Fragile ideal

Fragile ideal

Young family with children © Frank Leonhardt

The family is seen as the epitome of safety, security and cohesion. But today this way of life is diverse – and often threatened by various adversities. Sometimes the family is the scene of conflicts and crises.

Divorce and separation rates are dramatically high, and the number of patchwork families and single-parent families is also on the rise. Nevertheless, for the majority of people, the family is still the place where they hope to find happiness.

Even among the majority of adolescents and young adults, it is highly popular. A look at the Shell Youth Study of 2015 shows that around two-thirds of young people believe that you need a family to live a truly happy life. Expectations of the family are high: it is supposed to offer security, cohesion, love, harmony and happiness.

For 64 percent of young people, children are part of family happiness. They want to start a family themselves and value their family of origin for the support and emotional support it offers them. "When you’re really miserable, the family is there, no matter what came before," said one 18-year-old. The family is perceived by young people as a safe home port.

But not everyone actually finds the happiness they long for in the family. For many, the family as a bulwark against excessive demands, prere to perform, loneliness and isolation, as a place of community and security does not meet the high expectations. It is not the longed-for place of refuge where we can stick together and brave the rigors of the world with confidence. All too often, the dreamed-of sanctuary turns out to be a battlefield in reality: Many people experience their family as a scene of competition, conflicts and crises, and in the worst cases as a place of violence, abuse and mistreatment.

The risk of a daily routine

In less dramatic cases, the dream of family happiness fizzles out in a closeness that is perceived as unbearable. Or it bursts silently between the daily grind and grueling disputes about everyday matters. What if the longed-for children or grandchildren do not materialize?? When the growing children are problem children who do not fulfill the expectations placed in them? What if the son-in-law or daughter-in-law "just doesn’t fit into our family"? What if it turns out that the ideas that everyone has brought with them from their family of origin are too different for happiness to last??

Unlike in times when the family and extended family were primarily a social and financial security system that women in particular could not live without, partners today no longer cling to a marriage and family that does not offer them the happiness they long for.

In the past decade alone, a good one million underage children were affected by the divorce of their parents and had to adapt to new constellations. Often the parent with whom the children live permanently binds himself again, half-siblings are born, or the step-parent in turn brings his own children. The manageable family system based on the pattern: father, mother, child becomes a complex tangle of relationships. Very often, family threads are cut altogether. Contact breaks off – the dream of family happiness is over.

Not everything was better in the past

But were people happier in their families in the past? On closer inspection, this view backwards proves to be a dead end.

Apart from a short period at the end of 19. The fictitious extended family simply lacked occupants because of high infant mortality and much lower life expectancy. The family was not the place to grow old safely. The members changed in rapid succession.

It was necessary to be flexible and adapt quickly and often to new roommates in the closest cohabitation. Having half or step siblings, stepmother or stepfather was the rule, not the exception. Death tore more families apart over almost a millennium and a half than all the divorces in the 20. Century. The willingness to compromise and enter into new relationships had to be much greater than it is today," says historian and sociologist Barbara Beuys.

Today, it is important to perceive the variety of new life forms that have formed as a result of divorce and remarriage or other living arrangements. It is clear that marriage and family, in the sense of married parents living together with children, are still the preferred life pattern of most people.

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