First, Lars Walker has a piece on how marriage and family has changed since the Icelandic sagas. I think he's right on here,* as will not surprise you. What he's talking about here is frith and freedom, topics we have often discussed.
The central political value for the Norseman was freedom (at least for himself and his kinsmen). The defense of freedom is an issue that rises again and again in the history of the age, as an old system based on kinship and traditional law resisted a new system based on central monarchy and imported laws. And the central bastion of this freedom -- the chief counterweight to the power of the state -- was the family. The genealogies in sagas are long because the families were big. The more relatives, the more power and security a man enjoyed, and the more axes he had available to resist oppression.Quite right. The weakening of the family makes us less free, as individuals, because we have only ourselves and the state. Strong families not only serve as another source of support, but also allow you to counterbalance the state's intrusions into individual liberty. The family can resist as well as support.
Marriage was central to that system. Though a Viking woman could not (in theory, anyway) be forced into a marriage, marriages were more the alliance of two families than the union of two loving hearts....
One of the reasons Americans nowadays yell at each other so much over marriage is that we fail to understand this (or understand it and don't care). Those whose idea of marriage looks back to this old model (which is not exclusively Norse, but almost universal in the world in one variation or another) argue with people whose concept of marriage is purely private.
It's my observation that most of us on the traditional side do hear what the moderns are saying, though we disagree. But the other side doesn't hear us at all. The modern idea of marriage makes it purely a private matter. Children are an accessory, and often not an important one.
The other two articles I won't quote at length, but I leave them here for you to consider. They are of a type: a child of one of the 'new' types of families dispassionately explains what the cost of this type of family was.
The first is "The Child's View of Single-Motherhood," by Michael Brendan Dougherty. His sympathy for his mother -- and ability to see his own flaws as a child -- makes the piece especially worth consideration.
The second one is "Growing up with Two Moms: The Untold Children's View," by Robert Oscar Lopez. He asks both that we understand why this is less than ideal for children, but also for a more sympathetic and respectful treatment from society for those who turn out "weird" because of it. That's surely a reasonable request.
* An aside on the subject of the feud, for Mr. Walker. You write:
My cousin's actions are, by extension, mine. If your cousin killed my cousin, I might just kill you, because one kinsman is pretty much as good (or bad) as another. To us, this seems ridiculous.I don't think this is right. I've observed the blood feud at work not only in reading the sagas, and Anglo-Saxon history, but also as it is still lived today among tribal groups in Iraq. The idea isn't that one cousin is as good as another, but rather that the feud is an attempt to balance an account of honor.
Let's say that I kill someone very important in your family (perhaps your father). If I am not also very important, you may not be satisfied with killing me. Killing me won't balance the scales. So, you may go and kill my uncle -- who is a better man than me -- in order to create balance.
The problem is that different families value members of their kinship at different rates than do outsiders. I may think that your father wasn't worth half what my uncle was, even though to you it seemed to even the scale. Thus, I think I now have a blood debt to repay: and so I go and kill your cousin. But to you, this upsets the scale again, so now you feel you have a debt.
This is why the reconciliation system in all of these tribal/honor cultures follows the pattern of getting the elders together to sort out a blood price. A group of people who are respected (or sometimes, if he is respected enough, a single judge) decides where the remaining debt lies, and sets a price that both sides accept. This settles the remaining debt so that peace becomes possible. The hard part is finding a payment -- weregild or diyya -- that both sides agree makes it even.
In other words, the system actually does make sense once you understand the mechanism at work. My killing your cousin isn't irrational, but rather a measured response based on my sense of how important the various people are within the community of honor.