The family is the building block of society
Caribbean families are falling apart under environmental
Smaller, better planned families needed
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
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
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
The challenges our country faces are mainly due to the fact
that our families are not functioning properly in todays
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
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. Todays 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
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
To facilitate this much-needed approach to family life,
parenting programs should become an integral part of the
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.
PNM National Youth League