Monday, 16 July 2012

Ties that bind....or strangle

At present , everywhere I look "Family" seems to be the theme:
  • the novel I'm reading, The Chimneysweeper's Boy by Barbara Vine;
  • the newspaper which reports both horrific tales of child abuse and a report from the Australian Institute of Family Studies which shows 10 and 11 year old girls do more work than boys (nice to have confirmed what we already knew!);
  • websites I've been looking at like the Little Big Book Club which has family themed children's books for the month of June (Little Big Book Club);

As an experienced worker in areas relating to mothers and children, families have been very much my focus.  I believe strongly in the family unit for its role in nurturing and caring for its members, but I would be a fool to think that all families are alike.  They vary in their structure and in their ability to nurture, and in the worst situations family ties can serve to strangle the lives of their members, both physically and figuratively.

How would I recognise a healthy family?  It would be one where:
  • everyone's needs are usually met
  • the members care about each other
  • the members treat each other with consideration
  • members are encouraged to fulfil their dreams/potential
  • there is lightness and fun to counteract the difficulties of life
While Tolstoy famously wrote in Anna Karenina wrote 'All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way', there are many characteristics of unhappy families:
  • members need to compete against each other to have their needs met, with those who do best in this struggle getting the biggest share of attention, love, power, material goods, education while the others are diminished in their development
  • tensions exist between members resulting in physical, emotional and at times sexual abuse
  • those not receiving adequate care and attention develop manipulative or attention seeking behaviour, even becoming unmanageable
All new parents are learners, and there will often be much trial and error on the way to establishing a pattern of family life.  Today there is almost too much advice for parents to absorb.  Society and its commentators are quick to judge the behaviour of young people and to blame it on their upbringing and family life; barristers are very able at presenting to courts harrowing tales of abuse as mitigation of their clients' offending, yet most parents start out wanting the best for their children, and do the best they can to achieve this.  And most families manage to do a reasonable job: not perfect, but not terrible, either.

As a community, and as those who work in close contact with families it is important to encourage, support and help young parents rather than stand back and condemn.  As the well known African proverb says 'it takes a whole village to raise a child' so we all have to share the responsibility, not stand back and then condemn the parents if it goes wrong.

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