The word “ family” denotes a group of people who share the same bonds in the same home. While the greater number of members of this group may share the same genetic codes, there will be others in the group who have been added through circumstances – marriage and adoption. It is in this setting of physical proximity that shared values, habits, cultural practices, traditions, family history, ideas and most of all affection become the ties that bind the group together. It stands to reason that strongly knit and well adjusted families will contribute to a well adjusted society.
When my grandfather died early, he left his two very young children in the care of one of his sons, my father, who was himself relatively young. My grandfather died young and our grandmother followed him soon after. As a result, the care of their last two children, Hashim and Shamyune, fell to my father and his young wife. My father held fast to that responsibility even after both siblings married and moved on. He saw to their schooling and arranged a suitable husband for his sister when she reached the right age. In many cultures, be it Greek, Caribbean , or Argentinian, the family is a unit that is expected to remain as a whole.
In many eastern cultures, the concept of family differs vastly from that with which we, in the West, are familiar. The family is the unit that is expected to remain as a unit with each member being an important, and very often indispensable part, of that unit – emotional and physical health, wellness, education, finances, employment – all being the responsibility of the UNIT until one member moves away through marriage. Then it is that the other members come together to make that transition as smooth and as seamless as possible. This new family retains its ties with the parent family, paying great attention to what is expected of it, retaining the bonds of blood and culture and passing on what it has learned to its own children ensuring the survival of the family beliefs, habits and behaviors being cognizant of, “ This is how my mother/father did it.”
Now, in the West, there is a much different model. Children leave home, and are expected to, when they reach eighteen years (or a bit more) of age. They set up their own establishments and are responsible for their lives; their own well being, education, health, and provisions are things that they must work for. They too, are expected retain their connections with the parent family. This move erodes the idea of proximity that lends itself to the strong familial bond, thus putting some stress on filial relationships. This is why it is incumbent on each member of the group irrespective of where they live, to be mindful of the benefits of having a family.
The family, whether as a single unit or in disparate locations, provides a background and safe place for survival as a member of the larger society. This IDEA of family teaches its members the social skills of living with others – in the home as well as in the larger society. The stable family transmits and develops virtues of love, respect, and understanding, pity, concern and sociability without which its members will lose their standing in the society. My mother used to tell us, “ Never have someone come to your home without offering them something to eat. You never know when they last ate.” This simple but honest and heartfelt notion of hospitality we have passed on to our families.
We all have a strong desire to belong to something or to someone. This desire must arise from an understanding of the the ideals that hold the group together. Should you not believe in these values that bind the group, you will disturb the equilibrium of the structure. For example, the rights and obligations, the ideas and opinions, and the privacy of the other members must be safeguarded and upheld. Some examples of this might be manifested in behaviors that are mindful of such actions as turn- taking in discussions, respect for the privacy of others, speaking without disturbing the equilibrium of the discussion, speaking with respect to each other, mindful that oftentimes, words cause pain and once uttered cannot be recalled. These behaviors are strongly upheld in our family discussions and anyone who breaks the rules is called to order.
Strong family relationships do not just happen. They must be nurtured and paid attention to. The bond strengthens when experiences are shared, when there is mutual participation in decisions concerning the welfare of each member, when there is mutual sharing of problems and common interests and combined efforts in crises. My sister had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. My other sisters, nieces and nephews and I took turns to spend week ends with my sick sister and her family, comforting and consoling, wiping away the tears, and just offering our presence that said “We care.” These traits can only result in a strong sense of family security. If these bonds are to remain strong, these attitudes must be carefully nurtured in the same way that a gardener cares for his prized roses. When family bonds are broken and no attempt made at mending them, it destroys the basic woof and warp of the fabric. Very often we must swallow anger and be conciliatory, or persuasive. We must learn the value of negotiation, show respect in the face of confrontations, and more often than not, learn the value of forgiveness and bow, not to personal ego, but to the greater good. How much better it is to say, “I’m sorry. Forgive me” and so, preserve the equanimity, restore peace and feel good about having done so. Holding on to resentments and anger never did anyone any good. The feeling that comes from mending broken fences is above any price.
In every family there will be two or more members who do not see eye to eye. Personality differences, petty jealousies or imagined wrongs will certainly result in conflicts. If we understand the Guyanese idiom “Family cutlass does not cut deep”, we know that these petty squabbles can, like a superficial cut, mend quickly. When I am asked by young family members what to do in these situations, I tell them, “Imagine your relationship with this person two months, or one year from now, and where you want it to be at that time. You do whatever it takes to reach that point in your relationship with this person.”
What this all means is that one person must make the effort and take the initiative.
People who love each other WILL have disagreements because they feel that it is this arena that they can be at their worst and be forgiven because love is the common denominator that will over ride and overlook the ill feelings. However, learning to conquer our baser emotions must be practiced first in the home. Mutual understanding must guide discussions of ideas, hopes, dreams, accomplishments. Family members must celebrate each other’s successes, accomplishments, joys, with the same deep fervor and intensity as they might console and commiserate with failures and losses. Remember to send each family member a kind word, a congratulatory message, or a lilting text that might just make their day. When a message like this is expected and never comes, it is marked with sadness. Doing these small acts has enormous rewards. This is the way we will come to know each other intimately and be better able to show these same behaviors to the world.
One of the most heart warming things any family member has said to me was when I sent a text message to say “Thanks“ for something. The reply was, “ No thanks needed. You have given me more than you will ever know.” It still makes me teary-eyed with gratitude to have this person in my family. I consider each person in my family a blessing.
Times change. Families disperse. Modes of existence improve. Ideas morph. We might each put emphasis on different things. But the one thing that does not change, the single constant in our lives, the thing we all turn towards in the end is FAMILY LOVE.