Hard Times expresses the opinion that even an ad hoc, somewhat messily organized family is the best kind of community structure, as long as there's love present. This is shown in the descriptions of Sleary's circus, easily the warmest and most caring of the novel's many groups. In this novel, when families are close emotionally, they provide a moral education that centers on self-sacrifice and altruism. The novel seems to be saying that this is the key to bettering society. On the other hand, when families are ruled by cold logic, they lose emotional connection, and society as a whole becomes totally self-serving.
The novel advocates undergoing familial trauma and loss in childhood as a way of developing into a morally and emotionally functional adult.
Absent parents have just as much influence over their children as present parents do.