x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Families can be apart, but still be connected

The trend towards living as "nuclear families" has its pros and cons.

Despite the perception that “leaving the nest” is a rite of passage for young adults, the phenomenon of newly married couples moving away from their family home has not been common in the UAE. Traditionally, the bride joins her husband in his parents’ household, which will typically include his mother, father and siblings, and perhaps his grandparents and other close family members. However, as The National reported yesterday, more Emirati couples are choosing to live independently in “nuclear families” rather than with their relatives.

Like any social shift, this has both benefits and drawbacks. It is, of course, natural for young married couples to want the space and the time to get to know each other away from the pressures, or perceived pressures, of being under parental scrutiny. They want to make their own way and create their own rules, especially when they have children. For young women, it may be particularly difficult to adapt to new household routines and the formidable, constant presence of their mothers-in-law.

As sociologist Ahmad Al Omosh told The National, smaller family units can have benefits for children. Where a large household may be quite chaotic, with no clear lines of discipline, the children in a smaller household have clearer role models and authority figures in their parents without the distracting presence of other relatives who may set different behavioural boundaries.

The argument in favour of large family homes is that they provide security and mutual support, they enable financial savings, and they help maintain a sense of tradition and shared culture. They also allow for younger family members to get to know and appreciate their elders, and for grandparents to keep in touch with the new generation. Having on-call babysitting is also a positive factor for young parents.

The best of both worlds can be achieved if newlyweds live separately from their parents, but nearby. What is important in any living arrangement is that young people – the couples and their children – do not lose contact with their extended families. Grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins may live in the same house, down the road, in the next suburb or in another city, but they still can – and should – play a positive part in family life.