Re-evaluating Family Matters

Friday, 10th July 2009 at 8:00 UTC 9 comments

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.


Entry filed under: Community, Economics, Health, News, Politics, Sustainability.

Dan: It’ll look good on my C.V. Getting men on board

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lois  |  Friday, 10th July 2009 at 12:30 UTC

    Thanks for quoting me, and I really like this post. Although I wouldn’t necessarily want to condemn all people who live on their own, (some may just not be able to cope with living with others) I do think sharing has many advantages and that people should recognise it as a valid option, not as something either immature or dodgy. I think that has a lot to do with age and generational differences too- for older people house sharing is something outside their experience, especially when they moved straight from parents’ home to newly-weds home.

    And people need to recognise the ties between housemates, and the help they can give each other, as you describe- help that they otherwise wouldn’t get. In a society where independence is promoted, we can sometimes ignore the fact that sometimes we all need someone else.

    • 2. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 10th July 2009 at 19:29 UTC

      I think part of the problem is that many people (and here the generational thing comes into play) only understand one kind of relationship between house-sharers that isn’t a blood relationship, and that’s a romantic one: “normally” people only share with their relatives and their spouse (or relatives’ spouse). This seems to be the hardest thing for the council to understand with my current situation (sharing a 2 bed house with a member of the opposite sex). In a sense, its because society teaches the importance of being independent (which isn’t biblical, by the way).

  • 3. Greg  |  Friday, 10th July 2009 at 13:18 UTC

    Lois, stop it, your last sentence is making me think of the Blues Brothers. While I wouldn’t go with the anti-capitalist rants as much as Graham, I think we’ve found something we all agree on, which is a nice change.

    Since Graham commented about older people (or at least a large subset of them) moving straight from a parental to a marital home (Lois, is this accurate?), I must admit I’ve been getting annoyed all this year about people being unable to understand that where I live is my home. I may not have a wife and kids, but I’m an adult and not a child on an extended leash, so Sheffield is not my home anymore.

    • 4. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 10th July 2009 at 20:11 UTC

      This is certainly quite a common complaint amongst young people these days. I think some people feel cheated when they see others without the kind of attachments that keep them busy. I suppose they probably don’t want to get rid of those attachments and don’t want to be seen to resent them, so the easy way out is to resent those without them.
      I know in Sweden they had to establish an entire new political movement in order to prevent people from feeling crap for not having kids, which I must say I rather like the idea of: the child-free movement, seeing as childless is such a needlessly stigmatising word.

  • 5. Lois  |  Friday, 10th July 2009 at 13:44 UTC

    I did try not to directly quote that, Greg 🙂

    And yes, I’d say that historically it was pretty accurate that people moved straight from a parental to a marital home, certainly for women. Men had a bit more freedom (they didn’t have to have their ‘virtue’ protected by their family in the same way) but again they weren’t seen to have fully reached adulthood until they had set up their own household.

    Wow, something we all 3 agree on? How rare.

  • 6. Alanna Hartzok  |  Saturday, 11th July 2009 at 1:15 UTC

    Just read yours on Biblical Jubilee from my google alert on land rights. in Ownership, Earthly Christian Teachings the author Charles Avila says the 19th century political economist Henry George comes closest to this perspective. I agree. You would find the land value tax policy to be a jubilee justice key. Please check out my Earth Rights Institute online course on Land Rights. Also my book The Earth Belongs to Everyone.
    Are you in York, PA or UK? I am in south central PA.
    all the best,

    • 7. Graham Martin  |  Sunday, 12th July 2009 at 17:45 UTC

      Nope, York, UK! The original! I really must check out a few of those texts, so thanks for mentioning them. Can’t say I have much to offer back just at the moment.

  • 8. “Re-evaluating Family Matters” «  |  Thursday, 7th January 2010 at 18:24 UTC

    […] – Graham Martin, Graham’s Grumbles […]

  • 9. Christianity and Socialism « Unna's Blog of Total Randomness  |  Wednesday, 24th February 2010 at 22:03 UTC

    […] back behind the keyboard of my computer, quickly entering my dashboard, and adding a new post) with an entry on family matters. Yes, I have been inspired to write a blog entry by one of his earlier entries, but reading another […]


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