If you lived in Australia, today you would be getting another portion of your 24-hour-a-day media diet of the Tromp family and their plight.

Here we can get by with the short version.

Parents Mark and Jacoba and three adult children, all of whom work together on their berry farm and all but one live together, hit the road to nowhere fearing some unspecified terror and leaving ID and technology such as smartphones behind.

Certainly, on the face of it, their behaviour was eccentric. But the story highlights how remarkable it is more families don't suddenly go mad and melt down, given how difficult family life is even when you don't work and live together seven days a week.


The story grips us because it's about a family and most of us have some sort of family.

Society tells us life is family life. It's our basic unit, the glue that holds everything together.

Admittedly, a quarter of households are now single occupant and, according to a recent Otago University study, only 26 per cent of people still live with both biological parents by the age of 15, but those people can still be members of a close-knit family.

Family life may not be what it used to be, but that merely means the definition has changed.

Most of us still either want to be, or think of ourselves as being, in a family. Which is remarkable when you think about what that requires you to do.

To begin at the beginning, people who say they love having babies are like people who claim to communicate with the dead: they're either delusional or lying.

On the first day as a parent, you find you have been joined by invisible chains to an intermittent siren that demands constant fuelling and cleaning and can never be switched off.

Then it becomes an only slightly less demanding being that can now tell you about it


You have to bring these creatures up within your limited financial, emotional and physical means, all the while being assailed by information that causes you to doubt what you're doing and advice from people who know better, though they know nothing about you.

Suddenly, offspring add total indifference to dependence, as they ride around your home on their emotional roller coaster, causing you to worry about them even more.

The final shock for parents is when their children reach adulthood and are in theory "off their hands". They still worry about them and feel in their gut every joy and sorrow those children experience.

From the kid's point of view it's just as bad. From the start your existence is a series of paradoxes. You have no freedom. You are a prisoner of giants who Just Don't Understand. You are forced to wear humiliating garments and take part in activities in which you have no interest because they are "good for you" and have to eat and drink repugnant foodstuffs because they are "good for you".

Your career choices are either prescribed, creating huge resentment, or left entirely up to you, creating huge resentment. And as for that girl or boy you brought home ...

Then, when the kids become parents themselves they forget everything they thought and felt when they were young and turn into their parents, obsessing and fretting their children are doing exactly what they did at that age - and the cycle begins all over again.

All of which makes the fact families survive in any form and are still the greatest source of love in our lives the greatest, most unfathomable and most reassuring of mysteries.