Re-evaluating Family Matters
I found myself reading a science news article on the BBC about dementia risks amongst people who spend their middle-aged years living alone, which, it seems, might be higher than if people spend those years living with a partner. In the bizarre way that things connect in my head, it took me over to something that a friend wrote on their blog ages ago about life for those neither alone nor in families.
Its not uncommon for people to wonder why I live in a shared house now that I’m not a student anymore. In some peoples’ minds, shared houses are for students, and then you can go and live alone. The idea of setting up group mortgages or housing coops is totally alien to them, house ownership so necessary as a token of successful existence, and the “wife, 2.4 kids, 3 bed semi, car, holiday in the sun” model is so entrenched in our minds. Somehow my situation as a house-sharer is one to pity.
Then there’s the importance of my housemates. Currently I only have one, but we were previously sharing with 2 others. In a sense, we were family. When bad things happened, we were as much there for each other as in any family. We shared out innermost thoughts and feelings, and often our fears. When one of us was ill, the others did what they could to look after the one.
I’m sure plenty of people, especially from conservative churches, would want to point out that, as I’m sharing with a female (and was sharing with 3 females) there must be something hugely dodgy going on. Apparently its impossible to live in the same house as someone of the opposite sex and not be inside their pants! I guess this just shows how little some people see the opposite sex as real people, and not just objects for making babies with (since that view tends to come from the completely immature and clueless conservatives).
Anyhow, bitchiness aside, I agree with Lois on her point that the government needs to straighten out the arbitrariness of a system that puts blood relations over emotional relations. That isn’t to say that my actual parents and my actual sister aren’t very important to me, but right now, I feel more responsibility towards my housemate, who’s parents live 250 miles way than to my parents who live 1 mile away. If Dad is ill, Mum looks after him, and I provide support to both of them. My housemate gets ill, and its me on the front line. A past housemate commented that myself and current housemate alternated parenting roles, which I find to be true, and only odd because everyone insists this is not how things should be.
I’ll let you in on a secret which I’m half proud of and half embarrassed by. I once called in sick claiming an upset stomach because my housemate had a migraine and an exam and had to go to campus to get a sick note from the health centre before they could return to bed. Given a lack of sight and potential for them to get dysthesic and start talking utter nonsense, there was no way I could justify letting them walk to campus on their own, or indeed take a taxi on their own.
I think perhaps people have this feeling that they have to act like this towards their family, so they grin and bare it, but thankfully there’s no one else they have to support like that. In my experience, this leads to a society where some people are worn down by their role as a carer, others are sick and fed up of having to rely on others, and lots of people stand by and watch.
If we all supported each other, regardless of whether we’re friends, parents, offspring or siblings, the world might be a better place. And if the government gave more support to those that find themselves in that situation, it might help. After all, we’re all broken and we’re all failures in our own way. Our only chance of being whole in this life is to cover for each others weaknesses and failings.
One could put the blame at the feet of capitalism. I know some people seem to think its a good thing that capitalism is destroying tribal living in parts of the world, enabling people to be free agents who can go and exploit others. But actually, the tribal system, for all its failings, has its merits in providing a wider network of people to rely on. I kind of like the idea of creating “walking distance communities”, people who all live on the same street, rather than sharing a house, particularly when there are families involved in building wider families.
I certainly think there should be a society wide battle against people living on their own. It does more harm than good, not just for the individuals, but for society as a whole. A functioning household can be built from scratch, after all, look at the experience of adoption. It could be a way of tackling other issues, like the housing crises and yes, its more energy efficient, especially if you also cook together.
In a world where Geography often moves us apart from our natural families and where many are finding themselves living alone, a society in which depression is on the rise and in which people are becoming more and more socially isolated, its definitely important to get this whole issue sorted out, especially as we run out of space for new homes for single people.