In re-examining some of the statements I have made in the past, I’m wondering if the nanny state is as much responsible for the loss of the extended family as a drop in the birth rate. Let me go back in history. In 1931 my whole family fell apart. There was only unemployment benefit, and as my mother had not been employed she did not qualify. With the result our family was totally split up among the members of our extended family. My brother was taken in by an uncle and aunt in a lovely home in the country, and I didn’t see him again as part of the family until the uncle died. I was taken in by a grandmother and an aunt who lived with her. My mother was employed as a housekeeper to her sister who had a flourishing business and needed one.. The only time I ever saw my mother was at weekends when the aunt in our house walked me about 3 miles on Friday nights, and back again on Sundays, and I spent a weekend with her.
In 1944 I married into a large extended family. At the time it meant nothing to me, other than a lot of faces at the wedding, Early in ’46 I received a elegram saying that my new daughter was seriously ill and I must return home. It turned out that she had developed a skin condition for which there was apparently no known cure. As the war was practically over, I was given unlimited compassionate leave. It was then that I discovered the value of the extended family. .People who had this condition died through pneumonia as the skin no longer protected the body from heat change, and the only solution was to treat the skin in a heat stable environment and hope for the best. At that time there was coal rationing and I went round our relatives and friends collecting coal to keep our daughter warm until she should survive, which thankfully she did. But this extended family functioned all the time, as I discovered once I was demobilised. For a start as the
housing conditions were non-existent, Sophie and I were taken in to the family home, where there was an invalid uncle, later an invalid grandfather as well, then an invalid aunt, and finally my own mother who was severely ill prior to her entry into a nursing home.
Today the health service, the social services and some charity organisations bear the brunt of what the average citizen had to bear in the past. What was obvious then was that the family, and even close friends took it for granted that they would help, because then they could not bear to see those they loved in dire straits. I just wonder, if the reverse is now taken for granted, that if you are in serious need the government will take over. The problem with that system is that the government has no sentimentality, and those carrying out its wishes, caring and generous as they may be, have not the same time, nor the same incentive as those members of the family had in the past. How would a little boy of nine years old get to see his mother living 3 miles away, when there was no transport available? Even today he would have to be whipped away in a car, and then there is no assurance that the people for whom the mother was working would want a little boy at weekends. By applying this logic to all the conditions I have mentioned here, you will see how impersonal the situation is today, and how much we seem to be dependent on the social services. There is no shadow of doubt that now the family’ consists of 2.4 children on average, instead of six or seven, the diminution of the extended family was inevitable, but unfortunately the social services, no matter how hard they might wish to, don’t give that level of human contact the family does, nor anything like the same stimulation. When we are young, there is so much to do and so much going on that we don’t think of the future to any great extent, and then one day we discover that we are totally dependent either on the social services, or the remnants of our family, and often the latter is scattered to the four winds. I don’t think there is a solution for this, and the sad thing about it is that the single-parent families are growing and so the extended families will disappear totally, and the end result, unfortunately, is obvious.