Significance of the family | Sunday Observer

Significance of the family

Ask any child to draw his or her family and you get the traditional picture of father, mother, brother and sister, with perhaps the family cat and dog thrown in for good measure. The family is the nucleus of society. Although families all over the world have transformed greatly over the past decades in terms of their structure and as a result of global trends and demographic changes, the United Nations still recognizes the family as the basic unit of society. Every time a family breaks up, the society is affected in some way. When long-lost families get together, the society benefits.

The UN’s International Day of Families, which falls on May 15, provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting them. It has inspired a series of awareness-raising events, including national family days. In many countries, this day is an opportunity to highlight different areas of interest and importance to families.

The theme for 2018 is “Families and inclusive societies”. This recognizes that societies can become truly inclusive if families stay cohesive and functional. This year’s observance will explore the role of families and family policies in advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal Number 16 in terms of promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.

TV dinners

The concept of the family is under threat in many societies as a result of changing lifestyles and other factors. Different members of a family may have different working hours, which means, they have only a limited time to be together. The invasion of the living room by the television set means, many family members are glued to it, without conversing with each other. This has led to the term “TV dinners”.

The dinner table is usually a focal point of the home, where the family members come together, talk and laugh over the day’s incidents. Unfortunately, busy and varying lifestyles have conspired to make this practice a thing of the past in most households. This leads to a lessening of family bonds. Most children too have extra classes that end in the evening and they come home only around 8 p.m. They are too exhausted to even enjoy the company of their parents for a couple of hours. They just fall asleep, wake up early the next morning and go to school. Even on weekends, it is a non-stop marathon of tuition classes. There is very little time for play and family bonding. In many families, both mother and father go to work, which further limits the time available for family bonding.


The other major intrusion that has affected families is the addiction to the Internet, especially, social media. Incredibly, there are people who communicate with their family members via Facebook, Viber and What’s App even if they are living together or close by. There is very little physical interaction among them. This is a disaster for families that are already reeling as a result of various other factors outlined above. Conflicts within families, such as, divorce, separation and quarrels also affect children, tearing families apart. Moreover, conflicts among countries have also kept families apart – a case in point is North Korea and South Korea, where the line of separation (38th Parallel) has literally driven families apart. Some families have not seen each other since 1945. Imagine a father not being able to see his son or daughter for several decades and vice versa – it is a complete tragedy for the families concerned.

In fact, the parents are the epicenter of any household. We would not be alive today if not for our parents. Many countries celebrate Mother’s Day today (May 13), which is dedicated to honouring mothers. Although not a UN recognized holiday, Mother’s Day is important symbolically, to show that a Mother’s Love never ceases. Similarly, Father’s Day is celebrated in many countries on June 17. In Sri Lanka, where we are very close to our parents all the way till adulthood, there really is no point in having separate days to appreciate them. But, since the two celebrations have filtered down to our countries, people should be free to celebrate them. Although there is intrinsically nothing wrong in paying tributes to our mothers and fathers on a dedicated day, even 365 days of the year are not enough to sing their praises.

Uphill struggle

Conflicts in many countries, including Sri Lanka, have resulted in a large number of families headed by females. These families face an uphill struggle to exist, especially, if the women cannot find work. An unfortunate side effect of this situation is that the older children are sometimes forced to work for the family’s upkeep, thus denying them education. All countries having this problem should strive to evolve viable solutions.

In this context, the UN will be marking another important day on May 16. The UN General-Assembly has declared May 16 as the International Day of Living Together in Peace, which is all about accepting differences and having the ability to listen to, recognize, respect and appreciate others, as well as living in a peaceful and united way. Again, the family comes first in this exercise. If there is no harmony within the family, one cannot expect peace to prevail in the wider society.

This day is also a means of regularly mobilizing the efforts of the international community to promote peace, tolerance, inclusion, understanding and solidarity. The Day aims to uphold the desire to live and act together, united in differences and diversity, in order to build a sustainable world of peace, solidarity and harmony.

There is a quotation: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” This is the fundamental principle on which the UN has been built. The premise here is that peace is not merely the absence of conflict, but requires a positive, dynamic participatory process, in which dialogue is encouraged and conflicts are resolved in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation. In order to fulfil such an aspiration, there is a need to eliminate all forms of discrimination and intolerance, including those based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status. Only then can we achieve true equality among all peoples everywhere.