Fam­ily foun­da­tions mat­ter for devel­op­ment

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Ronald Th­waites is op­po­si­tion spokesman on ed­u­ca­tion and mem­ber of par­lia­ment for Cen­tral Kingston. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com Ronald Th­waites

HAVE YOU no­ticed that among all the trib­utes about the late Do­minic James, there has been no ref­er­ence to his prow­ess as a stu­dent or even as a foot­baller? It is his lead­er­ship qual­i­ties and his good-ma­tured char­ac­ter which have caught the at­ten­tion of all who eu­lo­gised him.

And where would he have learned these at­tributes? Well, ref­er­ence has been made to his mother and fa­ther who, even in their mo­ment of un­speak­able grief, have re­port­edly shown strength and gra­cious­ness and de­serve ad­mi­ra­tion for hav­ing raised such a fine son.

The truth is that fam­ily foun­da­tions mat­ter for ev­ery­one’s devel­op­ment. But it is also true that many of us in Ja­maica do not want to ac­knowl­edge that weak fam­ily struc­ture is a huge im­ped­i­ment to na­tional devel­op­ment.

Let’s face it: un­less we es­tab­lish be­hav­iour pat­terns whereby every child has at least one and much bet­ter, two nat­u­ral par­ents or sur­ro­gates, who re­ally check for them, we are un­likely to be­come the na­tion of self­con­fi­dent, ac­com­plished cit­i­zens which Vi­sion 2030 en­vis­ages.


At the risk of sound­ing like Mrs Bourne and Lady Hug­gins, hard, cold, so­cial and eco­nomic re­al­ity mil­i­tate against our sit­u­a­tion where the ma­jor­ity of our fam­i­lies are sin­gle-par­ented and where there is no strong com­mit­ment by par­ents to jointly bring up the chil­dren, prod­ucts of their sex­ual con­nec­tion.

And yes, there are any num­ber of plau­si­ble rea­sons to be ad­vanced to jus­tify or ex­cuse our fam­ily pat­terns. Tra­di­tional African tra­di­tions were sys­tem­at­i­cally de­stroyed by chat­tel slav­ery, land con­sol­i­da­tion and mi­gra­tion have dec­i­mated a sta­ble peas­antry, the in­flu­ence of Church teach­ing on per­sonal life has waned and a feck­less he­do­nism has made re­straint and faith­ful­ness seem like abuses of per­sonal free­dom.

Then there are those hun­dreds of un­em­ployed, many of whom aspire af­ter a set­tled re­la­tion­ship, a safe place and the where­withal to en­joy fam­ily life, but whose cir­cum­stances make this im­pos­si­ble.

As rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a con­stituency, I can’t count the num­ber of moth­ers, fa­thers ab­sent, who have to make the wrench­ing de­ci­sion to en­dure de­pri­va­tion here or to take a chance to go abroad, even if they can’t re­turn, in the hope that, even with­out par­ents, the re­mit­tance dol­lars and the bar­rels will suf­fice for the chil­dren. It sel­dom does.

In short, the cur­rent and forsee­able state of our po­lit­i­cal econ­omy con­spires against ef­fec­tive fam­ily val­ues.


Why is it that those who cham­pion women’s rights do not em­pha­sise that the most debilitating and un­fair cramp on a woman’s life is to be aban­doned or less-cared by the fa­ther(s) of her chil­dren? God bless all our sin­gle moth­ers and fa­thers, but their hero­ism should not jus­tify their predica­ment.

Af­ter all, a woman can bear a child only once a year. A vil­lage ram, en­cour­aged by a ‘gal­lis’ cul­ture, is not so con­strained.

Equally, I have lit­tle pa­tience with those church folk and oth­ers who scream against ho­mo­sex­u­als while ig­nor­ing the far more se­ri­ous dys­func­tion of ne­glect­ful par­ent­ing. So what will make the dif­fer­ence? First, we can es­tab­lish and pro­mote the prin­ci­ple that, how­ever hot the ro­mance, it is ir­re­spon­si­ble to make a baby who you have no com­mit­ment to try to raise with your part­ner. Is there any nicer way to put it?

Next, we can in­cen­tivise and ‘big-up’ those cou­ples who es­pouse faith­ful par­ent­ing.

And in our schools, from the ear­li­est stages, we can rivet in our chil­drens’ minds the value, the joy and the util­ity of man-and-woman re­la­tion­ships com­mit­ted to the care and up­bring­ing of off­spring.

You will no­tice that I have not ar­gued the point that fam­ily foun­da­tions mat­ter from any re­li­gious stand­point. Strong Ja­maican fam­i­lies are the foun­da­tion upon which every hap­pi­ness in­dex and growth pol­icy must rest.

It is that sim­ple and that cru­cial.

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