“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” – Jane Howard
I’m in the middle of a busy period in my family: Weddings. Each week its somebody’s wedding or engagement and one thing or the other is going on which is leaving me with very little time to upload something that I have written. Most of my blogs I start at least a couple of days in advance in order for them to be ready to go live on dates I have set but wedding season has delayed this schedule slightly. Nevertheless, the fairy tale wedding season has actually forced me to think more about the importance of family in my life.
I come from an Asian Indian background, and for me, family is the core element of my roots and foundation; it really does mean everything to me. If it wasn’t for my immediate and some extended family, I would most certainly be lost and I sincerely believe that I would not be the person I am today. As I look back in time, it is clear to me how significant my family has been in all aspects of my life. My upbringing, the values, principles and faith instilled in me and the moral’s I was taught define me; my family environment has become an integral part of my identity.
An individual’s immediate family lays down the foundation for their personality and the majority of our behaviour is heavily influenced by their family life. Psychologists have strongly argued that children and young adults acquire the greatest amount of knowledge and life skills from their family life which has a direct and lifelong effect on the individual’s personality. Throughout their development, children are usually closest to their parents/primary caregivers and siblings than anyone else in the world. As children and young adults grow and develop, they form friendships, work with colleagues, get married and also have their own children with whom they begin to share their lives with. It is through time that these changes come about; however, the importance of family remains the same. Furthermore, studies indicate that children reared with strong family connections paired with a foundation of good education, values and ideals have been reported to lead much healthier and happier lives. Therefore, the importance of a family unit cannot be denied.
Luckily for me, I have been brought up with best of both worlds where I have been able to combine my own Asian Indian heritage with the Western culture. As a multi-cultured person, I have often been forced to waver on the edge of both Western and Eastern cultures, where on occasions I have been on either side of the often very fine demarcation line. Yet, through my development as a somewhat independent individual, I have come to realise that my family relationships and family values have contributed considerably towards the nature of who I am today. The strength, perseverance, courage and security have come directly from my family unit necessary for future development. Psychological research has demonstrated that adults who have experienced a smooth and well established family bond are generally more successful and display higher levels of confidence in all aspects of their life. In this respect, the family unit remains of utmost importance to initiate, nurture, conserve, and base other relationships on which an individual develops throughout their life.
My upbringing has been in a Western culture where I have very often witnessed family values and relationships not being given the deserving respect and commitment, and furthermore, they are not held as strictly as they are in the East. However, for me it remains in my own heritage to take forward this tradition of family values.
My family provides me with my identity because I am a direct descendant of my parents; my parents are my blood and the primary reason for my existence. However, I am more than a mere biological product of my parents; I am a messenger of my family’s values, principles, beliefs, understandings, fears, thoughts, failures and triumphs. My childhood was spent growing up in their home from where I acquired a great deal in terms of life skills which I’ve implemented throughout my life as I have grown and developed. Some traditions I have modified or ceased using in line with the society and generation to which I belong and have grown up with. My earliest memories of my childhood and my family life, regardless of whether they are pleasant or not are extremely precious to me, they are memories which simply cannot be replaced or erased. They are treasured beyond all other memories and many of them shape and define me today. I have recollections of moments where concepts such as love, acceptance, and understanding have become clear to my naive self and as I look back now I am grateful for these moments as it was these which provided me with comfort, security, and opportunity to grown.
I found a great deal of comfort with my parents, particularly when I experienced trouble at school but it wasn’t until I was a naive teenager that I really began to understand the importance of the many teachings of my family and parents in particular. It was the mere act of stepping away that shaped my identity, personality, nature and solidified my principles and values, while remaining flexible and open to suggestions and change. It not only allowed me to demonstrate my independence but it empowered me with the opportunity to challenge myself based up on my parents and family’s teachings. As a young adult who was very much independent I most certainly appreciated my parents and family considerably more. One finds themselves loving their parents mannerisms so much more and with a sincere feeling of gratitude I thank them for the practical as well as emotional support they provided me with as a child and as I have developed into an adult. I thank them further for educating me to be a strong independent woman with strong family values, compassion, understanding and faith. Furthermore, I thank them for the endless support I know they will continue to provide me throughout my life. As I look forward to the future, I realise that one day I shall also be the same source of strength for them in their old age as they were to me as I grew and developed. It is being this pillar of strength, this reliable point of support and connection with my roots that echoes the essence of my parents and family’s teachings. Family is very important to me.
Now, the last impression I want to give you is that I have had a rosy, almost fairy tale like family life as not only is this simply not true, it does not demonstrate true learning and development. Growing up in a Western culture, with an Asian Indian and Hindu heritage, my family and I very often clashed in our ideas and views. I could never understand why our lifestyles were so different to that of my peers, why we lived a certain and why we did things the way we did. When I wanted to go out with my friends, I found myself asking why could I never be like them? Why did I have to do things so differently too? We had debates about clothes, alcohol, smoking, diet, festivals and celebrations; you name it and there had been a debate or some form of heated argument about it in my family. There have been tears too, from hurtful words and pain to joy and triumph. There have also been moments of complete silence where we have all required the time and space to reflect on the present circumstances to move forward, to rebuild the relationship, to regain the broken trust and overcome disappointments.
However, despite the disagreements and clashes of cultures, I am privileged to have a close relationship with my family. We aren’t all this lucky. People often say that no matter how hard you try, you can never disconnect yourself from your family. A family unit is viewed as an integral part of an individual and the harder and individual attempts to distance themselves, the closer they become. I disagree. If this statement were accurate then why do we have so many elderly nursing and residential homes across the world? Did these parents love their children any less? or was it that the children were unable to care for their frail parents? Why are the numbers of children being abandoned or taken into care increasing each year? Why is the divorce rate growing year by year? For those of us who do maintain a close connection with our families should consider ourselves privileged purely because if we observe those around us, we may find others less fortunate than us whether it be elderly parents or it be lonesome children. I have witness my father live for almost 28 years separated from his family. The neglect and rejection my father has experienced over the years has had a detrimental effect on his own sense of self-worth and identity. It is on this basis that I am grateful and certainly do not take for granted my family relationships. Family provides the link to our beginning and a guide to our future and I say we must embrace every opportunity we have to remain close to our family’s instead of minimise it.
Family and Self Esteem
“What God is to the world, parents are to their children.” – Philo
At every significant point in our lives, we all require the feeling of ‘belonging’ and to feel accepted by those nearest and dearest to us. This sense of belonging and acceptance is derived from a secure family bond. Family is where our roots take hold and from there we grow and develop; we are shaped within this unit, which prepares us for the world as well as the many experiences to come. Values are taught in childhood are carried forward with us throughout our life. Close family bonds represent a safety net which catch us when we falter and pushes us back up when necessary. It is within these bonds that we find refuge, whether it be a listening far or the practical support when we experience difficulties in life. These family bonds allow us to develop and instil trust and hope for the world around us as well as belief in ourselves and our abilities. We all had small, fun rituals when we were younger, such as bedtime stories, sweet treats, hugs, weekends at theme parks, holidays and meals shared together which provided a sense of warmth, structure and safety that many of us still carry with us today. For me, these small but significant rituals and traditions have created memories, leaving behind a family legacy to cherish for years to come as well as laying the first path in my life – a path which is positive and realistic.
Our spirit, soul and the essence which defines us can either flourish or perish within this family unit, particularly when we do not receive the essential elements of security and the influence of strong family bonds early in life. This can often result in the very foundation being built on emptiness, which one may seek to fill through destructive means instead. If one does not receive love and affection as a child, it is highly likely that they may later seek it through more detrimental ways. Such individuals are likely to display a deep yearning and a hollowness which they experience and which they are looking to fill. This hollowness residing in the heart and soul is often as a direct result of never knowing what it’s like to be loved, accepted and appreciated for ‘being’ apart of a family unit.
This lack of a bond or living in a detached or dysfunctional family or environment have been known to have a detrimental and long-term effects on an individual’s physical as well as their mental health. For example, a destructive cycle can emerge and be repeated when a child has grown up in such an environment. As an adult, this individual is likely to view dysfunctional family bonds as the norm, where unfortunately drugs and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and crime is what they are accustomed to and in turn will seek such situations and people. They are unlikely to easily recognise any healthy relationships and family bonds as this is a foreign concept to them.
The long term effects of living in a dysfunctional environment are not often very obvious. Both children and adults will display a diverse range of behaviours, yet the similarities between them may still be visible. Children and adults may have poor self-image or self-esteem often displayed by them isolating themselves from peers at school, college, work or home. Adults hold negative beliefs regarding themselves and that as an individual they are somewhat inadequate for the society in which they reside. They generally lose confidence in their own abilities, their future and their relationships. Children on the other hand display more subtle behaviours such as shyness, low levels of interaction with peers and adults as well as referring to themselves in a negative manner through demeaning expressions such as ‘I’m stupid, I’ll never learn this’ or ‘what’s the point’. Children and adults may also display signs of holding anger and pain inside.
This level of poor self-esteem affects the individual’s entire life which adversely influences an individual’s ability to make positive choices as well as be close to others. Their own inner tension and feeling of shame can very often lead them behaving adversely, ranging from emotional and physical withdrawal to aggressive and combative outward behaviour. The family is widely seen as an important influence on self-esteem as this is where the initial sense of oneself first begins to form.
As important as family life is, it is rapidly becoming a rare appearance in the world today where the families are breaking down and higher rates of divorce are contributing to an unnecessarily high number of children suffering needlessly. In today’s world, one of the biggest problems we are facing is the growth of independence resulting in the family bond losing its significance and the younger generations missing out on developing vital relationships. Furthermore, in segments of the world, the length of time people are now choosing to spend with their families is decreasing rapidly, all because we are too busy chasing after our careers, money or even to simply make ends meet.Yes, as humans we are social animals and we require company and although we may enjoy solitude on occasions, we cannot prosperor live happily in isolation forever. It is at this point that our family provides us with reasons to laugh, cry, think, express, create and provides reasons to live life.
Our family members are the only network of people who genuinely demonstrate and express true feelings for us and I can most certainly say they remain the only network of people who really care for us. It is our family which keeps us afloat, provide for us without any form of expectation. In today’s society, even our friends have expectations from us, we must call, text, email and even socialise regularly enough to be considered a ‘good’ or ‘real’ friend, but with family, and particularly our parents they don’t ordinarily have these expectations. No doubt they will feel bad and they may even be given good reasons to complaint due to our lack of consideration, yet their love and affection will remain.Always remember that the goodness in you, your nature, your personality and they essence of who you are today is due to your family. It is primarily because of this group of people who you are here today and they will remain the only people in society that you can turn to, even in your darkest hour. You are a part of this unit known as family, be happy that are lucky enough to have a family!
“The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, is in its loyalty to each other.” – Mario Puzo (The Family)