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The Future of The Family
and The Fate of Our Children

by Dr. Deborah Taj Anapol, Ph.D.

"In today's world, virtually all areas of our society are undergoing vast upheavals. In the face of such significant change, it is crazy to think that somehow the home will remain intact and miraculously unchanged." - F. M. 2030

The majority of today's adults were raised in nuclear families where Dad was the breadwinner and Mom was the homemaker. Imperfect, yes, but at least it provided most children with a full-time, committed caretaker. With less than seven per cent of today's children growing up in this kind of family, who will fill the roles of housewife and mother?

Current socioeconomic conditions have not been kind to families. Neither have they benefitted children, who now comprise the largest class of people living below the poverty line. These days, time is money, and time spent with children rarely produces much in the way of dollars.

The nuclear family is a fragile organism. Created for the Industrial Age, it has been viewed in economic terms as a mechanism whereby the husband's wages subsidized the unpaid support services provided by his wife. Today this subsidy has been withdrawn. Vulnerable to the stresses of the Information Age and no longer financially viable, for better or worse the two parent/one wage earner family is a dead duck. What will replace it? What should replace it?

Ask a group of conscientious parents what kinds of condi-tions are optimal for raising children today. They will unfailingly mention plentiful, unhurried time with nurturing adults, lots of love and physical affection, freedom and space to roam and presence of extended family or other caring adults. Any reasonable person who gave the matter sufficient thought would agree that these should be our design criteria for the 21st century family.

In fact, the above conditions may be more than desirable, they may be essential. The research of psychologists such as Dr. James Prescott suggests that children who have not received sufficient touching, cuddling and carrying in early life may sustain permanent brain dysfunction or damage leading to depression, violence and substance abuse in adulthood.

What kinds of conditions are typical today? Two-career families, single-parent families, blended families, abortion, infant day care and latchkey children. While the old nuclear family was as often violent, authoritarian and abusive as it was peaceful and supportive, these modern adaptations leave a lot to be desired.

As sociologist Arlie Hochschild demonstrates in her recent book, The Second Shift, women are still doing the lion's share of housework and child care, but now they are trying to squeeze it in on top of full time work outside the home. Clearly, this is not a healthy situation. Time becomes too scarce to tolerate a child's dawdling, nerves are frayed, and stress and fatigue are constant facts of life for children and parents alike. Meanwhile, quality day care is both scarce and expensive. Childcare care workers are among the lowest paid of any occupational group, leading to frequent turnover and minimal selectivity. Even at its best, full time institutional care can not provide the individual attention, intimacy, flexibility and opportunity for solitude that young children need to realize their potential.

Many of the above cultural experiments were initiated by women desperate to overcome second class status in a male-dominated culture. In that regard we have been modestly successful. Women are no longer a rarity in business, government, professions and skilled trades. Sexual harassment and affirmative action regulations have had an impact on the workplace. There's a long way to go, but the gap between men's and women's earnings is slowly closing.

With women struggling for equality largely by conforming to the priorities and strategies of the authoritarian dominator culture, children have been left in a lurch. This is not to criticize women for neglecting their duty as mothers. In many cases women have sought power outside the home precisely because they were concerned with the fate of our children. And men, too, bear equal responsibility for the next generation. My point is that these failed experiments are not the product of our best efforts to design a family that works for everyone, rather they are an accidental by-product of the war between the sexes. We can and we must do better.

What kinds of family situations are optimal for raising children? What alternatives are there? What kinds of family structures meet our design criteria? How creative can we be in finding answers?

While there may be many possibilities, I admit that I favor a seemingly radical solution. This solution incorporates traditional family values into a new cultural form which not only holds great promise for children, but could meet the needs of today's men and women, and the planet, too. I have called this form "cellular family," "expanded family," and more recently "combination family" simply, "combos." The combo family concept goes a long way towards making lots of things work that currently aren't working.

First let me describe what a combo family is and how it functions. Three to eight adults, of any mutually agreeable age and gender mix, form a marriage-type partnership. Possibly they incorporate or form a family trust, since there is no legal means of marriage for more than two people in the United States. They live with their co-parented children in one large or several adjacent houses or flats. They share domestic and economic responsibilities, just as an old-fashioned family does, but there are more hands to join in the workand the fun! Impossible? Too complicated? Unworkable? No more so than our current arrangements! Of course, we could simply reduce the average work week to 20 hours per week so that two parents could work half-time (for full-time pay) and parent full-time, but that would be even more difficult to bring about! And the combo family has the potential of utilizing a group synergy not found in single-parent or two-parent families. Even more significantly, it transforms humanity's polygamous nature from a liability to an asset. Combo families may seem like a big leap on the evolutionary path, but consider the advantages for children.

First, with three to eight adults per household, one or two would very likely be willing and able to stay home and care for the family. This might be a younger person not yet decided on a career path, or an older person ready for a timeout. Or an earth mother/father type who prefers full-time homemaking. Alternatively, each adult could take one or two days a week or a few hours a day of "mother duty." Furthermore, as any parent can tell you, raising children is one of the toughest jobs around. You're on call three hundred and sixty-five days a year, twenty-four hours a day, with no vacation and no sick leave. Sharing the load of rearing children with several people means less stress and less burn out without losing any of the rewards. It also means more loving, hugging and lap sitting, and higher quality parenting for the kids.

A combo family could also provide siblings for those who would otherwise be the only child of a couple. And it would provide a safe and inexpensive alternative for infertile couples. Combo families would make it easier for women to give birth to children during their prime childbearing years without totally sacrificing education or career, and without depriving the child the value of more mature parents. Multiple parents could also reduce the incidence of abortion by helping more women to have children without taking on impossible financial burdens or sole responsibility for their offspring. Combo families would benefit children financially. With both, multiple wage earners and full time parents, a combo family could earn more and spend less, resulting in a higher standard of living for the entire group. Many consumer items could be shared and others purchased at quantity discounts. Group bank accounts would command better terms for borrowing as well as saving. If one parent died or became unemployed or disabled, other members of the combo family would still be able to provide for the children.

Communal living is also ecological, so more people could live better while using fewer resources, preserving the planet for future generations. Living intimately with a group would give children (and adults) the best hands-on education in cooperation, tolerance and sharing. Additionally, the combo family might make it possible for families to once again settle permanently in a community and put down roots. Multiple wage earners would allow combo family members to refuse employer-generated relocation. Individuals who choose to temporarily relocate for career opportunities could leave without disrupting everyone else and still return to a home base.

Children could be much better educated in combo families as well. With a larger number of adults pooling their resources and their expertise, children would have direct access to a diverse group of tutors as well as educational software, videos and databases. The greater resources of the combo would make home schooling or private schooling a viable option, as well as making adequate funds for college more available. Emotional development would also be enhanced as children gained more exposure to a variety of personalities and coping styles. Multiple parents and siblings could defuse the often unhealthy intensity of the one-on-one parent-child bond, reducing the incidence of symbiosis, child abuse and adolescent rebellion.

So far, we've been focusing on the benefits of combo families for children, but this kind of family has many attractions for adults as well. We've already mentioned a higher standard of living at lower cost, the support of several parents, and more role flexibility. What about the sexual arrangements?

The combo family offers an opportunity to create a better family design for maximizing the beneficial aspects of adult sexual love as well as for raising children. Currently, monogamy is the only lovestyle style considered legitimate by our culture, even though the evidence clearly indicates that humans are not monogamous by nature. The reality is that the majority of husbands and wives have extramarital affairs and often get divorced as a result. In fact, one form of polygamy, often called serial monogamy, is now the most common form of relationship found in our culture. But divorce and remarriage are extremely stressful for children as well as their parents. Might there not be a better way?

Monogamy has not always been the only sanctioned form of marriage. Group marriage was favored in the ancient goddess cultures. In biblical times, polygamous arrangements were permitted for highly placed males; while faithful 19th century Mormons were encouraged to take as many wives as they could support. This practice was also common in China and Southeast Asia until fairly recently and con-tinues in the Moslem world today. In Tibet, women can have multiple husbands, but polygyny has been far more frequent than polyandry in cultures where male dominance is the rule. Infidelity destroys relationships by lies and deceit, while polygamy for men only discriminates against women. What if we make available relationship designs which offer both men and women a good measure of security and freedom, of choice and commitment, of stability and excitement, of depth and diversity? What if we combine sexual honesty with equal opportunity?

One such design is called polyfidelity. In this relationship form, a small group of emotionally mature adults agrees to limit sexual expression to their group of primary partners. There are no special subgroups, such as a couple, within the group. New partners can be added only with everyone's consent. A polyfidelitous design conserves and multiplies the powerful sexual energies of the group. This abundant loving energy can then be used to nurture the family's children or directed toward service in the outside world. Abuse, particularly sexual abuse, of children would be unlikely in a polyfidelitous family.

Wouldn't sexual jealousy be a problem? My personal and professional experience suggest that jealousy is far less likely to cause trouble in polyfidelitous families than in would-be monogamous couples or in open relationships. Couple boundaries often give rise to conflict in communal living environments, and stop the flow of energy within the group. The "open relationship" design, where individuals are encouraged to form sexual liaisons outside the primary partnership, offers more freedom but often bleeds off energy from the group. Consequently, "open relationships" sometimes excite jealousy rather than creating synergy. In contrast, the polyfidelitous design provides a secure and supportive atmosphere in which to overcome any lingering fears about sharing lovers. Multiple committed partners make possible a rich variety of quality erotic experiences without the need for promiscuity. Particularly now, with the threat of AIDS, polyfidelitous combo families provide a safe and wholesome alternative to clandestine affairs and casual sex. This type of lovestyle style is ideal for bisexuals, but can be strictly heterosexual or homosexual as well. And it may turn out to be a better design than the nuclear family for the majority of men and women whose behavior indicates that they are polyamorous at heart.

Still unconvinced? Well, it's true that the only conclusive test of the combo family concept would be to integrate it into our culture on a large scale and observe the results over several decades. This glorious experiment has yet to get underway, but a handful of pioneers have begun to blaze the trail. We may welcome this evolution of the family or we may resist it, but we must begin consciously choosing sustainable family structures which support the welfare of our children, or we risk the very survival of humanity.


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© Deborah Taj Anapol


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