The family is one of the oldest and most important social institutions on earth. Anthropologist Margaret Mead, based on her research, affirmed the centrality of the nuclear family in human society. She said: “As far back as our knowledge takes us, human beings have lived in families. We know of no period when this was not so. We know of no people who have succeeded for long in dissolving the family or displacing it… Again and again, in spite of proposals for change and actual experiments, human societies have reaffirmed their dependence on the family as the basic unit of human living—the family of father, mother and children.’’
All over the world, the family is considered the bedrock of a nation, and the Philippines is no exception. Indeed, the Philippines is one country where family ties are the strongest. It is thus fitting that the nation should take some time to reflect on the family and seek to strengthen family unity and relationships by promoting Filipino family values this week, national Family Week.
Michelle Ong, in a paper in 2000, said that the typical Filipino family is “economically disadvantaged’’ (a euphemism for poor), with parents having jobs that cannot provide for all the needs of the family. She also said that the Filipino family is child-centered, with a married couple becoming a family only with the birth of a child. The family is also perceived to be an important aspect of the Filipino’s life as happiness is closely associated with a satisfying and harmonious family situation.
All over the world, the family is being subjected to various stresses and strains, and again, the Philippines is no exception. An East-West paper said that increasing urbanization and industrialization and the high level of poverty have drastically changed Philippine society, and we presume, also the nuclear family. Many children, because of the OFW phenomenon, are growing up under the care of single or surrogate parents.
It is the family that prepares a child for life in the adult world. Here, the child first experiences the love, care and attention that help launch him into a bigger, more complex environment. The parents are the primary influence in molding children’s values, norms, attitudes and standards of right or wrong. Children who spend most of their growing years in an intact family structure generally receive more and better guidance and attention that protect them from engaging in socially unwanted and negative behaviors such as smoking, drug use, drinking or engaging in commercial or premarital sex.
In 2001, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines lamented in a pastoral statement that many social situations are beginning to destroy or deform the family. The CBCP called poverty “the silent killer of families,’’ forcing many spouses to separate for one or both of them to work abroad. Separation causes children to suffer great psychological harm and sometimes leads to the breakup of families.
The OFW phenomenon has its good and bad effects. Among the good: the children of migrants are better off financially and generally get a better education. But the negative: The migrants’ children are described as lonely, materialistic, consumerist, selfish, anxious and resentful. Many of them feel abandoned. Yes, now the OFW parents are able to maintain constant contact with their children through cell phones, e-mail, Skype, videocams and other state-of-the art gadgets, but they cannot take the place and provide the warmth and love of face-to-face interaction between parent and child.
Many economic and social factors are threatening the unity of marriage and the existence of many families. It is thus necessary that the government solve as soon as possible the perennial problems of poverty and lack of gainful employment, so that more and more parents would stay in the Philippines and continue to care for their children.
As the family suffers the strains and stresses of the modern world, the words of anthropologist Paul Bohannan may be reassuring to all of us: “The family is the most adaptable of all human institutions, changing with every social demand. The family does not break in a storm as oak or pine trees do, but bends before the wind like the bamboo tree in Oriental tales and springs up again.’’