The concept of family can be interpreted in many ways. These interpretations are usually based on their own family background. Each family has different understandings of what a family means and consists of. However, it is important for people in society to be aware of different types of family so that they will understand the importance of the concept of family. A good example of the interpretations of the family can be found through authors such as Erdrich and Mehta. These authors interpret the meanings of family through their experiences. Their stories have clear explanations of key elements that make up a family.
I consider a family to consist of three important elements; a guardian or ruler, rules to govern and control members, and willingness to live together. In order to explain these key elements from my own ideas, I will discuss the elements of family from a perspective of the two authors and from my culture in Thailand.
In my definition, a family is a group of people that live together and share the environment, which in most cases is called a home. A guardian or ruler is the person who takes care of all these members in the family. Generally, guardians are parents; however, other persons can take the place of parents and act as guardians of the family. In some instances, a cousin or an older brother or sister holds this job of taking care of the family.
In order for a family to run smoothly, many important aspects must be added. One important aspect of a family is to have rules to govern and control the members of a family. Parents or guardians must play this role of a ruler in order to have peace and understanding throughout family. Another important aspect of the family is willingness of the member to contribute to the family. This includes love and understanding among all members. When these key elements are present, a family is formed.
Families do not only consist of just people who live in a house together. Fraternities, companies, camps, and even schools are also considered to be families. They all have guardians, rules, and willingness to be together.
In Ved Mehtaís essay, Pomís Engagement, Mehta describes an Indian family. His interpretation of family contains the same elements of family that I described. An example, Daddyji is the main character in the story and a father to Pom. He plays the role of the guardian who takes care of everything in the family. When his daughter Pom was nineteen, he went to Mussoorie to find a young man for her to marry so that his daughter would be properly suited. When his children had some problems and did not understand something, he played the role of a good counselor. An example of Daddyji playing the role of the guardian occurred when Sister Umi asked him about the concept of loving a person, and he explained and taught her that, "Understanding and respect are essential of love, and that cannot come from talking together, even over a period of days or monthsÖIt is only when Pom and Kakaji learn to consider each otherís problems as one and the same that they will find love" (Mehta 147). Daddyji, as a good guardian, shared responsibility with his wife. For example, when the date of Pomís marriage was set and Pom and other children did not agree upon this date, they asked Daddyji to resolve the problem, he said that "he did not want to interfere, because such matters were up to Mamaji" (Mehta 149).
Daddyji, as the guardian, plays the role of a good ruler. His rules were flexible, reasonable, and based purely on the Indian culture. He followed the tradition that other people in his society did. He did not use his power, as the guardian, without good reasons and consent of the other members in the family. When he arranged Pomís marriage, he did not force her to marry without the consent from her. Anther example that showed this occurred when he allowed Pom to have a chance to reconsider marrying Kakaji. He said that, "You still have time to change your mind" (Mehta 146).
Understanding in Pomís family was essential in keeping all of them together peacefully. They all had willingness to make their family be the best place for them to stay. When they did not understand something or had problems with someone in the family, they would try to solve the problems right away. Each family member was willing to understand each other and thus provided for a more structured family. In the story, Daddyji said to Pom showing his love and understanding to Pom, "I have done my best. Even after you marry Kakaji, my responsibility for you will not be over. I will always be there in the background if you should need me," and Sister Pom answered obediently, "I respect your judgement, Daddyji" (Mehta 148). This showed the strong understanding each family member had for each other.
In Erdrichís Adam, the elements of family that Erdrich explains form another type of family which is different from Pomís family. The parents, Michael and the author Erdrich, along with the three children are not physically related. The parents adopted Adam, Sava, and Madeline. They lived together as a family. The parents, as guardians, took care of the children, especially Adam who was disabled by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Although the guardians were not physically their parents, they loved and took care of the children as much as they could. They devoted time, attention, and patience to the children. Michael, for instance, "spent months of his life teaching Adam to tie his shoes" (Erdrich 89). Erdrich, as the mother, always showed concern for Adam. This concern for Adam was most notable when he would not eat. She expressed her feelings, "I am reasonable, firm, even patient at first, although Iíve said the same thing many times before" (Erdrich 91). Even though the two guardians had to pay much more attention to their children than Pomís guardian did, both sets of parents showed concern for their children.
The rules that Michael and Erdrich used were different from many other types of families. Due to Adamís disabilities to understand and learn, the guardian could not use strict rules to control him. They needed to use patience and understanding, not orders, in order to teach him. Erdrich used to use her patience and firmness to make sure Adam ate his food. At one point in the story, Erdrich did not use patience and understanding and lost control of herself when Adam did not eat. She said to Adam, "Donít eat then. And donít call me Mom!" (Erdrich 92) Her mistake took her years of patience to make Adam call her Mom again. Adamís disabilities caused the guardians to use understanding instead of strict rules.
The ineffectiveness of the rules caused this family to have more willingness to help deal with the needs of the family members. Michael and Erdrich needed to have willingness to take care of Adam. They had to use understanding with Adam and be patient when they were together. The mother in her attempt to create a happy family showed her willingness to contribute to the family. After Adam stopped calling her Mom, she had tried hard to prove her love to him again. "Adam calls me ĎMotherí or ĎMomí now, but it took years of patience, of backsliding, and of self-control, it took Adamís father explaining and me rewarding with hugs when he made me feel good, to get back to mother and son again" (Erdrich 92).
In Thailand, there are two main types of families, nuclear and extended. In most parts of the country, mostly in countryside and small towns, families are extended. Grandparents, cousins, parents, and children live together in a big house. The oldest person of the family, usually the grandfather, is the guardian. The guardian of extended families does not have to take care of all the members. Instead, his job is to make the family peaceful. The guardian, usually the oldest person, is the person who is the most respected in the family. All members respect the decisions made by the guardian. All parents of children in extended family do their jobs of taking care of each other.
Each person in a family has a duty to help the family. They share and help each other with everything they do. Everyone respects one another and is abided by the rules of the family. In general, the rules of an extended family come from the long traditions that have accumulated from past generations of the cultures in their society. Every member uses rules to control each other; however, the guardian makes the final decisions. For example, when my father was young, his job was to raise cows and buffaloes on the farms. One time, he forgot to take some cows back to the house and his aunt scolded him. The argument between them was not settled until my fatherís grandfather mediated the situation.
Willingness to abide by the rules of the family is essential because there are many members involved. It is hard to have many people who have different ideas together without conflicts. Everyone needs to be willing to solve problems and help each other get through crucial situations. The problem with members lacking willingness to cooperate does not often occur in Thai families because of the long tradition and culture from the ancestors that has taught Thai people to be generous and help each other.
As technology expands, the role of families changes. People tend to move from big families to smaller families due to the increase in work in large towns. They create a new and smaller type of family called nuclear family. This type of family is located in industrial and large towns.
Nuclear families in Thailand usually have the father as the guardian who takes care of all the affairs in the family. Unlike the guardian in an extended family, the guardian or father of the nuclear family takes care of all the issues concerning the family. The guardian teaches members both in educational and moral issues. My father, for example, often told me stories when I was a child about goodness and sins before bed. He also taught me how to paint and draw pictures. The guardian of nuclear family also takes care of affairs in the house. Cooking, shopping, and cleaning are some jobs that many guardians have to do. My father, for instance, used to go fishing every time the tide came in. He also cooked for my brother and me when my mother was not home.
Nuclear families contain fewer problems than extended families because the guardians can easily control all the members. The rules of the family come from the guardian. The rules are flexible and reasonable. The guardian is the person who judges whether any member violates the rules or not and enforces any punishment if necessary.
Certainly, everyone is willing to contribute to the family and help the family be the best place to stay. Members in a nuclear family have stronger relationships than in extended families. The members have more opportunities to be close and talk to each other. The willingness to cooperate of the members in a nuclear family is naturally strong.
Families have many meanings and are dependent on a personís experiences. People have grown up from many different types of families and surroundings. In many instances, people conclude the definition of a family from what they have seen in their lives. These views that they believe are often too narrow and vague, and they may see the family in a negative manner. This narrow view might lead them to be pessimistic and cause problems in their society. Learning through other peopleís experiences regarding the family helps people to have open perceptions in understanding more about families. After knowing other peopleís definitions of family, they will understand the importance of a strong family.