The family plays a significant role in a person’s life, laying the foundation for one’s future. Relationships within the family and its functioning shape children’s perception of this world and influence their development, including social skills, personal traits, values, and beliefs. The core of family functioning, in turn, is built on many factors, such as societal and cultural contexts. In this paper, I will analyze the interconnection of family and culture and discuss personal experiences from my childhood that impacted the formation of my concept of the family and how this concept has evolved.
The family has a complex structure that depends on many factors, such as the social and cultural environment. As Drewery and Claiborne (2010) note, the family is influenced by “political, social, historical and cultural settings” that usually cannot be controlled (p. 30). They remark that “each individual is created by the environment into which they are born” (Drewery & Claiborne, 2010, p. 30). When analyzing my experience, I understand that the factors mentioned by the researchers also impacted the formation of my family. I was born and brought up in Delhi, in a joint family, the type that is rather common in India. In this regard, apart from other circumstances, the Indian cultural context probably also led to the fact that several generations met in one house. My cousins and I lived with my uncle, aunt, grandparents, and parents. This family structure created a rather beneficial environment for me and my cousins.
It is possible to agree that the presence of different generations in the life of children has a great impact on them. According to Chadda and Deb (2013), joint families can effectively meet the physical and mental needs of children. In my family, grandparents participated in our upbringing, which had a positive influence on us, including, for instance, the side of education. I learned a lot from my grandmother, who was teaching us while our parents were at work. She was spending a lot of time with us, and now I can say that she has taught us only good things. In addition, we grew up in an atmosphere of caring and understanding, which influenced our past and present well-being.
When providing protection and support, relatives give children the tools for future achievements. Bronfenbrenner believed that the family nurtures and sustains “the capacity of human beings to function effectively in all domains of human activity — intellectual, social, emotional and psychological” (as cited in Smith, 2013, p. 340). One may agree that only through healthy relationships and support, it is possible to nurture the mentioned capacity for effective and successful activities in life. Among core functions of families, the New Zealand Family Commission distinguishes, for instance, protection, emotional support, and providing a sense of belonging and identity (as cited in Smith, 2013, p. 341). Needless to say that these functions can be called common for all countries.
The mentioned elements are essential for proper family functioning. Drawing on my experience, I can see the positive influence of a healthy atmosphere at home. In our family, we were allowed to share all our thoughts and perspectives with each other without any hesitation. It is also a good way to show support, loyalty, and freedom of thought. We were united with each other but not limited in our choices, which affected not only my concept of the family but also my personality. Olszewski-Kubilius (2018) points out that through their words and actions, parents and other relatives communicate their beliefs and values to children. Some of these beliefs are inevitably absorbed by kids, affecting their personal features and worldview. Growing in an atmosphere of unity and feeling my significance within the family, now I have self-esteem and confidence as well.
In addition, if taking into account common family patterns where men less actively participate in bringing up children, I consider it important to mention that my father was also very supportive and caring. According to Robinson and Jones-Diaz (2005), fatherhood has traditionally been limited to the “ability to economically provide for families” and behavior of men as “effective disciplinarians” (p. 95). Nevertheless, in our family, we could count on support from our father too. This fact also proves that my relatives put healthy relationships at the forefront.
It is also worth noting that adequate interactions with each other help to maintain the balance within the family. One of the theories proposes that “what affects one member of the family will ultimately affect every other member” (as cited in Dupuis, 2010, p. 240). In this regard, it is possible to agree that inner relationships should not be affected badly by interactions with the outer world. According to Olszewski-Kubilius (2018), adult family members provide an interpretation of the external world for children, including negative situations and circumstances. I consider that my family, in most cases, managed to bring in our life beneficial and positive elements of our social and cultural environment, contributing to our well-being.
Returning to a discussion of the cultural context, I should note that there was cultural diversity within our family. My grandmother belonged to a Himachali family, but my grandfather was a Punjabi. I suppose it also helped me to look at some things wider. According to Drewery and Claiborne (2010), uncontrollable aspects such as cultural environment can provide additional possibilities for the development of family members. When understanding different cultures, a person can easier accept different beliefs and lifestyles. It also trains one’s mind not to stick to just one framework of thoughts, ideas, and experiences. Apart from traditions and values, languages also serve the same purpose.
Language is another significant component of the culture, especially if the culture is not limited to one language. Rokx (2016) points out how important to read bilingual stories to children. India also can be called a bilingual country, as many people speak both Hindi and English. In our family, we speak not only Hindi and English but also Punjabi. I agree with Rokx (2016) that the knowledge of languages is a great tool for understanding and learning one’s culture and history. In our childhood, our parents and grandparents read us stories both in Hindi and English. Thus, the cultural environment was created not only in a broader context but also supported within the family. Srivastava points out that “the Indian family is a transmission belt for the diffusion of cultural standards to the next generation” (as cited in Medora, 2007, p. 173). In this regard, one may agree that the interconnection of family and culture is not a one-way process, as it is supported both in the narrow and the broad context.
My concept of the family had a certain development compared with my point of view in my childhood. Pryor (2010) mentions that there were several studies investigating children’s perceptions of the family. According to the findings, children and adolescents see love and support as the key elements, usually not mentioning such characteristics as legal status and biological ties (Pryor, 2010). In my childhood, I had a similar perception of the family concept. In fact, care, support, and love are still at the forefront for me, as I was growing in such an atmosphere and understand its importance. However, now I also consider family as a social institution with its legal and biological issues.
In addition, the socio-cultural context also has a big impact on the perception of family. Diez-Martinez Day and Remigy’s study shows that “children’s understandings of the family are as influenced by social and cultural factors as they are by cognitive maturity” (as cited in Rigg & Pryor, 2007, p. 18). As Chadda and Deb note (2013), Indian joint families are often characterized as close and focusing on family integrity and unity. Based on my experience, I can agree with this point of view. In this regard, the traditional perception of the family in India has parallels with my own concept, which also proves the influence of the socio-cultural environment.
One may assume that an atmosphere of care and support characterizing my family was also created to some degree under the influence of Indian culture. Of course, this country represents richness and variety in its social and cultural aspects. As Medora (2007) points out, India and its people “is a diverse mosaic whose myriad elements have been born of its ancient history, its foreign influences, urbanization, modernization, and globalization (p. 167). In this regard, it is hard to distinguish common values and traditions, including family ones.
However, the family institution in Indian culture is usually perceived as highly significant. According to Medora (2007), Indian families are often characterized by unity, togetherness, integrity, and cohesiveness. People follow the principles of collectivism, being concerned for each other, creating harmony within the family, and putting family needs above individual ones (Medora, 2007). One may agree that maintaining these values is also a great responsibility and requires selflessness from all the members. However, these principles of family functioning provide a basis for support and care. Thus, when analyzing cultural environment and traditions, it is possible to see their influence on relationships and decisions within the family.
It is necessary to understand one’s culture for bringing up future generations as well. McKenzie (2006) talks in her article about the importance of every individual for the whole group of people representing one culture. Understanding each person’s significance also gives a sense of belonging that, as was already mentioned, is also important within the family. I believe that India’s traditional family values are still relevant and need to be absorbed by future generations. Nowadays, as Medora notes (2007), joint families are becoming less common in India. Nevertheless, people are still united and care for each other, even not living all together under one roof (Medora, 2007). It proves that one of the key elements of the family concept in India is not connected just with common housing and property. It is a much deeper idea represented in personal relationships filled with understanding and harmony. These traditional values supported by the whole Indian culture and reflected in my experience became the basis for my concept of the family.
Prior to the conclusion, I consider it is important to discuss family photographs. We smile a lot in these pictures, which also mirrors the atmosphere in our house. The photos are integrated into the narrative, reflecting the idea of unity, as we are usually together in these photos. In the family portraits included in this paper, I am with my relatives. In this one, for example, there are my parents with me on my father’s lap.
Photographs also play a significant role in the family’s life and the creation of the family concept. According to Gomila (2011), it is “one of the most valuable parts of the material culture of the family” (p. 63). Photographs represent relations, bonds, shared emotions, and interactions (Gomila, 2011). In addition, as Gomila (2011) remarks, portraits provide the narratives around and about the family. In this regard, family photographs may reflect inner interactions between individuals and some cultural and social features. When analyzing studies of Bourdieu and Belleau, Gomila (2011) also comes to the conclusion that family pictures represent “the image of cohesion and embeddedness” of the family as a group and contribute “to the reinforcement of this cohesion” (p. 64). Thus, photographs take a significant place in the life of family, often providing and strengthening a sense of togetherness.
In conclusion, the core of the family is created by interactions between its members, their relationships, and the social-cultural context. My personal experience shows that my family was following the key values of Indian culture, providing support, togetherness, and integrity. These values created the basis for my perception of the family institution. Now I take into account that this institution also has other aspects that, in some cases, are distant from personal relationships. Nevertheless, nowadays, analyzing my past, I am only more convinced that the key elements for proper family functioning are support, love, and understanding. The effectiveness of this view is proved by my culture and my family.
Chadda, R. K., & Deb, K. S. (2013). Indian family systems, collectivistic society and psychotherapy. Indian journal of psychiatry, 55(2), 299-309.
Drewery, W., & Claiborne, L. B. (2010). Human development: Family, place, culture (pp. 28-64). Sydney, Australia: McGraw-Hill Education.
Dupuis, S. (2010). Examining the blended family: The application of systems theory toward an understanding of the blended family system. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 9(3), 239-251.
Gomila, A. (2011). Family photographs: Putting families on display. In Families and Kinship in Contemporary Europe (pp. 63-77). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
McKenzie, M. (2006). Kei te ora, kei to whakatipu te tamaiti kei waenganui I tōna ake whānau. Children Issues, 10(2), 38-42.
Medora, N. P. (2007). Strengths and challenges in the Indian family. Marriage & Family Review, 41(1-2), 165-193.
Olszewski-Kubilius, P. (2018). The role of the family in talent development. In Handbook of giftedness in children (pp. 129-147). Springer, Cham.
Pryor, J. (2010). New Zealand families: Diversity and change. In J. Low, & P. Jose (Eds.), Lifespan development: New Zealand perspectives (pp. 187-195). Auckland, New Zealand: Pearson.
Rigg, A., & Pryor, J. (2007). Children’s perceptions of families: What do they really think? Children & Society, 21, 17-30.
Robinson, K. H., & Jones-Diaz, C. (2005). Diversity and difference in early childhood education: Issues for theory and practice. Auckland, New Zealand: New Zealand Tertiary College.
Rokx, R. (2016) He koha – Ideas shared. In Rokx, R., Te Reo Māori: He taonga mō ā tātou mokopuna (pp. 110-115). Auckland, New Zealand: New Zealand Tertiary College.
Smith, A. B. (2013). Families and Whanau. In Smith, A. B., Understanding children and childhood: A New Zealand perspective. Bridget Williams Books.