In this talk we are going to consider the family as a group of
people from different generations, related to each other and who share. First
we shall try to establish why the family, understood in this way, can be
considered efficient in the present day world. Secondly we shall consider some
difficulties for the binding of the generations and, finally, we shall consider
some ways in which this binding can develop and be sustained.
1) The efficiency of the family
Human efficiency is not the same as mechanical efficiency and must
be understood adequately so as to be able to apply the concept to the family. I
understand that there are three components of human efficiency:
That is, getting the same results with less
effort, in less time or at less cost; getting the same results for the same
effort at the same cost, and so on.
b) Personal satisfaction
Efficiency also implies that there be results
for the doer of the action; it is not just a matter of mechanical efficiency.
It is possible to give a good performance but one which is not efficient
because no personal satisfaction is found. Some degree of personal satisfaction
is needed so as to be motivated towards further effort in the future.
c) Personal development:
Efficiency should focus on the future; the
situation must not remain static. An important part of the situation is the
doer; he needs to develop, to learn something, or how to do something better,
as a result of what he has done. The human being never stays in one particular
state. He improves or declines. If there is no personal improvement as a result
of the action committed, it would not be correct to talk of that action as
having been carried out efficiently.
We must consider, therefore, some distinctive
features of the family. so as to be able to consider its efficiency in society
2) The family: a group of persons who share
The members of a family live in one and the same
place, sharing space, food, utensils and so on. In the relationships between
the members, the behaviour of each person is largely unforeseeable. The members
of a family do not usually perform specific functions and for that reason one
has to think of each person more for what he is than what he does.
On the other hand, in social life we can observe
the tendency to classify people. For example, according to their profession, or
within a profession according to their speciality. Also we can see how people
like to know where others come from, whether they are married or not and other
pertinent details. However, all these characteristics are repeatable. To begin
with, we accept others because of the way they dress, their schooling, their
nationality and so on. Only after a prolonged period of living together with
another person can we get to know and accept him or her for what he or she is
and no one else can be - that is to say, for personal traits which are not repeatable.
In the family, however, the acceptance of the
person's function coincides with the acceptance of the very person. A mother
accepts a child, for example, but at the same time she is accepting her
child. This child, in this relationship, need be nothing more than that: child.
In this way, one may consider the family as group of relationships, in which
what is related and shared is the most profound and the most specific part of
the person that is, his intimacy.
To the degree that the parents pay more
attention to what their children are worth in relation to external social
functions, the family has less meaning. In fact there are some families where
we can find only a conditional acceptance of the children: acceptance
conditional on the marks the children bring home from school, on their
obedience to a series of superficial rules of conduct, or on their submissive
attitude towards parental authority. Also there may be limited acceptance of
their own parents (the grandparents) as they may be judged on the basis only of
what use can be made of them. When the grandparents have more access to the
family of their children (although they may not live with them) they will have
further opportunities for being accepted for what they are.
The family is, then, a basis for
interrelationships where mutual acceptance is unconditional, because these
relationships are not under people's control. No one chooses his children, and
the child does not choose his parents nor his brothers and sisters nor his
grandparents. Of course, it is possible for there to be unconditional
rejection, but this is unnatural and at the moment we are not considering
What we have just said has particular relevance
in the context of a fundamentally competitive world where one of the values
most highly revered is functional value to society. In the family the person
has the assurance of being accepted and loved for what he or she is,
unrepeatably, as a unique individual. In other organisations within society
this is not the case.
3) Security and permanence.
We have said that the relationships in the
family are fundamentally natural, and therefore the acceptance of one member by
another should be based on the personal characteristics of each one. But this
acceptance, because of its very nature, is permanent. This is so because what
has been accepted and what one accepts in others is not transitory. The radical
part of the person does not change but rather develops, discovering its own
Each family member, we have stated, will be
accepted for what he is unrepeatably, and this unconditional acceptance
produces the sense of security a person needs for developing and improving. If
it were not for the family, the person could only believe in himself and want
to improve so that others might recognise his worth to society or to the
organisation for which he works. The value of the person in the family rests on
what he is. For that reason the acceptance of the person is unlimited, although
in practice this does not mean that we should accepts everything a family
member says or does.
The parents give themselves to their children or
to their own parents and the result of this is permanence and security. This
produces a sense of confidence in family members because they know that their
parents or their children are theirs.
One can understand that this fact, in practice,
produces what we call 'optimists' if we consider an optimist to be someone who
first and foremost sees the positive side of things and the scope of
improvement, and only then the difficulties that oppose this improvement; he
uses all the resources at his disposal and faces up to difficulties sportingly
and with good humour. A family member cannot do this without reasonably
believing in his own abilities and without trusting in other family members'
permanent love and acceptance.
The family, we are saying, because of its very
nature, offers a situation of trust based on the permanence of the
relationships which permit the growth of the person as he or she is, with personal
4) Balance and personal style
The small child sets up his projects for a very
short period of time - five or ten minutes. And his memories are even shorter -
one or two minutes. As he grows, the projects stretch further into the future
but the memories are still not very important. For this reason, it is difficult
for adolescents to learn from their own mistakes let alone from their parents'
or their grandparents' experience. Little by little, memories become more
important. At about thirty years old there are quite a number of people who
rediscover their own parents, understanding for the first time why they behaved
in specific ways when they were younger. Also, at this age, it is normal to
have future projects well established in various fields. At forty one has to be
careful because memories begin to have more weight. Some people start to repeat
themselves telling the same old stories every time they have a chance. And, of
course, as life goes on, it looks as though the elderly will only have memories
and seldom have future projects. A person who only has memories and no future
projects dies, physically or psychologically.
I understand that psychological balance in life
is made up mostly of the combination of memories and future projects. Therefore
at the beginning of life, and towards the end, some kind of compensation is
needed. A satisfactory answer would seem to be: put the grandparents in contact
with their grandchildren because they can give them the memories the youngsters
still do not have, and the youngsters can give their grandparents those future
projects which it is difficult for them to set up by themselves.
In fact it is possible to understand the word
"young" not in a sense of time but rather of projects. A young
person, we could state, is one who has future projects. Therefore we can find
youngsters who are already old because they have no future projects and we find
elderly people who are young because they do. If we put the grandchildren in
contact with their grandparents, the grandparents can be young until the day
Logically, a person who has not found stability
in the family, in his relationships with others, ends up being unstable in
other aspects of life as well. To grow, the person needs roots, emotional roots
and historical roots, and he needs to know that he belongs to a process which
began a long time ago and will continue in the future. The family allows us to
put down these roots. Although trust and confidence are the characteristics
which most help to create the right conditions, many other factors also
For example, the person may be influenced
considerably by the physical layout of different objects in the house. The
photograph of great grandfather or grandmother's china makes the members of the
family feel that they are part of a continuous process. A home can be
understood as a house full of memories. On the other hand, the children go out
into the world and find disappointments and upsets of every kind. When they
return home, although they complain about it, what they need is to find the
security of their parents' acceptance and of the permanence of the
relationships in the family which can be felt and seen in small details of
decor in the house. These objects help to create the specific atmosphere and
style of the family which cannot be repeated in other homes. For this reason we
can state that in the family every member has the possibility of growing with
personal style instead of being influenced capriciously by external influences.
This style will be based on the discovery of different values which will
transform themselves into standards and into virtues.
The family, because it is a natural
organisation, makes it possible to live in a particular way, with a series of
values, which become part of the inner core of each person. These values are,
for example, generosity, sincerity, loyalty, respect.
5) Back to efficiency
Efficiency, we have said, requires good
performance, personal satisfaction, and personal development and growth. We
have mentioned a series of specific characteristics of the family while
discussing the following themes: A group of persons who share; security and
permanence; balance and personal style. Is better performance to be found
anywhere else? Can the individual and society in general obtain the same
results with less effort or in less time without counting on the family? Or
better results for the same effort? It would appear not.
Everyone has qualities and characteristics, and
potentialities which are sometimes dormant. But the person best equipped to
serve others is he who has managed to develop his talents. That is, someone
with an all-round education. The family, because of its natural ties, favours
the development of the unrepeatable dimension of the person, the development of
the inner core.
Man, a being endowed with freedom, needs the
family to become aware of his own personal limitations and of his abilities, so
as to be able to overcome the first and take advantage of the second. This is
the way to develop self-control and be able to serve others better. If we
consider society to be a grouping of free human beings, the family is also
needed to enable society to reach its own perfection by the input of the
individual richness of each member. Obviously, if society is not seen as a
group of human beings, every individual is a nuisance and so is the family; and
the logical thing to do is stifle any organisation which tries to encourage
personal style and replace it with an organisational set-up where each member
is regarded as useful because of the function he performs and not because of
what he is in himself.
The second question we have to answer is: to
what degree does the human person find personal satisfaction through the
family? By satisfaction we do not mean a passive state of well-being. Everyone
has a certain number of basic needs (a minimum income, light, food, etc.) but
satisfaction is something which does not operate at a level of elementary needs
of the body and appetites; it has to do with what a person's potential is and
the work he has put into realising that potential. A deep sense of personal
satisfaction derives from natural things (not artificial things) once a person
discovers the purpose for which he has been created and makes an effort to
overcome the obstacles he meets in pursuing that purpose.
The family is a natural organisation, made up of
different relationships between people who can discover the purpose of their
lives -to help others to improve and to love them- in a natural way. In the
family we can find a first circle of people in which it is reasonably easy for
us to develop the virtue of generosity and derive the deep sense of
satisfaction that comes from having made an effort to help others. At the same
time we receive the attention and the love of the others directed towards the
most profound aspects of our own being.
Undoubtedly the relationships within the family
are not sufficient for us to find complete satisfaction. It will also be
necessary for us to engage in work: man was made to work. And also he needs
friends and companions. Each person can develop himself through all these
relationships. And he needs, especially, to develop his relationship with God.
However, the family is still the place where a person can find an initial basic
satisfaction, because the family accepts him unconditionally, loving the
unrepeatable aspects of his being.
And, finally, our third question: to what extent
can we find personal development and growth in the family?
Many families do not have the basic features we
have been describing. So, we should stress that the family as an organisation,
by its very nature, has certain structural characteristics which exactly suit
the human person. These characteristics are neutral to begin with but, once the
family starts to operate, its actual character depends a great deal on the
inputs, the behaviour and attitudes, of its members. Therefore, from the point
of view of education, the family only really begins to make practical sense
when the people involved realise the opportunities for development open to
them. There will always be actual families whose members are happy, united,
satisfied and improving, and there will always be others whose members are in a
personal state of crisis, who are dissatisfied, unhappy and useless. But it is
wrong to say that, because of this, the family as such, is in crisis. Many
individual families may be in crisis because their members have not discovered
the real meaning of the family as an institution, and do not wish to think
seriously about the purpose of their lives. But there are also a lot of
families which are united and happy.
We have been examining the efficiency of the
family as an organisation, referring to specific values which can be practiced
there in a special way. But perhaps this appeal to reason is not necessary.
Perhaps it is sufficient to remember the trusting smile of a small child, to
remember misfortunes, dreams and projects shared with a loved one, to remember
the peace and satisfaction of being able to refer to 'my home', to be able to
state categorically that the family has permanent value, the family is here to
6) Some difficulties for binding the
Parents with their children
Many difficulties arise in any organisation when
people do not share the same goals or the major procedures for pursuing those
goals. Another principal cause of trouble is when someone consciously or
inadvertently enters what is considered to be another's personal autonomous
area for decision making. And finally research shows us that conflicts arise
when important resources are lacking (time, money, space etc.)
Let us consider the family from this point of
view. Parents and children can be united when they share the same values, when
they have similar objectives or interests. When this is not so, seldom will
they feel united. Personal autonomy contributes to the true wealth of the
family when there are shared values. If they are not, then each person's
behaviour is independent rather than autonomous. And the family loses the
possibilities that have been described in the first part of this talk.
Not only is it a question of sharing values but
also of about what major procedures should be used to achieve them. Parents and
their adolescent children may agree that it is necessary to study hard to
achieve a good job, for example. But the parents may want their child to study
at a specific time, in a particular place and in a given way, whereas the child
may want to study at a different time in a different way and so on. One problem
is the disagreement and another is that, if the parents impose their view, it
is probable that the child will reject that imposition as he will consider this
question to be part of his own autonomous decision making area. These kinds of
things break down the bonds between parents and children. Parents should try to
allow their adolescent children to make their own decisions but helping them to
think through the question before they do so.
Very often space, money and time are scarce in
the family. The children may want more money to spend, a room for themselves or
want to watch the television for more time. The parents may think that their
money should be spent in other ways, that the spare room should be used for
other purposes or that the television should be used less time. Obviously we
are recognising other danger areas as regards the breaking down of the bonds
between parents and children. When the children are younger it relatively easy
to establish a binding relationship. As the children grow, it may become more
and more difficult. If the questions we have mentioned are dealt with in a
reasonable way, there will be more chance of that bond continuing into the
7) Some difficulties for binding the
with their children
In relation to the grandparents we have other
kinds of problems. The last stage of life has an indefinite time limit,
contrary to the two previous stages. Three phases in this stage can be
observed: The first is the gradual independence of the children who leave their
paternal homes to form their own families. The second stage consists of
interrelationships between the paternal home and the children's own families.
And the third is the reencounter of the couple, finding themselves alone once
This stage brings with it the last lesson of
love: to move from us to them; in short, to learn to pass unnoticed. The final
stage should be preceded by preparation which is best done by not making
oneself indispensable. Everything requires precaution. Attitudes and behaviour
are never improvised. Neither should they be carried away by events or
In love, keeping something is easy but detaching
oneself from it is difficult. That's why an important difficulty during this
stage comes from the parents' overpossessiveness of their children and their
difficulty to set them free. Often, there is a temptation to invade the
autonomous decision main area of the children - who are now adults.
One has to understand that continued family life
creates the habit of mutual dependence between parents and children, although
with different motives. That's why sometimes one has to go against the tide,
against what is comfortable. The children will be thankful and will love their
parents more if these have prepared them for life. We insist that fostering the
autonomy of the children is not a lesser love. On the contrary, it is love free
from self interest because it is loving the children for themselves and not for
oneself. On the other hand one should be careful not to go to the other
extreme, breaking relationships with the children as soon as possible,
believing that they should lead their own lives with scarcely any reference to
their parents or to their grandparents. The situation is different in different
countries, in different cultures.
More conflicts arise during the second phase
than in the first, because the young couples have goals and interests which
conflict with those of their parents. The initial autonomy of the children as a
result of studies, work or marriage is enriching for the parents; more so when
there are young children who can promote the homely atmosphere and occupy the
place of the older brothers and sisters. But problems arise.
Permanent or temporary living together is
usually the immediate cause of problems among young couples and their parents.
These tensions are more common between parents and their children than
grandparents and their grandchildren, and more with one's in-laws that with
one's own parents; the most prominent one being between mother and
daughter-in-law, although literature has spoken about antagonism between son
and mother-in-law. The reasons are easy to understand: competition for the
affection of the same man -son and husband at the same time- united to the
feminine psychology and frequent occasions of friction in the house.
It is worthwhile taking a look at the root cause
of these problems. Why don't people who love each other get along?
Once again, love takes the blame. It's easy to
define the children's desire for independence as lack of love; it's easy to
feel guilty of ingratitude when one feels the desire to leave one's parents'
home. It's easy to grieve over the children's selfishness, after having given
them so much.
Parents normally have had to do more for their
children than vice-versa: giving them economic help, the children's upbringing,
taking them in to their home when they get married, etc. All these important
things can be converted into an instrument for getting at the children so that
they finish up yearning for freedom to go on holidays by themselves, to take
their own decisions for selecting their own friends, to seek privacy in their
marriage, etc. The initial gratitude, an essential element of life, starts to
become a burden; it brings about fear then guilt, interior reproaches and
lastly, war (conflict).
The war which is sometimes unpredictable, has
unforeseeable results. For example: the children become victims of their
parents' moods or become the object of their grandparents' over-protectiveness
as a compensation. These are what are called in psychology displacement
Other times, it will be the spouse, at the same
time son-in-law, who will suffer the consequences of the lack of support from
his wife through inhibition or shameful denial of her duties. From here, the
problems of married life increase and in extreme cases, it can provoke broken
On occasions, it will be the grandparents who
will aggravate the problems, making their need for their children seem greater
than it really is, acting as though they were children of their own children.
Here there is another psychological mechanism called regression.
It is rather a question of sincere and natural
dialogue without trying to please them or impose oneself on them. The
grandparents can give suggestions and give their opinion but make sure that
they let their children decide freely, with responsibility; they can show their
gratitude and respect the demonstrations of their children's affection without
calculating or comparing.
Also they can learn how to pass unnoticed -which
is a way of self-giving. They can watch over the autonomy of the children, for
example, living in separate houses but close enough so as to provide the
pleasure of mutual company to both parties; or living in independent areas
within the same house. But more than anything else, striving to foster
This is one of the most unkown aspects. There
are many parents who have lived only for their children and when these settle
on their own, they feel empty. They instinctively tend to meddle in the affairs
of their chidren's lives to fill their own. One has to guard against initial
good intentions which may lead to problematic endings. Once again, rectitude of
intention and precaution must be stressed.
8) Developing and sustaining the bond
We have already mentioned a number of requisites for a bond to be
established; common values, mutual respect, autonomy and the existence of
shared memories and future projects, for example. But we have not been specific
about determined actions which can be carried out for the bonds to be developed
and sustained though time.
Here, we are going to mention one specific, but all-important way
- doing things together.
Doing things together allows people to share and there are many
ways in which this can take place: eating together; celebrating things
together; going on a trip together an so on. Often family members do not take
full advantage of these opportunities. They are purely routine affairs which come
and go but do not let the members grow , improve or strengthen their bonds. For
this to happen a little initiative is needed so that they be efficient as we
have described the term previously.
For example a meal may pass as a simple exercise in eating or it
may be used as a way for allowing grandchildren to tell their grandparents
about themselves, what they are doing or what plans they have. Or grandparents
may tell the others about their experiences or what they think about different
subjects. On some other occasion some youngster may like to be alone with a
grandparent to tell them about some problem they have rather than talking to
But also the family members - not all perhaps - may come together
to plan future projects. If this happens, then there will be occasions for
communicating while planning the activity, while it is being carried out and it
will also be an opportunity for conversation as a common memory. This process,
in which communication is involved, can strengthen the bonds between those who
worthwhile kinds of projects will be related to the great values. I refer to
good, goodness, beauty, truth. It may be possible for several, or all, family
members to go to a hospital to visit someone who is ill, go to a lecture
together, visit an art exhibition, or go to a concert or the theatre together.
They may share some hobby, read together or go out on an excursion.
It is obvious that sharing experiences which are in themselves
negative will not help this bonding process. Get together to talk badly about
others or spend large quantities of money on drink and food or go to a
pornographic film together will scarcely be an adequate basis for bonding.
kinds of activities will allow that personal balance we have mentioned before.
The balance between memories and future projects. We all need good memories to
face up to difficulties and, in fact, if there are too many bad memories, the
bonds will break as a time comes when the memory is saturated with bad memories,
At that moment the idea of possible future projects with the other person or
persons disappears. This is probably the basic cause of solitude.
We could also mention a few criteria to take into account on
choosing one activity or another. It would be wise to take into consideration:
the needs of each family member,
what use the activity may have for developing good relations between family members,
how the activity may influence others (although a trip together could be useful there may be a baby
to look after)
the degree of personal satisfaction and improvement that
con be foreseen for each
what kinds of feeling the activity may produce,
the amount of money, time and effort the activity may need.
A healthy family is a united family where there is strong binding
between the generations, where each member has his own autonomy but all share
common values. In this way each member will be able to carry on growing,
improving, all through life and each member will be able to influence others
outside the family positively. Thus the family, through each member, can
contribute to true solidarity in society, which can be understood as true
binding amongst all people.