Monday, August 10, 2009

Love Yourself, Love Your Family - The Star on Saturday

Saturday August 8, 2009
Love yourself, love your family

MOTHER Teresa is famed to have answered when asked, “What can you do to promote world peace?” Her answer was, “Go home and love your family.”

The 21st century has brought to our doorsteps the moral question of family and its institutions. The weakening of our social fabric today is seen through the increase in child abuse, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, rising divorce, breakdown of morality and substance abuse, to name a few societal predicaments.

Unresolved issues in families spill into the larger base of communities, holding in many instances an entire society at ransom of their safety and security, its peace of mind.

Are our family institutions stable anymore? Findings from the nationwide Malaysian Population and Family Survey (MPFS 2004) show that divorce rates are up by 1.8% to 2.2% of the population from 0.7% recorded in 2000.

More than 98% of couples from the same survey still perceived their family relationships as strong and cohesive. Ironically, we are witnessing increasing numbers of divorce and stress in family life which is directly affecting our value systems.

With the ageing population, we are also witnessing increasing numbers of “sandwich generations”; a generation where working adults have to support both their elderly parents and young children.

About 10% of the elderly in Malaysia live alone, according to MPFS 2004, while 1 in 4 claim that they have not received any financial assistance from their children who live away from them.

We are starting to observe an increasing number of children neglecting, abdicating and franchising their responsibilities or even abandoning their parents.

This will become more pervasive as the society ages. It is critical to nip this trend in the bud. It has often been said: “A parent can take care of many children but many children can’t take care of even one parent”.

The role of parents in inculcating values cannot be underscored. It is imperative that parents, as the first and most important teacher to their children and role-model-in-chief, instill values such as filial piety, responsibility, inter-generational caring and respect amongst family members. Sadly, these values are amiss in our society today.

To protect and support the families to be strong and resilient, we must return to basics. We must return to developing family and communal values. The FAMILY is the primary source to developing a comprehensive social system.

Family is where we all learn vital and fundamental skills which determine one’s character and resilience. While every family is unique, there are some core values that bind us all which cuts across culture, ethnic and religion.

Respect is the recognition that everything and everyone is just as important as we are. Honesty simply means telling the truth.

Responsibility means having a sense of duty and keeping to one’s moral obligations and being accountable for one’s actions. Caring means the show of humanity, sympathy and/or mercy to our fellow human beings.

Strength of character infused with respect, honesty, responsibility and care defines the backbone to a society. These invaluable values have to be imbued back into our cradles at home.

For the Ministry, developing a caring society built on a strong and resilient family institution remains our core focus, regardless of challenges of the times.

The Family First: Bring Your Heart Home Campaign launched by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry in 2003 has been instrumental in changes to regulations and incentives.

This include increase in paternity leave from three to seven days, and medical benefits for public sector employees being extended to their parents.

It also include three days compassionate leave for death of immediate family members, tax incentives for companies which conduct family-related activities, tax relief for children who pay the medical expenses of their parents and increase in the eligibility criteria for financial assistance particularly for vulnerable families such as single mothers, families with disabled persons and elderly.

In 2004, we introduced an accessible counselling service for a whole family through the Kembara Kaunseling programme. This programme spanned the spectrum for adolescents, adults and couples.

By year end, more comprehensive family counselling services will be made available at all the 53 Nur Sejahtera clinics in the country.

In 2006, we started the SMARTSTART course for couples intending to get married and those who have been married for five years or less. The programme, now offered in 4 languages, offers couples tips and skills in areas such as parenthood, managing family stress and conflicts amongst others.

To help Malaysian families cope with contemporary living and lifestyles, Parenting@Work Programme was introduced at the workplace in 2007. Issues such as work-life balance, effective parenting and stress management are emphasised at the workplace.

To address the negative risk taking behaviour amongst the young, kafe@TEEN was set up to provide counselling services, skills building, and reproductive health education for those aged 13 to 24.

Due to its popularity today, with the Education Ministry, we will be up scaling this through five schools in Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Pahang and Kelantan.

All these programmes are of no real benefit, if as individuals in our daily roles, we do not focus on ourselves and our families.

We cannot as a nation gain development and growth if our own lives are broken. The 1Malaysia vision calls on us to be a family in our homes, and in our land. 1Malaysia seeks for us to return to the basics of mutual respect, honesty, responsibility and a caring society.

To gain success as a nation, we must define success in our own homes, in our own souls and in our own conscience.

> Tan Sri Faizah Mohd Tahir, who is the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry secretary-general, welcomes comments and suggestions. She can be contacted at

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