in: Family, People, Sunday Firesides

Sunday Firesides: In Praise of Little Platoons

Have you ever been in a hotel room with your spouse and kids, tucked away in this liminal space, enjoying the feeling that no one could find you (and kind of hoping that no one ever would), and thought to yourself: “This is all I need in the world”?

There has been some lament in recent decades over the dissolution of the extended family — the fact that most people no longer live in close proximity to grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. This is indeed a loss. Yet in making this lament, it’s possible to lose sight of just how brilliant the nuclear or atomic family really is. Indeed, it is in part because of its stand-alone luminescence that we have not fought harder to preserve a wider familial network. While the extended family adds to it, the atomic family is not itself impoverished. 

Pairs of parents + their children form the smallest intergenerational units of society. What Edmund Burke called “little platoons.”

And how very serviceable these tiny troops truly are.

Agile and mobile, when the sh*t hits the fan (like, say, during a pandemic), the atomic family can contract into a self-sustaining unit, prepared to navigate through.

Independent and idiosyncratic, when society’s ways seem stale, dumb, and wrong-headed, the atomic family can cultivate its own distinctive, us-against-the-world culture. 

Safe and protective, when life in the trenches grows weary, the atomic family can become the hearth around which spirits are rallied.

Warm and close-knit, when the world feels cold and indifferent, the atomic family can be a refuge of counted-upon affections.

All hail, then, these merry bands of compatriots. 

All hail these rogue gangs of battle buddies. 

All hail these crews that hold together when everything falls apart.

All hail our little platoons. 

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