We love to complain about family. It takes years of therapy to get over the phobias our parents gave us. If we survive, then we have to endure crazy sister during holidays, or the demands of the wild brother complicating our lives in other ways. Finally, if we’re lucky, we have to help the parents deal with their old age.
No wonder so many jettison the concept entirely and stay away.
It’s a wonder anyone wants to be in a family at all. What in the world is the family good for in the first place?
First place. Where did the first family come from?
We discussed how animals invented childhood some time ago. That childhood improved everyone’s chances of survival. It must have worked quite well for humans, because we have the longest “childhood” of all animals.
For all animals with a childhood, their family exists for as long as the children are home. Yes, the children can be birds, and the home can be a nest.
The problem for these families is that they cease to exist the moment the children leave home. When the chicks leave the nest, the family no longer exists.
Humans have the only families that exist beyond the weaning of the children. Some families even have parents of parents living with them. This is certainly an achievement few other species have met.
And that’s the greatest advantage of the family, the human family, sharing knowledge gathered by previous generations. Wisdom accumulated through hard experience saves the younger members a lot of time. They make better choices, the family does better, the children have more children, and the family thrives through the ages.
For millennia, that is how the family worked. Then something happened. We figured out how to transfer knowledge in a more structured format during the Renaissance. Then we became wealthy enough so that even grand parents preferred to live on their own than with their children and grand children, usually in warmer climates.
Today’s civilized family is a poor imitation of what the family used to be. Regardless of what is best for the individuals, the family itself has suffered. As a society, we should think about how we treat the family and how it can work for all of us to better advantage.
We should also think about what the family may look like if we ever take our species to the moon. After all, do we need families in space? Do we need them any more here?
We do. And the next installment explains why.