Changing Family Values in Indian Society
Speaking from the Indian context, I must say that in the past three or four decades things have completely changed - but I am not sure whether it is for the better or for the worse! Times have indeed changed, but how?
I remember my childhood and my own interaction with my parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. There was a lot of closeness, but at the same time there was an unspoken division between the elder members and the younger members of the family. We were never encouraged to oppose anything that my grand parents said--their words were the unwritten law and were to be strictly followed, right or wrong! It was the same with the other elder members of the family. The younger generation never had the right to question them or put their own points of view across, and, even if they did, most of the time their voices were subdued and discouraged. One could not make any decisions without consulting the family elders and be allowed to have one's own personal views; one had to bow down to a joint decision taken in on behalf of one by the entire family, which made the more independant-minded unhappy, and many times led to clashes and disagreements. I felt that there was constant interference from other family members, especially the elders, regarding all my private matters, be it making friends or dressing in a certain manner or coming home at a certain time of the day.
On the positive side, family values were strictly adhered to, and this unified the family. Decisions were taken jointly and when difficulties arose, it was the same. All the members pooled in and helped out those who were in difficulty. Even marriages were decided by the entire family sitting together and discussing the merits and demerits of the groom or bride and their family background. The Bride and the groom had very little say in the matter! It was more a case of a marriage between families and not the two individuals. But, again when one takes a look at the statistics, there were hardly any divorces or broken marriages during those times. When the couple had some disagreement, the family stepped in and quickly things were restored. The couple had very little time for each other and seldom had the chance to enjoy time together. For better or worse, happy or unhappy, they stayed together because they could never disobey or go against the elders in the family.
Now when we see a modern day family--it is a typical urban family is nuclear and independant with both the parents working or at least the father working and the mother managing the home and the children. In many cases the elderly parents do live with their children and the children do have love and respect for their grandparents and other elders of the extended family. But since the interactions and the influence of the elders is limited, there is no stress on them. There is not so much pressure on the family by the elder members. They may give advice when asked, but refrain from taking any major decisions or imposing them on the youngsters. The children go through life making their choices in education and marriage. Most urbanite marriages are a combination of arranged and love marriages. The parents introduce the likely candidates to their children, and the boys and the girls get to know each other with the approval of the elders from both the sides and decide to get married with their blessings. Things do go wrong when these arrangements do not work and the children decide to look around for partners elsewhere other than within their communities.
Once a member of the family makes his own decision to get married to a girl of his choice, he is left on his own with the family members opting not to interfere; and if and when there are misunderstandings between the couple, there are not many family members willing to help out. This can work both ways--the couple may sort things out and may be ready to compromise a little more, knowing that there will be no help coming forth. On the other hand, a smaller misunderstanding which could have been set right with the right kind of advice by the wise and experienced elders, may escalate and lead to a major issue and a complete breakdown of the relationship. One can see that the number of divorces and broken marriages have sharply increased in the past 3 decades.
The major disadvantage is the manner in which the older members of the family have lost their importance, and find that not enough value is given to their advice, even when it is sound. They are also lonely after the children grow up and move out to make their own homes. On the other hand, no system is perfect and it is important to find a balance between the old and the new lifestyles to see that the family values are maintained. After all, we need to care for people and their feelings, and family values ultimately lie with relationships between individuals. One has to take responsibilities in life, especially regarding our own parents and grandparents.