Different cultures have been raising kids in different ways for ages - the nuclear family is a pretty recent development, for most cultures throughout most of history children have been raised more communally with fathers, uncles, cousins etc all providing some "maleness" to the mix.
So, what would change? The ridiculous notion of a family as one woman and one man and their 3 children? Fine - thats only been around for some 100 years, and it hasn't worked very well.
I've heard this argument before, although every time I hear it the era in which the nuclear family was "invented" moves forward. We've now reached the stage at which Atomic parrot confidently declares that the nuclear family of husband, mother and children was invented in the year 1910.
I wish I knew more anthropology. It would be a helpful field for traditionalists to study and do research in. But even with my amateur knowledge of the subject I believe I can raise at least a few objections to Atomic parrot's argument.
First, the debate about family structure in England is about the extent to which families were nuclear or extended. An extended family is still based on the unit of father/mother/children, but perhaps with an additional generation of the family living in the home, or related families co-residing in a particular area and cooperating together. In other words, the extended family is not diametrically opposed to the nuclear family but is an extension of it.
Having said that, there is evidence that in England the family structure of 1560 was just as much based on the nuclear family as that of 1960. The historian Peter Laslett studied parish records with these results:
Laslett studied family size and composition in pre-industrial England. From 1564-1821, he found that only about 10% of households contained kin beyond the nuclear family. This is the same percentage as for England in 1966. Laslett found no evidence to support the view that the classic extended family was widespread in pre-industrial England. He claims:
"There is no sign of the large extended co-residential family group of the traditional peasant world giving way to the small, nuclear conjugal household of modern industrial society."
The earliest evidence for the existence of the nuclear family goes all the way back to the year 2600BC. Skeletons found buried in a number of graves in Germany were dated to this time. Scientists believe that members of a tribe had been killed in a raid and were later buried in separate graves by the survivors. In one grave, two adults were buried clasping the hands of two children. DNA was obtained from each skeleton and this confirmed that a father, mother and their two biological children had been buried together this way.
"Their unity in death suggests a unity in life," writes lead author Dr Wolfgang Haak of the University of Adelaide in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
"By establishing the genetic links between the two adults and two children buried together in one grave, we have established the presence of the classic nuclear family in a prehistoric context in Central Europe - to our knowledge the oldest authentic molecular genetic evidence so far," he writes.
The other interesting evidence from the skeletons is that it was the women who left their area of origin to live with the men, which again shows continuity with the modern Western family.
Atomic parrot is correct, though, that the nuclear (or elemental) family is not the only kind of family structure that has existed in human history - though it seems to have been especially strong in the West.
Most people are aware that polygamy has been widespread in various parts of the world. There are tribes too in which men are connected more closely to their sisters' children than to their own. This makes sense, I suppose, if you aren't certain of your paternity. It can't be doubted that you are related to your sisters' children, but it's possible to doubt that you are related to your own.
The Mosuo tribe in China are an example of such an alternative system. In this tribe there is a certain kind of matriarchal system. Women are given their own room when young and choose which man will visit them secretly at night (with the matriarchs of both families having considerable say over the pairings).
Not surprisingly, fathers don't play an everyday role in the lives of the subsequent children (it's even claimed that there is no word for "father" in the Mosuo language). The men continue throughout their lives to reside in the house of their mother and sisters:
Most significantly, when children are born, the father may have little responsibility for his offspring. "It is the job of men to care more for their nieces and nephews than for his own children"
The Mosuo have found a low-key way to motivate men in society: men look after the nieces and nephews they are related to. But it's not a great way to encourage a high level of male investment in society. A Mosuo man may only get to see his wife and child once a week and all his earnings will go to his mother rather than to his own immediate family. There's not a great deal of incentive, therefore, to work to accumulate property to support a wife and family or to pass on to your own children.
So when Atomic parrot claims that the nuclear family "doesn't work," he is not really taking the larger, historic view. The societies which have had most success in creating advanced civilisations have generally had Western style family structures, rather than polygamous or matriarchal ones.