The changing role of the family

Human RightsConflictFamily Pressure

by Dr Apolos Landa.

As we approach the third millennium, people all around the world show signs of being scared. They may be fearful about their safety, worried about their families or full of uncertainty about the future.

Our families give us an identity. They provide us with a moral, social and economic support. Today, however – even in rural areas in Peru – the idea of the family itself is changing and is sometimes being replaced by other groups whose links are based on confidence, mutual support and a sense of common destiny. Religious groups, office colleagues and homosexuals are now sometimes seen to operate as ‘family’. This new way of thinking about the family is radically different and is not based on correct biblical teaching.

Many forces shake our homes and can cause our families to crumble. What are the most important ones?

Change

Change in itself does not have to be bad. It can often be good. When it is expected and wanted, most of us handle it well and welcome the variations it brings – like the arrival of children, starting a new job or growing old. Though at the time we may struggle with these changes, we soon regain our balance and move on with life.

However there are other kinds of change that threaten to destroy our family life. These can come from the modern world of discoveries and technology – continuously updated televisions and computers. Good technology, designed to help us, can steal from our families their peace.

There are also changes in values, economics and government policies. These changes are making unfaithfulness and divorce more acceptable, homosexuality more ‘natural’, marriage more temporary, child rearing more confusing and stable relationships more difficult. These changes go against correct biblical teaching. We need to learn to control and cope with this rate of change. While not agreeing with such practices, we can still care for the people involved.

Pressures

War and disaster can bring great pressures. So can lack of money and financial instability. The precarious financial situation of many poor people in urban and rural areas of developing countries becomes a tremendous force of pressure as family members – both parents and children – are forced to work out how to survive. Everybody has to work, regardless of age, education or emotional maturity.

Lack of time for precious family life affects both the well-off in regular employment and the poorest alike. This forces the disintegration of family life. This can affect us all. As families try to run their lives and satisfy their desires, life may become emptier instead of fuller.

A major concern, I believe, is that the family is losing its ability to survive pressures. As a doctor, I can liken this to the AIDS epidemic. Just as HIV infection causes the body to lose its ability to fight infection, so the continuous change and pressures on the family act like a disease, causing it to lose its ability to fight off and survive these pressures. The family is becoming immunodeficient!

AIDS and the future

One of the greatest challenges is the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In vast regions of the world this disease has disrupted the basic family structure. AIDS has become the family disease. Wherever there is a member with AIDS, the whole family goes through the same individual conflicts: denial, rejection, anger and resignation.

A family member with AIDS increases the pressures on a family. Can that family respond adequately to the problems? There is both physical and emotional damage. Single women and elderly family members are overburdened with the painful duty of providing for AIDS orphans. Even the extended family disappears when compassion reaches the bottom. Women first and then children are becoming heads of families. AIDS is destroying those who produce and reproduce.

With such worry over the future, many people put their hope in angels, new religions or over-emotional religion – but an inner emptiness remains. There is an urgent need to understand what is happening and to take time to work out our responses – in education, in our values and beliefs, in our family life. We must face up to the changes and pressures on the family, both in Latin America and the wider world today. The prophet Jeremiah once wrote (Jeremiah 6:16), ‘Stand at the cross-roads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls’ and, I may add, ‘…and for your families.’

Dr Apolos Landa is Director of the Asociación San Lucas, Apdo 2, Moyobamba, San Martin, Peru.