The Thermonuclear Family

The Thermonuclear Family

Mary-Jane Konings


Welcome to the explosion zone.

Mary-Jane looks at the diversity of families in Auckland � with some reference to the NZ situation. Names have been changed to protect privacy.

After extensive research I’ve come to one firm conclusion about the typical Auckland family � it doesn’t exist!

Fusion reactions

Meet Mark. Mark is part of a blended family. His widowed mum married a divorced father of two several years ago. There are now four teenagers in this new family.

‘It’s not as good as before,’ says Mark who has clear memories of family life when his natural father was alive.

‘There are a whole lot of tensions in blending two different ways of life. It can be the smallest things, like the way one family roasts dinner can cause tension, and the names you give stuff.’

Mark says there is a way to resolve these difficulties.

‘Time is the only answer. It’s heaps better now than it was. But it really depends on the parents.’

Most observers would describe Mark’s family as a success story. Both parents are loving and supportive. They work hard to keep the lines of communication open and make family time a priority. However Mark is not keen to repeat the experience in later life.

‘It’s made me determined to have a nuclear family,’ he says.

‘But I know it will be hard. It’s just normal for the community. There are so many blended families out there.’


Another common situation is the family split by divorce.

For some, one parent becomes a stranger, especially when part of the family moves to another town or another country. For others, there is the ongoing daily struggle to love two people who no longer love each other.

Shenaenae’s parents divorced two years ago. Now in Form 6, Shenaenae and her older brother currently live with their father but spend weekends with Mum. Shenaenae is positive about the lifestyle.

‘This is normal for me,’ she says.

‘I don’t mind that they are divorced. It just works better when they are apart because they fight when they are together. And you get twice as many things, not just gifts. With Dad we can go out all the time but we can’t with Mum. If they were still together Mum would probably stop us.’

For Shenaenae the essence of being a family is spending time together which happens during the holidays.

‘The rest of the time we are busy living our own lives, school takes up a lot of time and we go out at night. So it’s not like we are missing out on anything.’

However, Shenaenae is planning to avoid divorce in the future.

‘It’s just better not to. I don’t like the big fights,’ she states.

Splitting the atom

Another variation on the nuclear family is the extended family. Many Pacific Island families either gain extras or send children away to relatives. These solutions can cause more problems.

Keri was sent to Auckland from Christchurch after she got into trouble with the police.

‘I had to stay with my auntie because I was in the gangs and they don’t let you leave. But she was too strict so I ran away and lived on the streets with my mates.’

Many teenagers take responsibility for themselves after school finishes. They let themselves in at home and for the most part entertain themselves.

In affluent suburbs like Howick kids have access to entertainment at home � Sky, swimming pool, music, video games. For some, unsupervised time leads to crime or experimentation with drugs, both legal and illegal.

For other families, there is no time to be together. After swimming lessons, sports practice, tennis lessons, after school tutoring, dance lessons, the shelf stacking job at Foodtown, keyboard lessons and homework, quality time is spent fighting traffic caused by other over-committed kids and their parents.

Picking up the pieces

Family life is taking a battering in the nineties. That mainstay of togetherness, the shared meal, is a rare event. Families eat out or in shifts. Busy teenagers grab meals on the run. Family dinners happen on the weekend, if at all. Many families eat takeaways 2 or 3 nights a week.

Kids want to know they are normal. Teens with non-nuclear families may need some help dealing with their situation.

‘I need to know there are people there I can talk to if I need to,’ states Mark. ‘I can’t talk to Mum and Dad when they are part of the problem. You can’t just fill out a form. It has to be personal. You’ve got to provide places to talk and give kids the opportunity to talk if they want to.’

Teenagers would rather be with their friends yet they need the stability and security of their family.

Just what it means to be family is hard to define when there are so many different models and that’s confusing but young people are tough and resilient.

Thank God!