Friday 28th September, 2007


Wesley George

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Building stronger families

  • The family is the building block of society
  • Caribbean families are falling apart under environmental pressures
  • Smaller, better planned families needed

The family, without question, is the cornerstone of any society. The ability of our nation to adapt to the demands of the global environment would depend on our families’ ability to cope with the changes that are required if they are to remain functional.

In our drive for developed nation status we may be guilty of attempting to build a societal superstructure on a substructure (the family structure) that is presently not able to carry this burden.

In the Caribbean, our families are characterised by woman-led extended families. In T&T, that type of family organisation is still very common, especially in the more rural areas.

The other very common family organisation is the woman-led single-parent family and this may come about as a result of a failed marriage or relationship or some misguided neo-feminist ideal.

The challenges our country faces are mainly due to the fact that our families are not functioning properly in today’s environment. Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that our society has to adapt to meet the demands of the global environment in which we now operate. The government now needs to pay special attention to the state of our families to ensure that they can maintain their ability to function effectively.

The rising cost of living due to high world oil prices, the downsizing and structuring of companies to maintain a competitive advantage with globalisation and the expected increase in mobility of goods and services with the implementation of the CSME all demand that our families adopt a structure and a lifestyle that would allow the holistic development of children, flexibility for adjustments in the economy and mobility to take advantage of opportunities abroad.

The main function of the family is to provide the necessary support for the proper upbringing of its offspring. The popularity of the extended family is hinged on the need for financial support.

The members of the household are supposed to contribute towards the needs of the home; however, this is not the case in more recent times. Changes in attitudes of our youths are putting pressure on this type of family, since not only are we seeing higher incidence of single parents, but teenaged, sometimes unemployable, single mothers. Grandparents have to pick up the slack and use money meant for their retirement savings to support both child and grandchild.

The nuclear family structure allows for more holistic support for children. Ideally, the husband should be the main breadwinner and the wife, provide any other necessary financial support.

This should leave one parent free at any given time to look after the needs of the children. The size of these families is important, as this determines the parents’ ability to manage and provide adequately for each child.

A smaller nuclear family can provided greater opportunities for upward social mobility of the children. This would result from the parents’ ability to afford good quality education as well the parent having the time to spend with their children, instilling good moral values and building self-confidence in the child.

The physical mobility of the nuclear family is also greater than the extended family. In the latter case it is very unlikely that the whole family could move to other territories to take advantage of opportunities there.

Instead, only one parent may be able to go abroad, in most cases the single mother, leaving the children in the care of the relatively young and still employed grandparent.

This initiates the “barrel child” syndrome as the children under-perform in school and are reluctant to be committed to anything out of the hope that their mother or father would be sending for them soon.

The environment we live in today dictates that our young people carefully plan their lives and by extension, their families. Today’s world of work demands that we be highly trained, flexible and mobile. Any young person who is serious about starting a family needs to take this into consideration.

To be highly trained we may have to postpone marriage and starting a family in order to attain our degrees. Flexibility and mobility would dictate when we have children and how many. It is only through this type of planning can our families adjust to the changing environment and adequately perform its function.

To facilitate this much-needed approach to family life, parenting programs should become an integral part of the school curriculum.

Mandatory counseling for couples wishing to be married should ensure they meet some minimum requirement before the State can recognise the union. Smaller families should be encouraged through positive reinforcement via social polices similar to those in China.

Being the young developing nation that we are, we are fortunate to be able to learn from the experiences of the more developed societies of the world. In striving toward developed nation status, the proper infrastructure needs to be put in place now to ensure that we have developed nation families.

Wesley George

Education Officer

PNM National Youth League


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