The concept of family

Amal Chatterjee
9 min readMar 17, 2018

Source : Google photo

Synopsis : The blog is about the meaning of family in the modern era and the interrelationship between the members of a family that faces many challenges and stress due to many social reasons.

What is a family and why it means different things to different people? I have asked this question to many people I know but never received satisfactory answer so today I decided to try to answer this question using my own experience in life and open up a channel of discussion among my readers.

I often use the analogy of a hand to describe what a family is. Looking at the hand we notice that all the fingers are of different length, thickness and of use although they all belong to the same hand. Similarly all the siblings coming from the same parents may have very different personalities and grow up differently from each other although they all receive the same parental care and upbringing if the parents are not biased by their culture and upbringing. That is a big if.

We all know that people are a product of their upbringing, their beliefs and their social environment where the beliefs are born and instilled in a person at a certain age. In some cultures, they prefer male children and look down on the females so there is a built in bias in favor of males and against the females. In such societies the male children are pampered, given education and inherit properties of the parents after their death while the females are married off so that the parents can literally wash their hands off. This is the common practice in patriarchal societies.

I know of a case where the second wife of a person who had lost his first wife was so pressured by her husband to favor the first child who was a son that she did so at the expense of all her daughters. He had to be given the finest food and clothes while the daughters were neglected. They could not even eat at the same table with their brother and waited pitifully until the first born was attended to. They wore tattered and soiled clothes while the parents showered their attention on the son. The result was that the son lost his mental balance and became a nutcase. The daughters left the family one by one after their marriage and never looked back.

This is perhaps an extreme case of psychologically deranged parents who needed professional help to learn a thing or two about raising children properly giving them the equal and fair treatment but sadly they did all the wrong things resulting in the insanity in the family.

You have heard of the female infanticide in India which is like an epidemic due to a mistaken belief that the male children are more preferable than the females so the government had to enact a law to ban the ultrasound to determine the sex of the baby before birth so that the parents will not opt for an abortion. I did not know this and thought that the women in India were very stupid to believe that a baby must cook inside for 10 months and 10 days and that the sex is known only after the birth.

They had never heard of ultrasound and their beliefs were based on old wives’ tales and not facts. Then the transvestites who are in cahoots with the nurses in the hospitals find your address and come to your gate to dance and demand a lot of money if a son is born. The superstitious women who favor sons are so afraid of the curses of the transvestites that they give anything to get rid of them. Needless to say that the birth of a daughter is totally ignored by the transvestites due to social reasons so it is a blessing in disguise.

Such social customs and traditions are practiced in the Indian subcontinent that is based on the inheritance laws that are purely tribal in nature where the sons inherit the property and not the daughters hence the preference of sons over daughters. The daughters once married leave the family, change their family name and belong to another family so the main reason for the property laws was to keep out the in laws who were not family. The parents feel that their obligation to the daughters is limited only to paying their dowry for the marriage.

There has been a sea change in this tradition and social behavior among the educated middle class in India that limits the family to a maximum of two children and many have only one child due to the economic pressure and high cost of living so lucky is the child if she happens to be a girl and often the only child so she gets all the attention, education and even inherits the property of the parents.

But in rural India where the education is low and people have large families, such preference for boys is still popular. In such rural families, the girls at a very early age are married off although child marriage is unlawful yet practiced widely. Rural girls may go to school up to a certain age to get only the primary education while the sons may continue. It gets worse in traditional Moslem societies where the terrorists blow up the schools to prevent female education due to mistaken beliefs so the parents are helpless even if they want their daughters to go to school. The case Malala Yosafzai in Pakistan has focused the world attention on this subject that has showered its attention on her effort to educate all female children in her country and gave her the Nobel Prize.

But the tribal laws that are rooted in very old social traditions and customs are harder to change that the governments struggle every day with. The enactment of laws to protect the rights of females to education, jobs and equal treatment is easier done on paper but difficult to enforce because the enforcers are also the same people who believe in tribal laws.

So I come back once again to the question I posed at the start. The concept of family varies from country to country because it is influenced by the religion, the tribal and often illegal customs and traditions and the level of education of the parents. The government support for female equality in jobs, education and marital rights is limited to where it is effective although many NGOs are involved in improving the lives of women worldwide and have notched up some success in some parts. The fact is that much more needs to be done to educate the parents to change their attitude and treat all the children in a family equally and fairly without bias and prejudice.

Now let us say that the parents are educated and treat all their children fairly so why they all grow up with different personalities and different abilities and go in different directions in life? Why do we see brothers and sisters in many families lose their affinity for each other after the death of their parents or even before? Why the success of a son or daughter in getting quality education and job is envied by others in the family who did not do so well perhaps due to their own fault?

I know that we as children are more influenced by the company we keep at a certain age than the parents who may be too busy to look into what a child is doing in school or outside. This influence of others on a child may be of paramount importance in shaping the life of a child that may determine his or her success or failure in life.

I have written in one of my blogs the effect of canto boys (vagabonds) in the Philippines on sons that can have a very detrimental influence on a child because they influence boys at a certain age to drink and keep bad company that make them drop out of school and end up as vagabonds. The girls are spared because there are no canto girls to influence them although some may end up keeping bad company of other girls and drop out of schools but relatively they do better than boys, finish their college education and get good jobs and end up supporting their parents even after marriage. Girls do better in a matriarchal society like in the Philippines while the boys do better in a patriarchal society like India in general. There are exceptions to all rules so that should be taken as a fact.

If a family has many children then the age difference between the first and the last child may become a barrier to bonding and closeness because people seek others of their own age. This is one reason why the family closeness does not develop in large families where they fail to bond due to tremendous age difference. In a small family where the couple has perhaps only two kids, the age difference between them is not enormous and in such families the siblings may become closer to each other and keep this closeness later even if they part their ways and live in faraway places due to work or marriage.

I have seen the generosity of parents in some societies where they adopt children of various races and bring them up together in one family giving them all the same opportunities they would have given their own children. It is not a common practice but they exist. Such children growing up together form a bond that endures through good time and bad because the parents enable this bond to form in the first place.

But in other societies where women do not like to adopt children and prefer to make their own feel no motherly feelings toward adopted children and treat them unfairly ( Cinderella syndrome ) even if the child is a step child. There are many sorrowful stories about step children and how they are treated by their step mothers or fathers. This negative attitude toward the adopted or step child has something to do with the education and liberal or conservative outlook of the parents that is shaped by their own upbringing and the social environment where they grew in.

So the concept of family has less to do with the tradition of a society and its cultural beliefs that may be tinged with prejudice and bias they learn from others and more to do with what a couple thinks what a family is and what it should be. This concept varies from country to country and often from region to region within a geographical area. No doubt the religion plays an important role in forming a liberal attitude in the minds of some people who adopt children often of different races and consider them as their own while in tribal cultures, the religion may not be as important as the tribal traditions that discourage adoption.

In India and in many other countries there are a very large numbers of orphans who are placed in government run orphanages and where many women abandon their newly born kids and run away from the hospitals because they had illegitimate kids that draws social disapprobation in traditional communities. I know a case where this happened but a couple adopted the child and now is raising her as their own so that child is very lucky.

The question that comes to my mind to which I always seek an answer in vain is the following. We come together as a family only once meaning that this combination of parents and siblings is never again repeated. You may be born again somewhere in your next life if you are a believer in reincarnation but never will you have the same family together again so why so many families fall apart and the siblings lose their affinity for each other and even grow away in love and affection for their biological parents?

Granted not all parents are ideal so we see many parents doing a poor job of raising their children due to many reasons that I will not dwell upon here but could you have come to this world without your parents? Could you have grown up without all the sacrifices they made for you to raise you? Didn’t your elder siblings take care of you when your parents could not?

I hope that reading this blog will make you think that coming together as a family for the only time in this world will make you realize the importance of family and value your siblings all the more because when all is said and done, the blood is thicker than water and we all carry the same DNA. Wise people say that we often fail to realize something valuable until it is gone. It holds true of family.