Often you hear people saying, the Guptas are so helpful or the Sharmas are so arrogant they will never apologize in spite of being wrong. As a child interacting with my cousins and friends I noticed that each of us had our individual distinct frames of references for the way we were. That explained different values, ethics, preferences, habits. These differences from the outside world were what made our individual families cohesive.
For instance, in my cousin’s family they would all eat the first mango of the season together. In another friend’s house, Friday was for visiting the temple and not eating anything sour on that day. In my family, we kids had to come in from playing outside once my mother was back from work, and we would do the evening diya together. Another one was never sleeping over a fight. My friend’s family would play carom together on weekends and they would buy new clothes only for Diwali and birthdays. It may seem like I’ve picked up examples of food, faith and fun only. 🙂 Isn’t that what life is all about, interrupted with some work and learning?
I don’t think that our parents have consciously worked on a 10-point list to create a unique family identity. Nor did they deliberately carve one out on some aspirational basis. It naturally evolved from a blend of values, customs, traditions, individual and group preferences and personalities and circumstances. It manifested as this warm feeling of belonging, unconditional love and acceptance, an unwritten code of conduct (reinforced when required :-), of relating, of sharing joys, disappointments, of celebrations, etc… (an exhaustive list!). The family identity remains dynamic and is supple enough to withstand the tests and travails of time and circumstances. Remember, change is the only constant.
Why is family identity important? I am no social scientist to supply popular pop-psychology rationales, hence also please overlook awkward terminology. I believe that as children, our first sense of identity is derived from the family. Since this is our first exposure to a group, we learn how to relate, communicate, express ourselves freely, open ourselves to trusting, receiving feedback and support, build our self-esteem. This is someplace we keep coming back to lick our wounds from the big bad world outside and go back and fight our case. In the process of working on building our individual identities we tend to draw heavily from our family identities. And it is also the best way to instill values in our children. We as a family do this, or always speak like this, etc. In cases of weak or absent family identity we may also tend to reject stuff from the family identity but more importantly tend to rely on external sources as influencers, which is never a good thing.
When I was studying in a hostel, there were girls who went a bit overboard with the freedom of staying away from home. No, I am no Missy Goody-two-shoes and had my share of fun too. However, for those of us who had a strong sense of connection with family and family identity did not fly off the curb, kept our sense of balance and perspective and stood us well. Weekly letters and phone calls home, keeping in touch with local-guardians, keeping a meticulous expense account… some of that stuff came out through family traditions and expectations. We were able to resist the peer pressure in having just fun and able to make decide if something was good for us or not.
I read this article in Parentous and the case for a strong family identity becomes even stronger. In view of the increasing multi-culturalism and diversity that exists in even a small 3 or 4 member nuclear family unit, the intrusion of technology in our everyday lives, the disconnectedness we face from family members due to stresses of modern-day living, a coherent family identity is very centric for the family to bond and survive. Children raised in such upbringing will be more confident, more independent and more connected to the family and its values. It will guide them positively to developing a positive individual identity and self-esteem of their own.
Sharing on a lighter note, my kids now know that clothes they have outgrown go to the ‘olfans’, we have crazy nick-names and keep making new ones along the way, doing masti-pasti with their father, listening to Achyutaashtakam before bedtime followed by the first notes of Ada on my phone. Do you have something similar for your family?
Vibha, aka Chatty Wren, is a full-time mother to two delightful little girls. She blogs at http://wrenwarbles.blogspot.com about her life with her little ones, ups and downs of living in a foreign country and anything else that catches her fancy.