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International Day of Families

Families and New Technologies

“Family is the basic and most important institution of society.”

The United Nations General Assembly in 1993 recognised the importance of having a basic family system within the role of social development globally, and has, since 1994 observed the 15th May as International Family Day.

Who is in your family?

I think we would all agree despite the formal definition of family – Mother, Father and their children, we all know we have others who fall into our own definition – longstanding friends, an ‘aunt’ who is no blood relation, a cousin 3 times removed… even a pet who we describe as being ‘part of our family’. In reality then, a family is a social group of people where the primary function is to provide mutual support – both a family and a community.

A new decade…a new world…and new phrases!

The world as we knew it changed at the beginning of 2020 when COVID-19 entered our homes and our family life as we knew it – metaphorically and unfortunately for many, literally too.

The whole world is now socially distancing.  We are living, working, and socialising within our own 4 walls.  We have found ourselves using technology and digital platforms we would never have dreamed of a year ago.  Our family get-togethers previously around the kitchen table are now on a screen (with varying degrees of success!) – where the words “can you hear me?”, “turn your camera on” and “you are on mute” seem to be the most used phrases between family members.

Let’s face it, none of us are used to spending every minute of every single day with our partners and children within the same 4 walls – (I’m currently on day 410 – not that I’m counting!). We have become all too familiar with phrases such as ‘working from home’, ‘home schooling’, furlough (whoever had heard of that prior to 2020?), and even ‘flexi furlough’! But behind each of these phrases there are challenges in their own rights.

Access to the ever-advancing technology within the home is not available to all in equal measure. This has led to further disparity in children’s educational attainment and parents left feeling inadequate – lacking the necessary resources and knowledge to facilitate their child’s schooling and social development.

Sharing and swapping duties has never played such a large role in our lives: parents having to juggle their working life with homeschooling, even moving their working hours to evenings and weekends. They have found themselves in a primary caring role, being part of an education process they themselves feel uncomfortable with. For many this has been difficult: Increased social isolation, parental burnout and dis-empowerment, increased stress, deterioration in mental health and financial difficulties due to reduced income have pushed some families beyond their limits.

Home and family is, for most is a ‘safe harbour’, however the impact from the additional stresses and strains that Covid-19 has brought, has unfortunately, meant that many families have been unable to survive these times in relative harmony, and as a result domestic abuse has surfaced, resurfaced or increased and home does not represent the big warm safe embrace it should.

Being a Soroptimist I am aware of the inequalities around the world. Many nations – especially those more underdeveloped, have been particularly impacted by the pandemic… school closures where children receive their one good meal a day has led to an increase in malnutrition, confinement has led to an increase in violence and the lack of access to technology has increased the educational divide. Even within our own country Covid-19 has highlighted disparity amongst our own communities – Soroptimists around the country are supporting community larders, a crucial resource at a time when many families are on reduced income and recycling IT devices to allow disadvantaged families to home school and providing funding for internet ‘dongles’ to name a few examples. Despite these dark times there has without doubt being some hope and happiness – simple gestures, previously taken for granted now mean so much.

The upside

Without a doubt we are currently experiencing a great human, economic and socio-economic tragedy… but on the upside – Covid-19 has provided us with a once in a lifetime opportunity to reassess our family life – to strip everything back to the bare basics: make more effort to stay in touch, to understand and to offer support. Whilst at the same time recognising the increased need for technology to fit in alongside the more fundamental aspects of family life.

Whenever possible during the past 12 months and more we have taken advantage of the family time we have had together and absorbed the laughter in a time of increased unhappiness. We have rediscovered the meaning of ‘family’ in whatever definition we choose to use – we have all pulled together as a family.

So whatever definition of family we use on May 15th we should celebrate International Day of the Family by not only reflecting gratefully on who makes up our family and how we are able to pull together and support one another using whatever resources, digital or otherwise.  But also to remember how difficult it can be maintaining the work, life and family balance and more importantly just fragile a family can be during extremely hard times.

Jill Barnard
President Elect, SI St Austell and District