Beyond Nuclear Families

The nuclear family is often considered central to the American dream and to American values. Nuclear-style family values have been the rallying cry for countless movements and the whole concept has become so central to the culture that sometimes it’s hard to even imagine the alternative. 

Non-Nuclear Family

Technically, any family that isn’t one breadwinner, one homemaker and their biological children is non-nuclear. Does your grandparent live with you? Did you build your family with the help of an adoption facilitator? Are you part of a blended family? Do both parents in your household work? If you answered yes to any of these questions as well as countless others, then congratulations, you live in a non-traditional family. 

The History of Family

Throughout history it was far more common to live with extended blood family and even non-related household members like staff, other families from the same area and close friends who needed somewhere to stay. The sharing of resources, incomes and household tasks was common. The abundance of dual-earner households demonstrates the necessity, in today’s economy, of dividing the responsibilities of the breadwinner. So why was the nuclear family so popular for so long? There’s a simple answer. If you live in one house, your grandparents live in another house, and your closest friends live in a third house, then each nuclear family also needs its own hammer, its own car, its own grocery list. American values are not built on the nuclear family but American capitalism is, and as a result, many of the structures of the American government are designed to encourage the nuclear family. 


The support systems that exist to help nuclear families in the forms of tax breaks, loans and counseling benefits are often unavailable to non-nuclear families. Think of the same-sex couple trying to start a family and finding that adoption agencies turn them away or move them to the bottom of the list. Think of the single parent living with their parents to help make ends meet. Who gets to claim whom as a dependent? Despite these essentially discriminatory practices, the majority of American families now live in non-traditional households. Diversity is now the norm, and that is a much more truly American value. 

The world is full of many different kinds of families. Family comes in all shapes and sizes, and can take any number of different forms. Being more accepting of so-called non-traditional family structures can only make the world more varied and strengthen the ties within our communities. 

This entry was posted in Family.