Are female mothers and male fathers really necessary to have a nuclear family? What is the impact of non-traditional family structures?
Find out as we discuss the nuclear family to discover its role, value, and impact on the proper upbringing and development of a child. As society drifts away from fundamental morals and values, approaches to parenting are also changing. We discuss why parenting based on essential principles is a standard requirement for identity formation in children, and why society as a whole needs to acknowledge and recognise the impact of neglectful parenting.
Listen to the full podcast episode by clicking below or read through the transcript.
Bushra: Welcome back to another episode of the Muslim Down Under podcast. This is the very first episode of our brand-new series where we hope to discuss various social constructs and challenge ideologies that lead to social injustices. Peace be upon you all!
I’m really looking forward to addressing some of these social issues in this series and to help me do this today I have with me the wonderful Fareeha. Fareeha is a student and she’s interested in both secular and religious knowledge, particularly related to science, and she also loves playing soccer. I felt that it was important to have today’s conversation with someone who has experience of today’s topic from both a positive side and also as a witness to the negative impact. I’m really looking forward to discussing the topic with her. Welcome to the podcast Fareeha, peace be upon you.
Fareeha: Peace be upon you as well and thank you for having me. I am really looking forward to the conversation that we will have today.
Bushra: So, today we’re going to be discussing what a nuclear or a traditional family is and why this is important to understand and when we kind of blur the lines between what is considered appropriate and inappropriate in a family structure, what kind of impact this has on society and individuals. So, for anyone that doesn’t know, nuclear families include a mother, a father, and children living in the same household. And it’s still what many consider a typical family arrangement and I think this is because this type of family structure, or this type of family model,
It’s a natural human institution. It’s the way things are meant to be. And this then enables healthy relationships, and they model those loving, caring, and supportive relationships for their children.
Not only between the children and parents but also between the mother and the father. And then also, of course, this has that broader impact on society as well, because when we have happy, healthy, and functioning families, the way society operates also is more peaceful and so when a mother and father work together, they support each other, they model a loving and caring relationship within that traditional family structure, the children experience so many aspects of growth.
Fareeha: Yes, definitely. You’re spot on with the importance of a nuclear family home actually. In terms of how a nuclear family home teaches children the importance of healthy relationships, it models for them how a loving, caring, and supportive relationship and household should look like and then this then transcends into future success for the children. When children learn how to seek positive relationships, build those relationships and interact well with others, for themselves in their future lives. And also, an important point is that when children see their parents from personal experience as well, when children see their parents working together to solve problems or delegate household responsibilities and support one another through ups and downs, that kind of builds a sense of strength, stability, and consistency in their characters. They learn those skills from their parents, being together and working. And I have also experienced this as well, so I’ve been brought up in a nuclear family home with my mum and dad, and I’ve noticed that both of them being together teaches me a lot. And I have even learned separate qualities from both of them.
This highlights the importance of having both of your parents there, because obviously it’s impossible for one person to have all the good qualities that you’re supposed to learn, and that will be helpful for you. So, having both parents together is really important.
For example, from my Mum, I’ve learned the importance of patience and the importance of hard work, and from my dad, I’ve learned the importance of resourcefulness and persistence, and so on, which have helped me thus far in my life. And I’m sure we’ll continue to do so as well. And not only that, this structure also really encourages positive growth in children. It leads to the development of attributes in children, like educational and financial stability and so on. And what I found really interesting when I was looking through researching for this topic I’m sure you’ll find really interesting as well, is that research actually supports the effectiveness of a nuclear family home. Research suggests that children who have been brought up in nuclear family homes with married and biological parents tend to have better social, emotional, and physical health than other children who have not been brought up in nuclear family homes.
Bushra: And for anyone that is interested, they can actually go back and listen to a full episode we actually did on parenting where we discussed some of the finer details regarding this topic, and we also discussed lots of strategies for effective parenting as well. But I think over the past few centuries, however, the traditional family model has changed. The nuclear family has been historically treated as kind of the basic unit of social organisation, but I think this has come into question over the past several decades.
As the structure of families has become more and more diverse and within this slow kind of degradation of traditional families, approaches to parenting are also changing. And this is taking place for a number of different reasons right from the impact of social media and the internet to changes in our ideas, our ideologies, and our perceptions of things like what makes us happy or what makes us successful in our careers, or what makes us actually progress in our lives as individuals and as families as well.
Fareeha: Yes, that’s absolutely true, isn’t it? And I have personally experienced this all around me in terms of society as well, that there is a steady decrease in the nuclear family structure over the past few decades, and that then leads to a rise in broken families. And there are a bunch of different factors that can contribute to this breakdown of the nuclear family, all the way from economic hardship, to rising divorce rates and single parenthood. For whatever reason it may be, what is most important to remember is – what does this rise in broken families lead to? And I cannot stress enough that I’ve seen all this around me, maybe my friends or just my peers in uni or school or just people in general that I talk to, is that broken families most often lead to instability. It may be financial instability, it might be emotional instability in terms of children not being able to find that support they need, in terms of their well-being because what that may result from one or more of your parents not being in the picture and you need that strong support of your parents as a child.
Personally, we can all relate to this. You need a strong background of your parents being there for you to have that sense of happiness and that sense of success, whatever it may be for you.
But when there is a rise in those broken families and you have, as I mentioned before, financial instability, emotional instability, and a whole bunch of these other things which then creates these problems for children in the future.
Bushra: Yeah, more and more, I think we’re seeing those non-traditional versions of families emerging, single-parent families as you mentioned, but also parents of the same gender. And I think these kinds of concepts, when they start emerging, we lose that nuclear family and this is creating a whole new aspect to the issues that society is now facing. And there’s so much research and evidence to support the impact this is having on society. For example, there is research to state that girls who grow up without a father will hit puberty at least a year earlier, creating a massive physiological impact on their bodies. And similarly, there’s also research and evidence to show that boys who grow up without a father develop genetic differences that lead to a lower lifespan, so it greatly impacts their health.
There’s so much emerging I think as society is progressing towards this pathway that supports the fact that creating families that are not built upon that traditional nuclear structure is not always going to be a good thing.
Fareeha: Yes, you’re absolutely right. And as well as that with what you’ve mentioned, there’s also research that shows that children who grew up in single-parent households outside of that nuclear family structure are more likely to experience things like poverty, crime, and drug abuse, amongst other social ills, and they also are more likely to drop out of school and have lower educational levels, which obviously then impacts their futures, right? It puts their futures and their future careers and everything in jeopardy. And then also, a more important thing with that is that the disintegration of the nuclear family has also led to a decline in social cohesion and a rise in societal problems. Now obviously, there’s the question of how does that work?
Because a household is the basic unit of society, right. And parents, I genuinely feel that, and from what I’ve also observed around me, often parents kind of underestimate the responsibility they have in terms of the upbringing of their children, because they often overlook the fact that the children that they have are going to grow up and become members of society.
You know, these are the children that are going to grow up to make society in the future. So, it is extremely important that parents invest their time now to teach them the correct habits to teach them the correct morals, and the rights and the wrongs so that when they grow up, they become responsible members of society and do not damage its social cohesion or its harmony or other individuals in society.
So, in that aspect, I think like it’s really, really important, I cannot stress enough, the responsibility that parents have towards their children in terms of their upbringing, or the benefit of the society as well. I also want to really add here, that I did an essay for my psychology unit in uni and the topic was how the environment of a child impacts their behaviour when they grow up. And paper after paper the research that I did was all about parents.
Parents are the most important factor in the environment of a child and from something as small as the eating habits, the unintentional eating habits of parents. Children pick that up and that’s how they construct their eating habits in the future.
So, that’s a small example. Other than that, there was also how parents interact with each other impacts children and the most important one I found was when more a parent is out of the picture the significant emotional impact of that, how that leads children to develop problems with interacting with others and communicating with others in their future. So, it is extremely important to this nuclear family structure because it creates a sort of environment for children that leads to their happy, fulfilling, and successful lives in the future and also moving on from that, there is also nowadays actually, the very prevalent issue of lazy parenting. And how does that arise? Because you would probably agree with me as well on this, that children are now being looked at as like work or burden.
Instead of learning to enjoy life side by side with their children, parents have started to kind of, you know, view them as a burden.
And what I mean by that is that, for example, you go out shopping and you have your child with you, and that child, for whatever reason, starts crying or whining in public. The parents immediately pull out a smartphone or a tablet and just hand it to them to calm them down. And that does work temporarily, but what are the implications of that tech over-use? Lazy parenting has led to tech overuse. But the interesting thing with that is that psychologists, teachers, and parents all notice the effects of overuse of this technology. That technology is significantly reducing their emotional intelligence. And, I’m sure we’ve seen plenty of examples. And I guess obviously that is the thing that, OK, parents are busy. They have their own lives, they have their own careers, their work, their studies, their own aspirations, and whatnot.
But, that’s where I think the importance of balance and priorities comes in. You know, if you are a parent who’s working. But you then also have children. You need to realise that your children are a priority. They need you.
So, you need to create that balance between your work and your children, which is significantly important, and that can be hard obviously, but it’s a learning experience, you know, and you cannot neglect children. You can obviously argue that ‘ohh, you know it temporarily calms down children.’ OK, I understand that I see that. But what that leads to is addiction. You know, I have experienced that within my home as well. For example, I have a brother and he used to be really into gaming and things like that, but we started to notice, me and my parents and me being the elder sibling, that every time he got out of his gaming or whatever, he started becoming really frustrated at everyone else. So, then we kind of really regulated and decreased his tech use, which led to him becoming more emotionally regulated and self-regulated. And so parents have to take that into account and have to regulate that. And I’m not saying that, oh, don’t give your children technology at all. I mean, there are days that you know you’re really tired or there are times where you’re really tired and that can be important, but you need to regulate that.
And another thing with that is that you cannot always be 100% sure of what your children are consuming online, it’s so easy for a child to get from one video to a completely different video that’s probably not appropriate for your child.
So, there’s that implication as well that your children could be consuming content that’s leading them to adopt bad morals or bad habits. And if you’re not there to kind of teach your children that this is not right, and this is not OK, if you’re not giving that time. If you’re being a lazy parent, then you’re kind of putting them in a bit of jeopardy there, aren’t you?
Bushra: Yeah, there are just so many examples of this, I think. And so much impact this has on children. It also decreases the ability of a child to learn how to self-regulate their emotions. For example, when a child plays video games or uses social media, the brain releases dopamine, which is connected to feelings of happiness or pleasure. And so, when a parent uses this mechanism, this technology, to help a child cope, those feelings of frustration or anger the child is going through when the parent hands them an iPad to distract them and to make them stop crying, they were never really, truly dealt with. You know, those emotions are just covered up with that distraction, which then ends up making them feel good about that. So, it creates these unhealthy patterns and behaviors in them.
And this overuse of technology in these moments of frustration, create patterns of behaviour that use technology as an escape from those uncomfortable feelings. And, I think most of the time, these kinds of situations arise because we’re giving focus on ourselves as an individual and not our family.
We don’t learn how to prioritise what matters most at that given point in time. And you know, we can take the example of a working mother when she’s at home. You know, she’s trying to focus on her career. Maybe she’s got some deadlines coming up, but she’s also trying to cook dinner and do some household chores, but also look after her kids at the same time. And, if a child is wanting her attention, he’s crying, sometimes when the mother is busy doing some other tasks. At that point of time, she hands the child a tablet or an iPad, just to quieten them down and they can calm down. But at this point in time, she doesn’t realise that her child needs her. In this situation, the child needs that opportunity to learn how to establish positive behaviours, and how to regulate.
And so, I think because we’re just so busy in our materialistic lives sometimes, we’re looking for those quick fixes, that instant gratification or solution to a situation that we’re experiencing. And because of this, there are just so many issues emerging within society, when we focus on individualism over family.
I think this also needs to be acknowledged as well because this kind of poor parenting leads to so many issues that are becoming more and more apparent within society. And at that point in time, you know, we might think that this is something very small. It’s something very unintentional and it’s not going to create an issue for the child, but when a child starts to lose these kinds of opportunities to learn values, to learn morals, that gives them their anchor for their identity as a result of this kind of parenting, society then eventually becomes very fluid. It becomes very volatile because we’ve got these children who haven’t learned to regulate their emotions, they haven’t learned how to look after themselves. And this then impacts their personality, it impacts the way their identity is formed over time as well.
Fareeha: No, you’re absolutely spot on. Nowadays we can see because of the significant influence of social media on our lives, we can definitely see that there are various ideologies these days in mainstream media and they’re becoming contagious because when parents are not giving their kids the time that they need to support, they need in terms of understanding their identity, where they belong, which are important concepts, especially in today’s society, when they’re not getting that love, that nurture that support from their family. What do they do? They turn towards social media, which is a heavy, heavy influence on kids already. These days and what happens is that kids without a proper understanding of their identity, kids that don’t know where they belong in society, don’t know what anchors them because they do not have that family life, that family support.
What happens is that they discover these groups of people on social media, on the Internet, who have certain extreme and radical ideologies that encourage them, and that call out to them to come towards these extreme ideas. Because they make them feel heard, they make them feel welcome. And suddenly these children who are not getting the proper attention, not getting the proper support from their families, start to feel like they fit in like they belong with these groups that have radical ideologies.
And that is a problem in itself. And I can totally relate to the sort of ideologies that are apparently harmless, that are going around. And I can only imagine the impact that these kinds of people and these kinds of ideologies can have on children who are not getting the proper support from their families and a bit of personal experience here as well. There are a lot of instances where I’ve read things in social media or seen things on social media, that if I had not been brought up in the way that I have, in terms of having that attention and that nurture from my family, having those discussions with my family, if I wasn’t brought up like that, I would for sure fall into these traps. And in these radical ideologies and in terms of that, I’m extremely thankful to my parents every day. But what is happening here is that these individuals, as I mentioned before, are making children who lack that support at home, make them feel welcome, make them feel, you know, heard. But they’re teaching these ideologies that are completely against our natural human way of life, which can be extremely damaging to your children, and the family as a whole. You know they’re individuals that your children are going to interact with and be around in their future lives as well.
Bushra: And these children that are being raised through social media and the Internet, they then don’t stand a chance! They end up experiencing such complex physical and mental health issues later on in life and they can’t think or judge clearly, and we see this happening more and more, as younger and younger children are becoming exposed to, and even encouraged towards these kinds of ideologies. You know, if you do some research, some basic reading, you’ll see that there are such powerful lobby groups in places like Hollywood, Disney, and even Amazon – algorithms are pushing a minority interest into a main political focal point of this generation.
Society is pushing the interests of these minority groups into mainstream media and then unfortunately onto a generation that is being raised by social media. So, what these children are exposed to is enormous amounts of overstimulated content that their brains are just not equipped to understand or comprehend.
Because children, they’re not passive viewers at any age the brain takes on new information. It takes on new experiences and continues to form ideas and build the character and personality of anyone. And we know scientifically that during the ages of zero to three, these are the most vulnerable ages for forming children’s brains. So, when children are being exposed to these kinds of ideologies through mainstream media during these ages, unfortunately, they’re being neglected and they’re being raised by the Internet and social media and so you can just imagine what is happening to these innocent children and what they’re being exposed to.
Fareeha: Yeah, definitely. And I’ve seen that around me as well, and I feel like one way that we can tackle this problem is to understand that we need to shift the parenting paradigm because we now know better. We understand that kids need more than just food, water, shelter, and basic education to thrive, and to feel happy, fulfilled, and satisfied emotionally and physically. And they need support. They need empathy, a safe haven. And co-regulation from their parents. And personally, for me, any time that I experience even a minor inconvenience in my life, whether it be with uni, or anything else that’s happening in my life, I rush to my parents. I go to them and I receive that guidance. I receive emotional support and regulation and after that, I feel so much better. I feel at peace and able to be motivated to tackle my problems.
And I feel like that is what parents need to realise is that they have this responsibility to provide their kids with this sort of nurture to ensure they are truly happy and anchored and fulfilled and at peace, and they’re able to live fulfilling lives.
As well as that me and my family, I like to do this thing where at least at any time that we can, we all get together, whether it be for dinner or it be for whether we’re watching a TV show, or a movie, and also sometimes without technology where we just sit together, have this quality time where we’re laughing, we’re cracking jokes and you won’t believe, it makes me feel so much happier. You know, there’d be days that I’m stressed with studies or whatever, and we have this family time where we’re laughing and cracking jokes. And I feel so much more, happier, so much more motivated and anchored after that, which I think is an experience that every child needs and that parents owe their children. And the sad thing is that when children don’t receive this basic nurturing from their parents or their families, they tend to seek this happiness elsewhere. And what is really interesting is that the basic understanding of what it means to be happy has shifted.
Bushra: Yeah, I think by now we realise the importance of the family unit, that both fathers and mothers have roles to play, that they both influence the child in so many different ways and they nurture their development and growth. For example, fathers are there as figures who need to show leadership. They need to support the family, they need to earn a living and be a protector and a provider for their families. While mothers are there to teach kids things like moral values, and responsibilities and sustain a nurturing environment through love, attention, and dedicated time for their children and support them in everything that they do.
This is not to say that either parent can’t do any of these things, I think both parents need to be present. They both need to promote a positive role model for their children. And there’s just endless research, endless evidence showing how when both these roles, both the mother and father, when they both work collectively and effectively, it nourishes the upbringing of a child.
And in terms of priorities, I think, fathers need to realise their responsibilities towards their families. And similarly, mothers also need to realise their responsibilities towards their families as well. Both of these individuals play different roles in that family structure and this needs to be recognised and acknowledged. And again, we’ve got a whole episode discussing this in our podcast series, so I do recommend that you go check that out as well to understand why mothers have specific roles and why fathers have specific roles, and why these responsibilities are unique to them as an individual and how they kind of need to recognise this and play their part.
Fareeha: Yeah, I agree 100%. Having a family unit and prioritising responsibility to family and kids is essential in terms of lazy parenting. I also had some suggestions that I wanted to share. The first one is ‘tech now talk later’, right. Even if you used a tech quick fix to avoid a disaster in your supermarket. If your child was having a tantrum or was upset make sure that you go home and you discuss it later with your child. Find out exactly why they were upset. Talk about ways they can handle their feelings and regulate their emotions, and how you can help them in the future. So, in the future, they can try and come up with alternate solutions to whatever problems they might be facing.
And it’s really important to understand here that open communication is key, just like with any other relationship, a relationship between parents and children also really requires communication.
And coming from a child’s point of view as well – I’m sure, you’d agree with this. I think it’s really, really important to not just dismiss negative behaviour or just punish them for it, but talk to them about it. And it’s that’s really, really important. I think I can’t stress the importance of communication enough. Another suggestion is to take breaks. Take free time with your family. Once again that’s relating to the heavy influence of social media and the importance of spending quality time together. These can be meal times, rides in the car, Sunday afternoons or whatever works best for your family. It’s not really important how you do it, but it’s really important that you have some sort of moments of face-to-face interaction, even though it might seem like a small thing. It’s a really important thing, I assure you that. Because it ensures the spending of quality time and removes any sort of barriers that you might have in your relationship with your children and vice versa. And I think spending quality time is a must because you need to get those moments where it’s just you and your children, without anything else, any technology or anyone else, and you get to really understand what’s going on in their lives. What’s going on in their minds and you can help them and guide them accordingly.
Another suggestion was self-check. Because we all know that children do what you do, not necessarily what you say. So, we need to set an example for our children and for that, we need to do regular self-checks on ourselves as well.
Are we missing out on any moments with our children? How are we acting in terms of technology? Are we always on technology and ignoring or avoiding our children? Because they will, I think, as I mentioned before, kind of really adopt your habits and go off what they see you doing. So, I think these few suggestions are really, really important. And obviously parenting, it’s a constant struggle. They need to try, kind of experiment and find out what works best for them and their children. But these were just a few suggestions that I’ve seen my parents implement and that I think, even from a children’s perspective, are really, really important.
Bushra: So, in terms of developing a healthy identity, I think this is probably the most important aspect of the growth and development of a child, developing a positive view of oneself is fundamental to every child’s ability to learn and to engage effectively with themselves but also the world around them. I think this is critical for developing their identities. Because, you know, they learn things like morals and values and how to live and function. As an individual, but also within society as well.
Parents need to teach good moral values to form that ideal identity and instill in their children the knowledge to determine right from wrong and explain why certain prevailing ideologies may be incorrect. Parents also need to value the thoughts, emotions, and feelings of children, and I think they need to help them navigate the ups and downs of growing up.
They need to listen to their children. I think when children experience this kind of attention and focused love from their parents, they won’t end up turning to anything outside of their family homes. External forms of appraisal or appreciation, which I feel like often the hook that is used by these kinds of negative ideologies that persist in society today.
And so I think, children also need to be informed and educated about the immoralities that exist within society. In schools, children learn so much these days in the name of freedom of education. However, as parents, we need to ensure that we are teaching children what is right and what is wrong, what is immoral. We need to be able to take them in confidence and show them our own good role models and save them from any negative effects that exist within society.
Fareeha: Exactly. Having a sense of identity can make a huge difference in a child’s life, as you said, whether it be in terms of their growth or development, in terms of how they function in society and their lives, just in general. When you have a strong sense of identity, it really enables you to make better choices in life. It gives you the freedom to choose and make the correct choices and it allows people to live authentically because their choices come from their own personal set of values and are not influenced by any outside forces.
Bushra: And, I do understand, this is probably something that is easier said than done. As a parent myself with children in school, I do recognise how hard sometimes it can become to discuss these kinds of things with your child. But at the same time, I believe that we do have all of the resources, all of the education, and information we need at our fingertips for us to learn ourselves first and then learn how to teach our children to determine what is right and what is wrong and how to kind of not be impacted with any negative ideologies or the negative effects of social media that we see emerging in society today.
So, I think it is important to realise the role, the function and the value of that traditional family and how healthy parenting can nurture a child’s growth and then how it impacts society overall long term, but also recognise that as individuals you know as parents we do have a role to play and that we can do so much if we recognise this role and give it the importance and the time it deserves.