children.
  • The traditional “strong male father figure” (a.k.a. domestic tyrant) is absent. HUSBAND avoids conflict, confines his ego to sporting pursuits, and has no need to “rule his castle.” The household doesn’t revolve around any one person.
  • The telling factor seems to be that there’s not a lot of ego involved from anyone. Each has their separate needs and interests, but those don’t automatically trump the group interest. All are dedicated to the family, as much as to themselves as individuals.

It’s an enviable life, from my perspective as solitary bachelor, and as a sympathetic observer of the many struggling, stressed-out families around me. It was a pleasure spending time with them. It wasn’t like being a walk-on in a sitcom or a family-values lecture; rather, it was basking in the feeling that this is how people are meant to live — eating and talking and living together, as significant parts of a larger unit than the lone individual.

Is this cold-blooded family dissection creepy? Sure, a bit. I’m certain neither WIFE nor HUSBAND, DAUGHTER nor SON would agree that everything is as copacetic as i’m presenting here. My visit was short, probably with everybody to some degree on best behaviour. But the whole experience gives me cause to rethink the nuclear family, which i have long thought broken beyond repair. I still believe it takes a village to raise a child (or care for an elder, or develop a mature adult citizen), but now i’m thinking there’s a place for the traditional family within that village.

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