West Indian Family Challenges Essay, Research Paper
The family has been defined as a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It includes members of opposite sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, owned or adopted, of the sexually co-habiting adults (George Murdock, n.d). The contemporary West Indian family differs significantly from Murdocks definition, and it is controversial to find an exact meaning of the West Indian family. Even thought the nuclear family type explained by Murdock exists in the West Indies, there is also in existence the extended family and the matrifocal family. The extended family comprises of a grouping broader than the nuclear family, which is related by descent, marriage or adoption and includes members such as grandparents, aunts and cousins. The matrifocal family is the most prevalent family type when referring to the West Indies; it is a single parent family and in this family setting the role of the father is inconsequential and the mother is the dominant figure. But however the composition or structure, the contemporary West Indian family faces many challenges, some of these challenges are industrialization, westernization, education and social mobility, single parenting, lack of religious values and divorce.
The West Indies is primarily Third world countries seeking to develop to standards of other countries classified as First World, and to achieve this they have sought to industrialize especially the larger countries such as Trinidad, Guyana and Jamaica. With industrialization there is a breaking up of the traditional extended family. This is seen especially in Jamaica, where there is a movement away from the rural areas to urban settings. In these urban settings the organization of the family is affected, both its structure from a traditional family to a setting that is seregrated. This is largely due to unsanitary conditions, cramped housing and poverty (Basil, 1953). Poverty in it self is hard on the contemporary West Indian family, without income or jobs the family is greatly challenged, parents have to find means to gather money for the family but at the same time can neglect the emotional needs of their children.
Industrialization and urbanization has also affected the Caribbean woman. In prior the woman was economically dependent on the man and relied on the institution of marriage
or other conjugal relationships. With industrialization the woman has been able to acquire economic independence and this has affected the family. Economic independence drew attention away from the importance of setting up a family as the main purpose of her existence and in fact the family and household setting as the key point of her existence (Basil, 1953).
Through the nature of their colonization Caribbean peoples have always have been exposed to western culture, (Mohammed, 1986), and in the contemporary West Indian family this westernization has taken the form television, music and educational practices. Television especially has become a high influence on children, and the major challenge that television brings it has taken away some of the socialization influence of the family. Much of the time that should be spent in family activities that could constitute togetherness is being lost to the television. Carter (2000) comments on this, he sees that many parents now rely on the television to fill a significant portion of the time as well as the actual socializing experiences, which were formerly, the preserve of the family .
Education although essential to the progress of the family and to the development of society can also be described as being somewhat of a challenge to the West Indian family. Many younger family members attain an education and at times are the only persons in that family that might have an education and the reflections of those persons and other members of the family may come into conflict. This is owing to the result that increasing levels of education and knowledge now mean that intellectually and psychologically, children have a much greater resource base on which to challenge the value position of their parental generation, (Carter, 2000). Many of the beliefs and values that the family held are now set aside by the more educated family member who holds on to their newly procured knowledge and this can cause conflict in the family and construct a barrier in family communication.
Single parenting is the dominant challenge facing contemporary West Indian families. Single parenting both by women and men. The latter find it a challenge to balance work schedules with household chores, (Saul, 2000) Women are, placed under tremendous pressure as they try to juggle different tasks all at once. They have to balance work, household duties, their social life, emotional feelings and care for their children all at once. Single parenting has a great effect on children, as children need to be brought up by both parents psychologically and financially. Psychologically, single parenting has a grater effect on boys than girl in families that lack a father. Boys in father absent homes are more likely than boys from father present homes to encounter difficulties in social, emotional and cognitive development (Conger.et.al, 1984). With no dominant male figure in which to identify with, and to sometimes rebel against over protective mothers, these boys are more likely to engage in delinquent activities.
Lack of religious values challenges the family, in prior times the church inoculated obedience, love and respect for all members of the family (Matthews, 1953). Through its system of belief it cultivated a sense of family cohesion. In the contemporary West Indies there has been an exodus of persons from the church, encouraging a disintegration of values and a lack of family unity. The church was the foundation that held the family together and without it, there has been family erosion. The number of divorces now occurring in the Caribbean can visualize this.
Divorce is a major challenge that affects the family, especially the nuclear family in the West Indies and throughout the world. Divorce is a defined as a legal dissolution of a valid marriage. Divorce terminates the social and legal contract of marriage and results in the family breaking up. It comes about because of several reasons, some of these reasons are conflict within the home, abuse, age and sex differences, communication problems, religious problems, fornication, neglect and when the couple s perception of love has disappeared. It usually begins with martial conflict before the actual separation and includes a multiple of life changes afterwards (Pallari, 1998). Divorce is a very intense change to the family and it effects the members of the family, both spouses and children, socially, psychologically and economically and also influences family functioning.
Socially, with the exodus from either spouse from the home the husband or wife experiences not only separation from their spouse but also separation from an entire social support network. This network that formerly comprised of friends, especially friends of that husband or wife that they have divorced, and also the family of that spouse is ultimately altered and the divorcee feels more alone. Divorce as Carter (1994) recognized can also result in a loss of social status.
Economically, the wife is at peril especially if there are children involved. This is seen more intently where in the marriage the wife was financially dependent on the husband and was not working, where as well educated women are better to cope with the effects of divorce (Kornblum & Julian, 1995), because of the availability of jobs that are open to them. Pallari (1998) sees that eighty-five percent of the time the wife obtains custody of the child and they have to get by with half of previous income that she were getting before she was married. Divorced mothers may be pushed into poverty and dependence on the state for welfare assistance as most husbands do not continue to support their families after divorce, although they are often legally required to pay child support. (Kornblum & Julian, 1995, Carter, 1994).
Psychologically, both husband and wife are effected by divorce. Although there might have been conflict preceding the divorce, it is seen that they undergo feelings of separation distress, which then increase to feelings of intense loneliness as persons long for the security of the family that they are accustomed to. Weiss (1990) identified three ways that divorce psychologically impacts the adults involved. These ways are responsibility overload, where the one who has custody of the children has to provide financially and emotionally to the family and be the authoritative figure to the children. Task overload, is where the parent cannot meet the requirement that is needed for unanticipated activities that may arise, as they are preoccupied with working, parenting and upkeeping the household. The third psychological impact that Weiss identified is emotional overload, where the parent must give emotional support to his or her child unmindful of how they themselves feel emotionally.
The effects of divorce on the estranged wife are further assenuated by the make up of the family that is experiencing the divorce. This makeup that is primarily nuclear in structure and the increasing privatization of family which has taken place now means that a
larger proportion of divorced women now have to handle the emotional and financial consequences of divorce without the support of relatives (Carter, 1994).
The effects on children are catastrophic, children may experience divorce as the end of their lives as they know it (Kornblum & Julian, 1995). Often the children blame themselves, especially the younger children, for contributing to their parents divorce. This is a result that younger children are more dependent than the older children and the older ones are able to have an understanding of why they parents have divorced. They recognize that strong differences of opinion, incompatible personalities and lack of caring for one another are responsible (Berk, 2000) but usually are angry at how the divorce will affect their future. But no matter how it is handled, children of divorce undergo psychological maladjustment. Kornblum & Julian (1995) brings us to the attention that children whose parents are divorce are twice as likely to need professional help for an emotional, mental, behavioral or learning problem than a child who comes from a secure family. Children usually show symptoms of anger and aggressive behavior at school, and their academic performance may suffer. Children of divorce also show high rates of sadness, low self-esteem and depression. Berk (2000) sees that the older children because of lack of supervision may escape into delinquent behavior, trauncy, running away and early sexual activity.
Counseling and intervention however can combat the effects of divorce by forces in society; one such force is the social work profession. The primary roles that the social worker can perform in strengthening families of divorce are the roles of enabler and of educator. Divorce in many instances is beneficial rather than bad to the family, especially in abusive families, although there is opposition to it in the society. In dealing with adults, social workers can counsel them on how to adjust to single life so that they do not experience periods of loneliness or depression.
The social worker can counsel the couples that they should keep communication open so that problems can be eradicated, hence their children will not receive any bad effects of the divorce. The social workers can let the parties involved see especially in abusive settings that a divorce may be a positive step that may eventually result in greater personal contentment and healthier psychological functioning (Morris & Maisto, 1998).
In dealing with children of divorce, the social worker should let parents know that effective parenting is needed so that it can shield the children from conflict in the family and away from delinquent activities. Mothers can teach mothers that contact with fathers is still important to affect overall well-being . (Berk, 2000) of children. They should let the mother and father know to hold true to visitation rights so that this contact can occur. They can also show parents that they should put aside their differences and support each other especially in issues related to their children.
Children should be made aware that they are not the cause for their parents breakup; and the parents themselves should be made aware that they have the responsibility to explain to explain to their children and to reassure them that divorce doesn t mean that the parents no longer love them.