Where have all the families gone?

Disintegration of the Multigenerational and Extended Family

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By: Dr. Noah H. Kersey Ph.D.

My profession allows me the opportunity to interview many individuals, couples and families in the span of a year and, for the past twenty-seven years I have been amazed by the number of people who do not live near their parents or siblings.

There are parents who have moved away from their adult children to take a new job.

There are also the kids who grow up to attend a university, hundreds, if not thousands of miles from home.

Many of these students when they graduate from college tend to go where the new job takes them, even if it means not being near their families or childhood friends.

They may meet and get married to someone who grew up in a completely different part of the country, or someone from another country altogether. They raise their kids in a new location far from their original families and, twenty years later, the cycle begins again.

What happened to the families who stayed together?

In 1919, Dwight D. Eisenhower, then a young Army Colonel, traveled from Washington, D.C. across country to San Francisco over dirt roads and across crumbling bridges in support of a national highway system. It took him two months to accomplish this journey.

Today, you can drive it in three to four days, depending on who is driving.

With the advent of modern commercial aviation, a traveler can board an aircraft and make that same trip in three to four hours depending on which direction the wind is blowing. A good tail-wind will certainly shorten the time to your destination.

We also have electronic mail, or email, to convey our thoughts and pictures of our kids to their grandparents and other family members. Even cell phones allow us to keep in touch from great distances.

We live in a different age and families now have the opportunity to spread around the country, if not the world, due to the advanced technology that we now possess.

But, it has distanced us from our families in geographical terms.

For some this may be a blessing. For the rest of us, it creates a sense of sadness and a feeling of alienation from those with whom we shared our lives.

I believe it is most unfortunate for aging parents.

Those parents who devoted twenty or more years to lovingly raising their progeny, only to lose them to vast distances can experience a lonely stage of life.

I recently met a couple in a small group at my church. The wife was lamenting, rightfully so, about her daughter moving to Florida after marrying a young man she had met at a conference in Virginia. Now, her grandkids were being partly raised by her son-in-laws' parents. This is very painful for her knowing that she will never have the opportunity to see her daughter or grandchildren as often as her son-in-laws' parents do.

I also had the opportunity to interview a couple who had four children. When the oldest two were nearing adulthood, the couple decided to move to Indiana from Ohio, taking the younger two and leaving the elder children behind to start their own families.

Now the two youngest of their children are settled into their lives and families in Indiana and this aging couple have two sets of grandkids, one in Ohio and one in Indiana.

Except in very rural areas there is the impression that most parents have great difficulty keeping the family nearby once the kids reach young adulthood. The very time in their lives they could most enjoy the friendship of their off-spring and the pleasures of helping with their grandkids are missing.

As a Christian and a social scientist, I am not sure if there is a remedy to this problem.

Certainly, inculcating the children with family values and the joys of being close to family might help. It could depend on the individual and how important it is to be near family as an intricate part of their social support network.

I believe that many churches are dedicated to the unification and cohesiveness of the family. Church leaders make a great effort to keep families together, thus the proverbial "family which prays together stays together".

Many churches strive to provide marriage enrichment seminars to ward off the ungodliness of divorce.

However, God also gave us the assignment to go out and multiply, to fill the earth with ourselves.

Today, young adults are very much into independence and this will always be a phenomena to be studied by theologians and sociologists.

For aging parents, it sometimes can be a source of sadness and loneliness.

Dr. Kersey has been providing mental health services since 1977 and provides services for individuals, couples, families as well as groups. He has a special interest in areas of co-dependent relationships, adoption issues, marital therapy, as well as stress of life issues. Dr. Kersey is a licensed psychologist and has been practicing in Indiana since 1987. You may contact him at his website: www.LifeCareCounselingServices.com

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