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The family is the smallest unit of society and in many cases, the first unit of socialisation. The first formative years of a person’s life is typically spent around family and the experiences they have in that period shape them for the rest of their lives. Beyond childhood, the first unit of response to many problems we encounter as people is our family. There is a requirement of love, support and respect that should govern the interactions and relationships of family members. A person’s family should be a safe space for them but unfortunately, in many cases, this is not so.
Many parents do not see their children as autonomous individuals who have the right to self-determination. Cultural upbringing often involves an imposition of values and ideologies without consideration for the child. “You are my vessel; I will fill you” is the idea behind parenting in some families. Should the child stray from the path they are “pushed” on, they are sometimes ostracised or even abused and harmed. Families must acknowledge the humanity and autonomy of their younger members even when they may not be doing what’s conventional. There is a baseline level of mutual respect that should guide familial interactions. This respect coupled with love that further consideration will help make families safe spaces for everyone.
Unfortunately, many times, the family fails its members. Women abused by their husbands are encouraged to stay and endure awful treatment; children and women raped by family members, prominent men or even random men are shunned, slut-shamed and blamed or forced to continue to interact with their abusers. These things are treated as “family matters” and victims are denied justice. Few things are more hurtful than people not believing you when you’re telling the truth; worse still when those people are family.
The conventional family unit is not the blueprint for familial relationships. People’s chosen families can substitute and even supersede birth families but at the very core, families should be allies in the struggles of their members. Families should be safe spaces for everyone; the LGBTQ+ community, atheists, people living with disabilities, older people, children and whoever else should be loved and cared for in their families.
On this international day of families, we are reminded that family as a societal unit is a driver of the struggle, the haven of safety and a foundation for well-being and happiness. Some families are founded on blood and sometimes, family is founded on love.