An insightful and touching excerpt from the book Natural Health, Natural Medicine (448 pages, 2004) by Andrew Weil:
An anthropologist friend of mine was once teaching a section of a course on Native American society at Harvard. In the class was a Native American, a young man. In talking about social organization, my friend kept referring to the "extended families" of Indians. Finally the Indian in the class interrupted him, saying, "Excuse me, but we don't have extended families. We have families. You have contracted families."
The nuclear family of our modern society is, indeed, contracted. Human beings want and need the intimate support of a real family. It is hard not to look at the "extended families" of other cultures with wistful longing, if not outright envy. Where I live in southern Arizona, the Hispanic population seems way ahead of the rest of us in providing for this need. For example, there are no Hispanics in the nursing homes here. Nursing homes are where we put our old relatives when we no longer want to care for them. In Hispanic families the old people, even when infirm, continue to be valued members and live at home.
A nurse at the University of Arizona medical center who attended one of my courses told me that she worked for a number of years in one of my courses told me that she worked for a number of years in twelve children recover miraculously from apparently fatal head njuries. They had been in bicycle or motorbike accidents, were in deepest coma, had flat EEGs (brain-wave patterns), and were given up for dead by the attending physicians. The organ transplant teams hovered around, waiting to take kidneys and hearts. She saw twelve children in that extreme state come back to fun consciousness and life, to the amazement of their doctors and the annoyance of the organ transplanters. What caught her attention most was that all of them were Hispnnic. In her words, "I've never seen an Anglo kid recover from such an injury. And do you know what the difference is? When a Hispanic kid is in coma like that, the whole family is around the bed day and night, talking to him, praying for him, loving him. The Anglo kids are there all by themselves, unconscious children in beds in intensive care, all alone.
We are not meant to be all alone. We are meant to be parts of bigger families, bands, tribes. Don't settle for nuclear family contraction. Extend!