The Squeeze and the Surrogate Family

I came across this article (h/t: Instapundit) about the squeeze middle-aged folks, particularly women, are under as they are stressed caring for both their children and their aging parents. According to the article, it is supposedly difficult and stressful to care “for both their children and their aging parents while also managing their income-generating jobs and keeping their partners happy–all at the same time.”

To which the only possible response is: no duh.

It is difficult, if not impossible, because nobody was ever meant to do all that at once. People simply do not have the time and energy to deal with children, old people, a career, and other activities at the same time.

Traditionally, there have always been societal and biological mechanisms to deal with this, but, over the last few decades, we’ve decided to spit in the face of both.

Throughout history, these mechanisms have varied. Tribal structures, villages, and the like made raising children and taking care of old people a community thing for most people. Combined with the typical “low” age of average death, “early” child-bearing ages, and large families things mostly worked themselves out.

When people started living longer and tribal and community ties began to die due to the mass dislocations caused by industrialization and urbanization, society adapted by adopting what we now know of as the traditional nuclear family in the early 20th century. Combined with some help from local churches and community organizations this worked fairly well, reaching its apex in the decades following war boom.

In the nuclear family model, the family adopts a division of labour to help the running of the household. The husband works and the wife takes care of the family. Families have many kids and they have them at a young age, so when they get old, the children can care for their parents.

Given the realities of modern, mass society, this structure works.

Having children young (in your late teens/early 20s) provided future children to take care of you and makes it so that by the time you need to take care of your elders, your children are already nearing self-sufficiency. It means that you have your youthful vigor to raise your children when you need. (Did you ever think of why you are able to go with minimal and erratic sleep when you’re young? It’s because it lets you physically handle the realities of a squalling infant unable to tell time. You are not built to naturally be able to take care of young children in your 30s and 40s, you lose the vigor necessary to do so as you age.)

Having lots of children meant that there would be enough people to take care of you when you aged without it being an undue burden on any single child.

Having the wife stay home provided the family with a person who had the time to take care of the children. She had time to take care of elderly relatives. She had the time to take care of sick family members.

There was no generational squeeze, because the division of labour and proper family planning inherent in the nuclear family model gave each individual only what they could actually handle and there was no undue burden on any single family member.

****

When feminists, and others, criticize the “housewife”, they miss the importance the housewife has for modern, mass society. Absent the traditional bonds of tribe and villages, anomie was destroying people in an urbanized, industrial environment.The development of the housewife held this back.

The housewife may not contribute to “GDP” but she contributes something just as important, she socially bonds the family together and bonds the family to the rest of the community. She has time to take care of dependent family members. She has time to develop meaningful relationships in the neigbourhood and the family’s social circle. She had time to support local organizations and by taking care of the household, she gave the husband time to support them.

The bread-winning husband is economically productive, while the housewife is socially productive.

In a modern, urban society, social productivity is as essential to the health of society as economic productivity, as the natural social relations and community of a tribal or village lifestyle simply do not exist. But building community takes time, something people working full-time, while taking care of children, simply do not have. The housewife had this time.

She has time to get to get to know Edna down the street and develop a meaningful relationship, which would then transfer into a meaningful family relationship, building community. If Edna’s husband, Bill broke his leg and couldn’t work, her neighbour, the housewife, would have the time to comfort them; she would prepare meals, look after Edna’s children, provide emotional support, run errands, etc., which she was able to do because she had time. She would know that Edna would do the same if something happened to her family.

The housewife would build community where community did not naturally exist.

****

But, some sections of society (read: leftists and feminists) were unhappy with this adaptation to modern society and set out to destroy it.

The traditional, nuclear family was “oppressive” and being a housewife was unfulfilling, so patriarchy had to be destroyed. (Because working 40 hours in a dead-end office job simply to expand your ability to mindlessly consume was somehow more fulfilling than meaningful community).

And destroyed it was.

People started getting married later, had children later, and had fewer children overall. Family became less important.

The housewife was replaced by a second provider. The traditional family replaced by the broken family. Social productivity was exchanged for economic productivity, with little real benefit.

The result: anomie.

The social capital the traditional family, particularly the housewife, created began to disappear. As Robert Putnam has documented this decline in social capital and social trust. As one example, over the last 25 years the average adult has gone from having 3 friends to having only 2; half of all adults have one or fewer real friends.

The squeeze occurred, as no one is able to work full-time, raise children, care for elders, and develop community. There is simply not enough time in the day and peopel simply do not have that much energy.

****

So, how was the squeeze handled?

The traditional family was replaced by the broken family and the surrogate family.

The broken family lost the husband and father. Of course, raising a child, while also providing for this family is brutally hard work, almost impossible. So, the husband and father the broken family did not have was replaced by the state, which became a surrogate husband and father. The state would offer provision through welfare, mandated leave, tax breaks, funded child care, public health care, and a wide array of other benefits.

The housewife was working and could no longer raise her children. Instead, families gave them to a surrogate mother: subsidized daycare and the public school system.

The housewife no longer had the time to take care of elderly or ill relatives and the relatives had forgone having enough children. The work of supporting them became overly onerous, it simply was impossible. So, families entrusted their elderly and ill to a surrogate child, the state. Social security, subsidized senior housing, public health care, and a wide array of government benefits replaced the family.

****

The problem with using the state as a surrogate family is twofold.

First, the state can only provide bread, but man does not live on bread alone. People need community, friends, family, and social interaction. The state is incapable of providing this; it is a cold, faceless, bureaucratic institution. The best it can do is hire a paid nurse or teacher to tolerate your company for a few hours.

The state can not build community. It can only replace community with economic transaction or destroy it.

The state can not end the squeeze, as personal relations are still necessary for the elderly, the infirm, children, and the building of community. It may alleviate is somewhat, but the squeeze remains.

Second, is the cost. The state’s coffers are not bottomless and when the benefits of social capital that were previously built by unpaid labour, now has to be built by labour paid by the state, the costs become onerous.

The state goes broke.

Greece is experiencing it. Other part of Europe will experience it soon. North America will experience it in time if her course does not reverse.

When the state goes broke, it can no longer replace community, but people have lost the community to replace the state. There can only be a void, with people left to their own devices. Those unable to repair community or provide for themselves suffer.

Without the traditional family, the squeeze is unavoidable.

****

The traditional family, particularly the housewife, was essential to building community. The state as a surrogate family has replaced the traditional family. Mindless economic production and consumerism replaced community. The bureaucratic state expanded and replaced community.

For what benefit? A squeeze on the middle, a dubious increase in material well-being, and the end to an amorphous concept of oppression.

I hope those who did this feel it was worth it. Do you think it was?


19 responses to “The Squeeze and the Surrogate Family

  • Carnivore

    Yes, yes and yes! You hit the nail square on the head here.

    Would just add that another element that has left modern white America is the concept of extended family, which is still observable in the USA in (Asian) Indian families and, to some extent, Italian and Hispanic families.

    In the roots of my family (southern Europe), 3rd and 4th cousins were considered close relatives. I know “modern” individuals who hardly keep in contact with their siblings, let alone a 1st cousin.

  • Jay

    I see the flaw of the nuclear family as it is weaker and more susceptible to social engineering turning it into a matriarchy while the super-rich keep patriarchy to themselves:

    http://www.henrymakow.com/nuclear-family-need-larger-loy.html

  • Cpt Capitalism

    I would also contend the traditional housewife played a VITAL economic role:

    She budgeted and found “deals.” The man, too busy working to go and price everything, left that to the wife. While the man “earned” the money the wife made sure that money went the furthest it could.

    Now women just piss money away like there is no tomorrow.

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  • Free Northerner

    @Carnivore: The decline of the extended family began with the industrial revolution and urbanization; in America it was especially pressed because of frontier living and immigration. The work ethic and willingness to move for a job descended from these in the US also play a part.

    @Jay: The site seems kind of conspiracy-ish, but I definitely agree with that particular article.

    @Captain: Absolutely agree. The housewife had time to do stretch resources through deals, and through simple things like basic repair/matintenance (sewing holes in pants instead of throwing them away), cooking, baking, and the like.

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  • cliff arroyo

    A few points.

    For most times and most places the extended family has been the norm either in living together in a single household (or compound) or seeing each other on a daily basis.

    The nuclear family does not represent traditional family values but the breakdown of traditional family values (which depend on an extended family). It also seems inherently unstable without strong environmental factors (economic or natural) holding it together and will disolve into singles, single parents and/or mutate (same sex parents).

    Traditional family values are not an unmixed blessing as they can easily lead to rampant nepotism and clannishness and backwardness.

    The suburban model of a nuclear family with a stay at home mother is not a long term success. It was tested and, essentially, failed and wishful thinking won’t bring it back as a viable option for most people. If it had really been so awesome it wouldn’t have broken down so easily.

    Minus Indians and bears outside very few women will willingly stay at home all day every day in the company of small children (who are frequently exhausting and infuriating no matter how much you love them).

    I’m not sure what the answer is but resurrecting something that has been rejected is probably not it.

  • hpx83

    You know, on more squeamish days its enough to make me cry, really. What really, really, REALLY pisses me off is that I can remember a time a mere twenty years ago when things were just a few degrees less shitty, and I miss them. Is there an escape hatch on this society?

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  • Cogitansiuvenis

    There is simply no way this state of conditions can continue, I am convinced something will happen to cause society to shift back to the norm. This very sick society cannot exist as it is, much like many man made atoms that only exist under labratory conditions, without the external framework the holds it together the atom will disappear. The framework, the state, we have now that allows for this dystopic, sick, unnatural, inhuman, and dare I say ungodly society itself can only exist on the backs of those that are willing to hold the system together. Men, and many women, are simply opting out, the majority not even knowing that they are doing so, because the incentives that traditional familal society created are now gone.

    This state of affairs, so vile that I can feel the bile within myself rising to the back of my throat, is even going on in the orient. Japan has seen its own society crumble and rot from within to the point that they have millions of individuals who neither can afford, nor want kids. Their men so emasculated that they are known as herbivores, men who desire no women nor any real work, and their women delude themselves into thinking that they are happier without children. As it stands now their society may have already crossed the brink into self-extermination through depopulation.

    Your post northerner is as depressing as it is spot on. I hope, perhaps foolishly so, that the increasing number of millenials opting to stay at home with their parents out of necessity might be the beginnings of a shift towards the realization that our old ways oriented around the family and the community were the right ways.

  • Free Northerner

    @cliff: As I noted, the nuclear family was a response to the breakdown of traditional society with the advent of urbanization and industrialization. The stay-at-home wife and nuclear family did not fail, it was successful for the conditions it was created for.

    Its destruction was not the result of natural societal changes. It was purposely destroyed by a group of intellectual and political elites.

    Despite decades of feminist indoctrination, most women would still prefer to stay home with their children, if financially possible. From the minority that don’t, most would like to work less to spend more time with their children. The problem is, its somewhat unfeasible for many women at this time.

    @hpx: The urge to mourn what was lost can sometimes be strong. There is no escape, most other countries are worse. There is only the fight to preserve what we can.

    @cogitansiuvenis: That which defies biological and material reality can only exist for a while. The question is, when and how it will end. Here’s hoping those of the new generation see what has happened and turn it around.

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  • cliff arroyo

    “The stay-at-home wife and nuclear family did not fail…. It was purposely destroyed by a group of intellectual and political elites.”

    In other words, it failed. It doesn’t matter if environmental or economic conditions meant it was no longer vialbe or if it succumbed to planned attacks. It became less and less viable in the environment (sensu largo) that it was in.

    Do you have data on the most women want to stay home? My anecdotal evidence from when I lived in the US points in another direction. Also, for a number of years now, I’ve lived in Poland whose women have mostly always worked outside the home and are are also highly prized by local and foreign men as excellent wife material.

    Given the choice between a) full time stay at home b) part time work c) full time work, most married women with kids I’ve known would prefer b) but will pick c) over a).

    Again I don’t pretend to have the answers but unless stay at home can be imbued with some crucial missing value that it lacked before (I’m not sure what exactly) then it’s not something most women will return to given a choice.

  • Free Northerner

    I had some links here:
    https://freenortherner.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/feminism-does-not-represent-womens-interests/

    But here’s one study: 55% of women want to stay home.
    http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/lifestyle/women-want-to-marry-rich-men-a-new-study-has-found/story-e6frf00i-1225985218362

    Here’s another that most women want to either work part-time or stay home:
    http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2007/07/12/fewer-mothers-prefer-full-time-work/

    Here’s a more recent one: 51% wish to work outside the home (no reference to full or part-time, so it would include both) 44% wish to stay home:
    http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/business-brains/more-women-than-ever-would-prefer-to-work-outside-home/26192

    Essentially, it comes down to which study you trust, but it looks as if you’re somewhat right. The overall trend seems to be the that between work and home, most want work of some sort. But between part-time, full-time, or home, full-time is the least popular option, while either part-time or home is the plurality option, depending on the study.

  • Maverick Traveler

    Excellent, and well analyzed article.

    The State wants it all, and is willing to do it at the expense
    of breaking up the traditional family institution (nuclear family).

    Problem is, I don’t know many civilizations that have survived and thrived
    when the nuclear family was destroyed.

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