The extended family concept is on gradual decline even in a country like India where it used to be a symbol of family unity and values. While urbanization, higher cost of living in cities, smaller places of stay all add to this trend, weakening family relationship is possibly the most important contributing factor to this trend of decline in joint family. Unfortunately, the blame for this shifts from one party to the other each one trying to hold the other accountable.
Quality of family relationship is always a multi-way phenomenon and depends on all the parties. This becomes important when different generations of people stay together; their understanding, perspective, value system and languages are often different. The unique factor that can bind them together is mutual understanding and respect.
It is in the above context that the role of elderly becomes extremely crucial in managing and maintaining family relationships.
Role of elders in maintaining family relationship:
There are several reasons why elders can play the most crucial and cementing role in keeping the family together. First, they represent the earliest generation and command initial respect. However, they need to use this authority judiciously. Second, many of them have huge experience in managing and resolving conflicts during their life journey including at workplaces or earlier family situations. These experiences can be used fruitfully to amicably solve the conflicts. Third, they are the automatic role model for the next generation in family set up and hence can play this role effectively in influencing behaviour of others in family to solve problems. And finally, there carry with them huge experience and knowledge of the past and thus can intuitively sense emergence of hidden conflict in family and can douse flame before the fire becomes obvious.
Elders have thus acumen as well as expertise to bind the family together and play a significant role in this direction.
The ground reality for families where many generations stay together is complex. At some places, there is perfect unity & peace and the house resonates a truly diversified co-existent community.
At some others, there have been cases of misbehaviour / abuse / non-acceptance of elderly by younger generation who want to get rid of them because of various reasons including financial ones, non-availability of staying space or cultural issues. These get aggravated as the age of elderly persons advances. The friction results in abandonment or voluntary break up of joint families.
There have also been cases where the elders are at fault and they become part of problems rather than solutions. They often tend to use their authorly in a negative way through dominant attitude and endeavour to solve family problems in their own way without thinking of the changing times or considering perspective of others. They think they are always right and this attitude leads to more problems rather than solving them. Non-adjustment to changing reality, fixed frame of mind, dominant ego all add to the problem and elderly sometimes become root cause of problems in family without even their knowing it.
The unique feature of India has been the joint family concept where diverse age groups with different ideologies co-exist. While it may not be possible to maintain the same because of various reasons stated earlier, it is necessary family spirit remains united. And for that the elders have a crucial role to play. These include:
1. They need to be unifying force in the family.
2. They should be ideal role models for others by being cool in temperament, patient and always beaming with positivity and empathy.
3. Live happily and allow others in the family to live happily: should be the axiom they should follow. What is means is that they should not interfere in lives and decision-making processes of other family members.
4. Elders must realize that other members in the family have grown up and therefore, all transactions with them should only be from adult-ego state to adult-ego state of others. This implies that dominating / demanding behaviours should be avoided.
5. They must create an environment where all other members of family come to them for solutions of the conflict or conflict as and when they arise and cannot be sorted out. They should therefore play role of family mentor.
Family is abode of peace. A congenial climate of happiness and mutual trust is what should be created in a family set up so that all can lead a happy life with sense of inter-dependence. This can only bring lasting peace to a family and can sustain spirit of a joint / extended family with habitants from diverse generations all twined together with common values. And elderly people in the family can be the only gluing factor.