Saturday, February 13, 2021

54. Parentification in the Post-Nuclear Family — Demographic Doom Podcast Script

This is the script for my Demographic Doom Podcast episode #54, recorded and released on 13 February 2021. The definitive version of this episode, with annotations, is housed on YouTube, with the audio-only version at Podbean. Available on most major podcast platforms, including iTunes and Google Podcasts. See the description on the YouTube version for extensive annotations, links and corrections. You can also comment on this episode there. The main website for this project is

This is the original script, written before recording, corrected after the recording to reflect what was actually said. There may be minor discrepancies between the script and the actual broadcast.

I'm Glenn Campbell. I call myself a demographic philosopher. I'm looking at life and trying to predict the future through the lens of demography, or the study of human populations. I'm trying to view humanity from a distance, like aliens would see us from space.

In this episode, I'm continuing my discussion of my proposed post-nuclear family, where a large number of children are raised in a single household. It is kind of like a village church, where a number of adults contribute to the upkeep of the church but none of them actually live there. The idea is to reduce the costs and risks to individual parents while raising better children overall.

Today, I'd like to address the issue of “parentification” of the children, which I acknowledge is a critical part of my system. We have older children caring for and essentially raising younger ones, while simultaneously helping to care for their elderly relatives.

If you have any experience in child welfare, “parentification” is a bad word. The typical situation is that Child Protective Services comes into the home and finds a 13-year-old in charge. They are serving as the parent to their parent, because their parent is strung out on drugs or alcohol. They may also be serving as the parent to their younger siblings, getting them dressed and fed and off to school because the real parent is somehow absent or disabled. This is usually considered child abuse, and the children may be taken from the home.

My plan sounds similar, at least on the surface. I am explicitly saying that older children should care for younger ones. I'm not proposing that they care for their own parents, but I do think it appropriate for them to help care for their elderly relatives. Their "job" as children is caring for others in their family, in whatever capacity they are capable of at their age. I see this not just as a labor-saving device but as an important part of their socialization, instilling in them a culture of service. Childhood shouldn't just be entertainment and formal schooling. Every kid should have important real-world responsibilities, and there's no more natural responsibility than caring for other family members.

In my system, adults do not prepare meals. Kid's do. Adults provide the kitchen. They provide the raw ingredients, but kids put it all together and make it happen. Adults may "help" with dinner, just like a kid would, but they don't plan it or manage it. There's a teenager who's responsible for dinner, and the adults are expected to follow their instructions.

In my view, nearly all repetitive, time-consuming household tasks should be performed by children, not adults. This includes the changing of diapers and other routine care of infants. When it comes to the laborious task of teaching a child language, older children can do the job just as well as any adult with a PhD, so let's put this labor force to work. The older children gain skills almost as much as the young children do, and the adult with a PhD can use their own skills for something more valuable.

The difference between this and what CPS sees is that in my system there's usually a responsible adult present and actively monitoring the family. Adults are the high-level managers assuring that everything gets done and that the system runs smoothly and that things don't go off the rails, but they tend to delegate authority rather than doing things themselves. If everything is running smoothly, they can back off and let the kids handle things.

Wherever possible, adults don't tell kids what to do. They "partner" with the kids to get things done. If this is Laundry Day, the adult may be participate in the sorting and folding of clothes, but they aren't directing the operation. Laundry Day has been going on since the beginning of time, so the kids ought know what to do. Sometimes, they even tell the adult what to do. If everything is running fine, the adult is just one of the kids, but if a complex issues arises, the adult can step up and take responsibility. Maybe the washing machine breaks down. This is something the teens probably can't handle on their own, so an adult has to take over.

Parentification aside, a family does need adults. It needs adults because if children are left to their own devices they're going to eat pizza every night. You need adults to guide the operation and to veto any lamebrain schemes, but the general goal is instill in kids the ability to make sound judgments on their own, and they need to be given the space to practice that.

The on-duty adult has the power to order kids to do things, but ideally they rarely need to use it. If there's a real crisis, like a fire, the adult snaps into management mode and issues orders; otherwise negotiation is the preferred way get things done.

So, yes, I'm turning children into parents. I see this as healthy for all the parties involved. The younger children have daily access to their parental figures, just like kids today, but their perceived parent might be a teenager. This teaches the teenagers responsibility while freeing up the adults for more high-value tasks, like protecting the whole household.

Now, the mother of the child is a special case. As I discussed in Episode 50, I think the most efficient source of babies would be the family's own daughters who give birth in the late teens and early 20s. In that case, your mother is still your mother for life, as it has always been. As a matter of ethics, I think child and birth mother should never be forcefully separated. At the same time, I want to shift the parental bond to the siblings whenever possible. A new mother can mother can cuddle and talk to her infant all she wants, but she doesn't have to change diapers and might even be discouraged from doing so. Any of the tedious tasks of parenting can be handed off to someone else. 

This seems to me like the best of all possible worlds for the mother: They get all the joys of parenthood and few of the responsibilities. Most of the diaper changing, the story reading, the feeding, the running of baths and the putting to bed can all be handled by the mother's trusted younger siblings, who she herself helped raise. After her childbearing duties end—say, around age 22—she has her whole adult life ahead of her with few responsibilities. She has a lot of exciting things to do, and the family won't hold her back, because she has done her duty, and her babies are in good hands.

The post-nuclear family is designed to foster strong bonds among the siblings, especially those who spend their formative years in the same household. These are the people, in adulthood, who you turn to for advice, or for help in times of trouble. The bonds with ones siblings are going to wax and wane in adulthood, but you're probably always going to be drawn back to your brothers and sisters. You'll go off into the outside world and do things, but when you eventually become old and weak, you'll probably want to come back to the household of your youth and reconnect with the siblings who are still part of your nervous system. Even today, a lot of elderly adults are like that. They want to return to their roots, and the post-nuclear family gives them that option.

The family—and any good family—isn't just a childrearing unit. It's a lifelong support system and eventually an old age home. Elderly people can be a great resource for the family. They've got plenty of time and, theoretically, they've got a lot of hard-won wisdom to share. I think they would make great on-duty parents, while young and middle-aged adults can be focused more on their careers. They can go off and travel the world—pretty much without restriction so long as they pay their family taxes.

The point here is that parentification isn't just a cost-saving device. It's an essential training mechanism for the healthy socialization of children. In the society that I'm in right now, the pendulum has swung far too much in the direction of individuality. In today's society, every child is expected to be a rock star, and they're crushed when it turns out they can't be. Loyalty to their family and contributing to the family's future are very low on their current priority list. It's quite normal for today's young adults to head out into the world and see their parents only once a year. Their families are dissolved once they leave the nest, and this makes for a lot of very unhappy and rootless people.

In my system, I want to bring the focus back to the family. Now, I'm no traditionalist. I'm no Christian, but I think there's merit in the position that society has lost its family anchor and needs to get back to it. This could be especially important as society disintegrates, as I see it doing in the coming years. That's an issue I talk about in other podcasts: Monetary systems are destined to collapse, and perhaps governments with them. They future, as I see it, will be more locally centered, and people may need to draw together into a family tribe just to survive.

The pandemic has given us a taste of this, where people can't travel internationally. Maybe in future disasters, it will be hard to get out of your home region. I take the whole Fall of Rome analogy quite seriously. What happens if the US government can't function anymore? Well, then local fiefdoms may take over, and the most basic fiefdom of all is the family. It has to be a strong one and a large one if you hope to survive.

The post-nuclear family is designed to build the bonds of family loyalty from an early age, perhaps even more so than families of the past. If children spend 18 years not just in close proximity with their siblings but actively caring for them, you're going to have some powerful lifelong bonds. Sure, in adulthood, you're free to go anywhere and do anything, but most people in a well-bonded family are probably going to stay pretty close to home. They may travel, and you want them to, but there may be more of a sense of "What can I find out there that I can bring back to my family?"

While ever individual can have goals and dreams and need their own property and identity, the family should probably still be the core of their existence. No one can truly go it alone. You have to have this core source of strength and structure that the family provides. Maybe you go off and become a rock star, but it's not for your own glory. If the prizes you win are to mean anything, you have to bring them home to your family.


Written, recorded and edited by Glenn Campbell. For annotations, links and corrections, see the description on the video version of this podcast. You can also leave comments there. See here for all my podcast scripts on this blog.

{Above reconciled with actual: 2/14/21}
{This script backed up to Email on: 2/14/21}
{Visual version of this script backed up to Twitter on: 2/14/21}