We must renew the nuclear family, long under attack, for the sake of human flourishing in the 21st century. CNS photo/Katie Rutter

Sr. Helena Burns: Time to revive the ‘nuclear’ family

  • December 16, 2020

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Time to revive the ‘nuclear’ family

Sr. Helena Burns, FSP

The “nuclear family.” Such a strange phrase. Does it glow? What exactly is it?

The term nuclear family basically means the nucleus: Mom, Dad and kids. In contrast, the “extended family” could include Great-Grandpa, Nana and Gramps, a couple of aunties, throw in a few cousins, perhaps — all living under the same roof.

Today, the very concept of the nuclear family is under attack as a bad thing. We are told that the nuclear family is impossible, unrealistic, unhealthy. We’re told that at best it’s a failed construction of “binary” idealism — at worst, it’s abusive by its very nature.

Let’s embark on a brief, rough history of the nuclear family, painted with a very broad brush. (Note: Indigenous peoples have always had clearly defined extended family groups within tribal structures and traditions.) In many agrarian civilizations of the past, families farmed together or practised a family trade. Kids saw a lot of both mum and dad every day; interacted with them, forged family bonds; observed how to be a couple, a family; how to resolve conflicts; learned how to communicate, how to love. Children’s main influences were firmly within the family.

Enter the Industrial Revolution which exiled family members to work in factories and offices, causing them to spend most of their day apart.

Then the Sexual Revolution struck at the core of the nuclear family. If romantic love and sex doesn’t involve fidelity, marriage or children … why bother? You know the rest: skyrocketing divorces and  births out of wedlock (both assuring millions of children are raised without a father); delaying marriage and children (often leading to employing science-fiction-like fertility technologies); inability to commit to a mature and stable relationship; the complete re-definition of marriage, family and gender (with accompanying aggressive indoctrination of the youngest of tots) — all leading to massive identity confusion, anxiety and depression among young people who don’t know how to form healthy male-female friendships/marriages/families because they’ve never seen it modelled.

Enter Internet-enabled mobile media devices, pumping out SexRev ideology, images and enticements 24/7. Who’s really raising our children now?

Enter Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II and his manifesto-like tomes: “Love and Responsibility” (the philosophy of the body) and “Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body,” which articulate the fundamental secrets of marriage and family life lived by our ancestors, while taking into consideration humankind’s experiences of the 20th century and pointing us to the future.

The first person who will tell you that the nuclear family is good is the person who — for whatever reason — never had one, or it didn’t last, or it was deeply dysfunctional because of its members’ own brokenness. But the family can also be mended and be the place of the greatest and most necessary healing.

Despite society’s continued embrace of the ever-morphing Sexual Revolution, the raw data shows us that it’s the SexRev that’s profoundly harmful to our mental, physical, spiritual, social and sexual health. Marriage studies, instead, consistently reveal matrimony to be the number one factor in people’s health, wealth, longevity and contentment.

For those who flippantly quip that “Jesus never said anything about sex/marriage/family” — you can (for starters) flippantly quote Jesus’ affirmation of Genesis in Matthew 19:5-6: “Have you not read…‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife … so they are no longer two, but one flesh.’”

The family “constitutes the primary, fundamental and irreplaceable community for man” — John Paul II, Homily for Holy Family Sunday, 1978.

We are in “…a moment of history in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it” — John Paul II, “On the Christian Family in the Modern World.”

In this Year of St. Joseph, let us implore the “Pillar of Families” (Litany of St. Joseph) to help us rehabilitate, restore and renew the divinely-ordered natural “nuclear” family, for the sake of human flourishing in the 21st century.

(Sr. Helena, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA. www.HellBurns.com  Twitter: @srhelenaburns)

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