Bernardo M. Villegas
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Character Training in Family Life (Part II)

          Although their leaders may not articulate it, one reason why the Chinese government has lifted the one-child policy that has been in place for decades goes beyond the economic impact of rapid ageing and the shortage of young workers.  Sociologists have pointed out that the one-child policy has created a class of narcissistic males who have grown up being doted upon by six human beings:  the parents, and the two sets of grandparents.  Since there is a preference for boys, millions of girls have been aborted and the “unico hijo” (the single male child) grows up to consider himself to be the center of the universe.  The inability to consider the welfare of others, much less the common good, of such egotistic males will have very negative repercussions on the productivity of workers and the patriotism of the future citizens. 

         As Pope Francis wrote in “The Joy of Love”, “the family is the primary setting for socialization, since it is where we first learn to relate to others, to listen and share, to be patient and show respect, to help one another and live as one.”  The advantage of a large family is that it becomes the school for social virtues.  A child who has had no brother or sister will hardly know what brotherhood is all about.  A relatively large family provides the first education for good citizenship:  “The task of education is to make us sense that the world and society are also our home; it trains us how to live together in this greater home.  In the family, we learn closeness, care and respect for others.  We break out of our fatal self-absorption and come to realize that we are living with and alongside others who are worthy of our concern, our kindness and our affection.  There is no social bond without this primary, everyday, almost microscopic aspect of living side by side, crossing paths at different times of the day, being concerned about everything that affects us, helping one another with ordinary little things.  Every day the family has to come up with new ways of appreciating and acknowledging its members.”

         I think of the extended Filipino family every time I hear foreigners praising Filipino workers, whether at home or abroad, for knowing how to give “tender and loving” care in such occupations as nursing, care giving, the hospitality business, customer interaction services in the IT-BPO sector and other personal services.  Especially in Filipino families belonging to the lower-income groups, it is in the family where people learn important lessons in times of difficulty and trouble.  This is especially true in the face of illness when difficulties arise because of human weakness:  “In general, times of illness enable family bonds to grow stronger…An education that fails to encourage sensitivity to human illness makes the heart grow cold; it makes young people ‘anaesthesized’ to the suffering of others, incapable of facing, suffering and of living the experience of limitation.”

         The intimacy of family life can be threatened or enhanced by the technological progress of the digital age.  As the Pope wrote:  “The educational process that occurs between parents and children can be helped or hindered by the increasing sophistication of the communications and entertainment media.  When well used, these media can be helpful for connecting family members who live apart from one another.  Frequent contacts help to overcome difficulties.  Still, it is clear that these media cannot replace the need for more personal and direct dialogue, which requires physical presences or at least hearing the voice of the other person.  We know that sometimes they can keep people apart rather than together, as when at dinnertime everyone is surfing on a mobile phone, or when one spouse falls asleep waiting for the other who spends hours playing with an electronic device.  This is also something that families have to discuss and resolve in ways which encourage interaction without imposing unrealistic prohibitions.

         Now that the millennials (those born after 1982) are becoming parents themselves, they must make use of their greater familiarity (at least compared to the baby boomers of the last century) with information and communications technology to closely monitor the opportunities and risks faced by their children in this digital age.  As the Pope advises them, they cannot ignore the risks that these new forms of communication pose for children and adolescents; at times, they can foster apathy and disconnect from the real world.  This “technological disconnect” exposes  the young more easily to manipulation by those who would invade their private space with selfish interests.  It is important that older and more experienced parents coach the younger ones in the upbringing of children in the more complex environment of the twenty first century.  Parent to parent coaching should be one of the important initiatives of such family-oriented apostolates as Couples for Christ, the Focolare movement, Regnum Christi, Marriage Encounter, Educhild Foundation, Parents for Education Foundation and other similar organizations.  Raising virtuous individuals for the next generation is the primordial task of the Filipino family.  We should entrust this indispensable role to the intercession of the Holy Family of Bethlehem. For comments, my email address is