Prof Ramesh Deosaran writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
Family. While the famous dictionary describes this as “a set of parents and children, or of relations, living together or not”(Concise Oxford), this ambiguous description, has been pushed and punched around by different sociologists in over a century. In other words, as the world and its various cultures changed from “primitive to modern” there has been great difficulty in defining “the family.” Today’s same-sex marriages etc, add complications.
Popular commentary in this country, and in fact the Caribbean, however, has viewed the family as husband and wife (matrifocal, common law or not), and maybe, with children – adopted or not. We even have a Family Court. The common view here leads us to speak about family breakdown, irresponsible families, etc. Beneath this view came a flush of appeals in the last two months for “parental and family responsibility.”
President Anthony Carmona recently told a presidential awards ceremony: “We live in a time where, far too often, parents are allowed to do whatever they want and blame others, including teachers, principals and schools for the poor stewardship of their children.” Psychologist Anna Maria Mora said: “If our children are criminals, it is because adults who have the responsibility for creating the environment in which they will thrive and become productive and mentally healthy citizens are not living up to their responsibility.”
Then Mr Ricardo Lijertwood wrote: “The upbringing of the nation’s young people is everyone’s responsibility and yes, they are products of the environment. But more importantly, they are products of their parents who come first in line of responsibility…a bad parent could make you become a criminal.” Dr Albert Persad agreed.
Resting on Pope Francis’ words, “It is time for fathers and mothers to return from their exile,” the passionate Catholic, Ms Leela Ramdeen, added: “Any parent or educator who abrogates his or her responsibility to guide the children they are simply adding to our daily woes.”
And to underline all this, the Newsday editorial was headlined: Parents must take charge. New National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA) president, Ms Raffiena Al-Boodoosingh (whose courage and leadership I admire and support), quickly pledged to follow-up this advice. And finally is Single Fathers Association president, Mr Rhondall Feeles, who feels judges have been giving fathers too much pressure, called for co-parenting to be “mindful, supportive and appreciative of each other” and in the interest of their children.
Now these “family” appeals will likely continue with the “water on duck’s back” metaphor also hanging around. Families do play a critical part in school failure, delinquency and youth crime and violence. They also contribute heavily to high school achievement, career aspirations and youth civility.
Families also contribute to homelessness. Given the family structure we have generally accepted, whether nuclear or extended, family responsibility must play, and be called upon to play, a pivotal part in securing the welfare of their offspring and relatives. Faced with this growing increase in city homelessness – from Port of Spain, Arima, San Juan, Chaguanas, Princes Town, to San Fernando and Siparia – how far does the government’s helping hands reach? Senior citizens homes – many just “put away” in homes – are growing in number.
All social policies must have limited and justifiable reach. Families also have a social and moral if not legal responsibility. Families just cannot throw away so easily the fruits of their uncaring and irresponsibility upon the rest of a burdened tax-paying public. The challenges of families – especially poor, single mothers – are well known and need attention. But there are self-responsibilities there too when you see a poor, homeless mother with six young children and no father around.
It is high time the authorities and NGOs find out more reliably what are the causes of such growing homelessness. Like PH-taxis, illegal vending and squatting, the “rights” of the homeless will soon become another tail that wags the tired dog. There is already an appeal by a homeless person against a recent judgment that forbids him from occupying Tamarind Square in Port of Spain. What happens if he wins this appeal? Learning from experience, it is high time we do not confuse charity and welfare, where deserving, with excessive lawlessness and public disorder. The latter is becoming quite attractive and even profitable in this society. Where are the families?