Are families less close than they used to be?

It is often said that the relationships between family members is now not as close as it used to be.
What do you think are the causes of this? What solutions can you suggest?

Proclaimers of the demise of the family unit often cite their evidence from statistics such as divorce rates, average age of leaving home, and geographical distance between family members. Yet these are the symptoms rather than the disease, and so the underlying questions remain as to what is causing these societal shifts, do they reflect a general malaise, and how can they be fixed. My belief is that there are a few noticeable ideological changes occurring, although whether they need reversed is debatable.

Although it is impossible to exactly judge the degree to which family bonds have changed – birth and death bookend everyone’s first-hand experience – one modern trend is the teaching, rightly or wrongly, that independence and success are more meaningful in life than filial piety. The expectations and ambitions of the young are removed from those of the past and, thanks to advertising, often not grounded in reality. Essentially generations are growing up convinced there is more to life than being within a respectable nuclear family unit.

Tied with the rise of individualism has been a rise in single-person living, with the consequence of 20- and 30-somethings seeking out the life they desire (rather than the life they are given) being that days, weeks and even years can pass without the need to consider family. Living by one’s self has become a habit, with returning home seen as a social compromise or, worse, defeat. Indeed, some have suggested that ‘friends are the family of the 21st century’ because our choice of friendship greater reflects our autonomy, whereas bloodlines are an enforced inescapable noose. 

Solving such issues is not easy and, arguably, not even vital: after all, although some families are stretched, society itself is generally surviving. Furthermore, potential solutions such as those provided by technology are often used to justify remaining at arm’s length (‘we talk online all the time’), suggesting people are not in a hurry to reverse the trend. However, should a solution be sought I would recommend increasing the scope for family time: due to 5-day, 40-hour work weeks many people spend more time with colleagues than parents, children or spouses, which must strain relationships.

In conclusion, changes are underfoot in the family unit, although whether this is a weakening or an evolution is open to interpretation. Certainly it seems that individualism, independence and hedonism have a greater role in modern living than in the past, although that is merely a present day reading of a situation in which we are unwitting players. For those who do worry about family bonds a possible solution is to find more time to be together, albeit this may be easier said than done.