Our forged family includes “orphaned” seniors who have moved to town to enjoy this community, old friends cut off from their own families, a homeless woman who for a time slept on my mother-in-law’s tiny kitchen floor, a former nun, a recent widower, and anyone else who doesn’t have a place to go on a holiday. My daughters grew up thinking this is normal, and in my family it is.
David Brooks writes that in primitive societies, people who migrated together formed a band. That is still true today in the U.S. I grew up in two extended families. The first was purely familial: three generations of grandparents, parents, and children plus assorted uncles all living together. But there was another extended family as well: the White Russian émigrés who fled communism. The members of that large extended family did not share a house, except in some cases, but lived close to one another and joined forces to raise children, start businesses, refer one another to jobs, build churches, and care for the elderly. The article mentions that recent immigrants to the U.S. are more likely to live in extended-kinship families; nonbiological kinship gives extra resilience to these communities.
Lena S. Zezulin
Takoma Park, Md.
I enjoyed David Brooks’s informative and insightful article on the American nuclear family, but I think he is seriously misguided by the notion that progressives lack an understanding of and commitment to conventional family structures. He writes, “Progressives have no philosophy of family life at all.” This is simply not true. That progressives are tolerant of unconventional domestic arrangements does not mean they are oblivious or indifferent to the great personal and social rewards of conventional family life.
Brooks provides an accurate picture of how the family once was and how it has disintegrated. However, he leaves out the exciting formation of other kinds of ties that stretch kinship in unprecedented ways.
In my own research on donor-sibling networks, I have found that parents and their donor-conceived children are voluntarily taking unique steps to counter the shrinking family by finding other families who happened to have purchased the same donor’s gametes.
Suddenly, a child who had no siblings has a dozen. Moreover, these genetic relatives (who start out as strangers) are exploring what it means to be related and connected to one another. They say they feel naturally comfortable together because they share genes—and they look for resemblances and similarities that reinforce belonging to the same kinship group. As siblings, they feel a moral responsibility to one another even if they have not grown up in the same household.
Professor of Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies at Wellesley College