Letter: Family life is an end in itself

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NEAL ASCHERSON ('If anyone knows the rules of happy families, they're keeping mum', 19 June) rightly exposes 'the family' as a cover, until quite recently, for the most appalling abuses of power, yet he is puzzled about the necessary function of family life ('that murky, impenetrable little community'). A family, however constructed, is the crucible of attachment, where we learn from parents, grandparents and siblings how to get on with others, and especially how to love and hate in intimate relationships. The tantalising ingredient is emotional security, which is much more likely in a child if his or her parents had it from their parents.

Children and young people who are insecure are at greater risk to a whole host of problems, including delinquency and bullying, accidents, abuse by strangers, eating disorders, depression, chronic non-specific ill-health, addictions and difficulties in intimate relationships. To most people what matters most of all is their attachments: having somewhere to go (home), someone to love and something to do that makes sense (and, if possible, money). The need to belong is powerful and urgent. Much of the disintegration in society that makes us uneasy stems from the lack of a secure personal base for its members.

The fact is that secure infants make better citizens because they are more confident and considerate, have more inquiring minds and a less rigid sense of right and wrong. Arguments about single parenthood miss the point that it is the quality of your attachments, rather than the structure of your family, that determines the quality of your intimate and social life. Family life is an end in itself, as well as a process leading to new generation. Contemplation of these mysteries makes Ascherson's outsider feel 'faintly sick' because there is no escape from the fantasy of a happy family, and often no escape from the realities of an unhappy one.

Dr Sebastian Kraemer

Consultant Child and

Family Psychiatrist

London NW3