Tuesday 12 December 2017

The notion of a family comprising of a mammy, daddy and 2.4 children is a tiny moment in the history of time

Stella O'Malley.
Stella O'Malley.

'They f*** you up, your mum and dad, They may not mean to, but they do'.

Philip Larkin's bleak words may have become an accepted truth among people of my generation but perhaps we should back up there a little bit?

Perhaps we should get the siblings, the extended family, the community and our friends into the firing line too?

And perhaps the main reason why arguments about same-sex marriages are raising such heated arguments today is that, in the last 50 years or so, we have placed too much emphasis on the parents?

We have come to view each family as a self-contained family unit, an independent republic that is governed solely by the parents. But this is an idiotic position to take as there are many other factors influencing our children - indeed some experts argue that kids can be shaped as much by their siblings, their birth order, their friends and their schooling as by their parents.

Although the conventional, nuclear family unit may have reigned supreme in Ireland since the 1960s, nevertheless, today approximately 35pc of Irish children are born outside the typical, nuclear family.

POLL: The family

So the notion of a family consisting of mammy, daddy and 2.4 children is simply a tiny moment in the history of time; ­sociologists believe that if ­women continue to work longer hours outside the home, the two parent family with the male breadwinner and the female nurturer will be almost extinct by the next generation.

Indeed women today already have a very different concept of what makes an alpha-male and we tend to get more turned on by a great dad who does the chores than a charismatic Don Draper.

My book Cotton Wool Kids (What's Making Irish Parents Paranoid?) explores how the nuclear family is under pressure. The family as a sovereign nation hasn't worked and many parents now realise that they need to outsource help if they are to keep the show on the road.

For many households, parents need to work long hours to pay the exorbitant mortgage and so the childminder has become an integral part of the family. Other parents are increasingly reliant on the grandparents to mind the kids, while many parents have become dependent on the cool Panks and Punks (professional aunts or uncles, no kids) to take the children for fun day outs. But it is not so long ago when multigenerational households within the extended family were the rule, not the exception, and in days gone by, children were often sent out to live with their extended family.

Indeed, in view of the number of blended, multi-cultural, gay, lesbian and whatever you're ­having yourself families that already exist in Ireland today, it seems unfortunate that the ­English translators of the 1937 constitution weren't as open-minded as the Gaeilgeoirí; the Irish version of the consitution uses the word 'teaghlach' ­meaning ­everybody in the ­household instead of the word 'clann' suggesting only blood ­relations - but the English ­version uses the more conservative 'family' instead of 'household'.

The old proverb hits the nail on the head: "It takes a village to raise a child."

It is simply not fair to leave it all up to mum and dad - never, in all of history, has so much pressure been on the parents to raise their children well. In previous years, the grandparents, the uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours and the whole community all took on the collective responsibility for the younger members of the community.

Grandparents and other close relatives didn't silently fume about how their children were being reared - they got involved!

Yes, yes , I know that parents will take the head off you nowadays if you dare to intervene, but that's simply because, some years on from declaring themselves independent, parents have become bizarrely similar to Russia; they come across as arrogant, unlikeable and stroppy but, in their defence, they feel they have to put forward this façade as deep down they feel isolated, misjudged and paranoid.

Parents need some help, so please be gentle - don't brood about how their brattish children are misbehaving again - instead roll up your sleeves and help them out!

Stella O'Malley is a psychotherapist and author of Cotton Wool Kids, published by Mercier Press

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