Sunday, June 5, 2011

What Surfing's Had Me Think About

Writing this blog for over a year has inspired me to know other mothers who have committed themselves to pursuing their own athletic dreams –  amateur or Olympian. Over the past few months, I’ve interviewed several such moms and started work on a book exploring the ways which such women have found to simultaneously pursue their passions and serve their families. But the more I've explored these women's experiences, the more convinced I’ve become that the very structure in which families exist is unstable,  unsustainable and just plain unfair.  

That structure, of course, being the nuclear family.

In my interviews, again and again, I’m reminded that family life, as it is lived by the vast majority of people in our country, seems to be a zero sum game - when one parent gains, another loses. If Dad plays golf, mom stays with the kids. If Mom surfs, Dad’s on house arrest. If a kid has an activity, one parent has to drive and then spend an hour or so sitting in a studio or on the bleachers.

The nuclear family – it’s clearly a game of winners and losers.

For women, the majority of whom are either inherently or culturally inclined to care for others, the thought that our pleasures come at the expense of the people we love can seem unbearable. In my case, it causes me to cut short my runs and my surf sessions. In other cases, a woman may not do anything she loves to begin with. Or when she does, she may do so overcome with a sense of doubt and guilt that diminishes what would otherwise be a purely joyful experience.

On the one hand, at times I imagine this is a small problem to have. So what if the average mainstream American middle class mom has no time to have fun? 

On the other hand, I believe that the more time a person spends in flow, experiencing authentic joy, the more he or she can give to the world at large. Conversely, the diminishment of joy leads to a diminishment of inner resources and to an experience of scarcity that is at the root of so much addiction, despair and general dysfunction. And let me just say it - so much divorce.

Over the years, we've heard much about the collapse of the nuclear family - as if  that's a bad thing - as if the shattered nuclear family is responsible for so much that is wrong with our otherwise healthy and wholesome country. But what if this model was not effective to begin with?

If the nuclear family was a product created by a manufacturer, it would have been discontinued a long time ago, recalled due to the many hazards it presents  the consumer – among them isolation,  stress, divorce, infidelity, child abuse and depression.

This week I’m reading an incredible book: "Half the Sky", by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It is reminding me that there is so much work to be done all over the world and that it is a crime that so many American families should be so drained by just getting by that they, that we,  are too overwhelmed and stressed to effectively help those who are so less fortunate than we are.

But if the nuclear family is not the way for us to live, then what is?

1 comment:

  1. I think part of what causes this issue is that the nuclear family concept--since the pioneer days perhaps but definitely since the suburban 50s--means that we can move away from extended family and assume we will have no long-term repercussions. It's tough, but creating an extended family whether through communal living or even just through networking with people with whom you become close (which of course takes time) seems absolutely necessary for long-term family health.