The Breakdown of the Family

Problems and pressures affecting the Mauritian family vary from family to family or within the same family, but what is crucially lacking is the general lack of preparedness to anticipate problems, face them and work out solutions

By Sada Reddi


“In Britain, which was the first industrial nation, the machine age dislocated the family, uprooted it from the countryside, brought it to the dark satanic mills and reduced it to slum dwellers. The problems that we lament today and wrongly ascribe to westernisation, were first lived in Britain during that period of economic and technological transformation…”


Over the last decades, as a result of both economic and social changes, the family has been subject to intense pressures. This partly explains the general malaise that has gripped almost every family. Many observers have drawn attention to the malaise, and newspapers are replete with cases of dislocation of the Mauritian family.

Unfortunately there has never been any comprehensive study of the family in Mauritius, both from the sociological and historical perspectives, and the State and the individual have had to improvise coping strategies without really diagnosing the underlying causes.

It is not surprising that, with such an approach, problems and issues concerning the Mauritian family have been tackled on an ad-hoc basis by the State or at a personal level by counselling or simply by moral exhortations. While all these approaches have been useful in situations of emergency, depending on what have been diagnosed or proposed as palliatives, we are still in the dark as to the transformation that the Mauritian family is still undergoing.

While problems have been identified on a personal or on a case-to-case basis, we do not yet know what are the major issues confronting the family or the underlying trends. No doubt families have been traumatised by pressures and stresses and suffered unnecessarily. And in a small island like ours, such traumas are lived with greater intensity for a number of reasons and these are not confined to any particular ethnic group or class.

Problems and pressures affecting the Mauritian family vary from family to family or within the same family, and they do not affect everybody in the same manner or may occur at particular points in time in the life cycle. The nature of the problems, and their consequences or even responses to them vary. But what is crucially lacking is the general lack of preparedness to anticipate problems, face them and work out solutions.

It is true that these problems are not confined to our island. They exist in all societies, and in a period of rapid changes, these problems are more acute and more dramatic. Whereas in other countries, social institutions have been developed to help the family, in Mauritius these are still rudimentary and ineffective.

As a young society, we could have drawn on the experience of other countries to create a greater awareness of problems and issues, and benefit from approaches used elsewhere to devise our own solutions. It does not appear that we have made use of other countries’ experience.

In Britain, which was the first industrial nation, the machine age dislocated the family, uprooted it from the countryside, brought it to the dark satanic mills and reduced it to slum dwellers. The problems that we lament today and wrongly ascribe to westernisation, were first lived in Britain during that period of economic and technological transformation.

The breakdown of the family, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism and incest, decline of religion and loss of parental control were rife in that period. Victorian morality, confined to the middle classes, was a response to what was perceived as the immorality and licentiousness of the masses. Schooling evangelism, values of self-help were efforts of the middle classes to restructure their own society.

It is not surprising that we too have had to face similar problems over the last decade. The emergence of new values and new lifestyles has imposed new stresses on the family. Generally we are all ill-equipped to tackle many of these problems. Working mothers unnecessarily develop guilt for not providing their kids with care, and compensate such ‘guilt’ by flooding their children with material objects. Often husbands and wives live in the shadows of their mothers, and forget that love for one’s mother need not be detrimental to one’s spouse or family.

Fathers appease their children with mobile phones, credit cards or huge sums of money. Young couples take a simplistic view of marriage and nurture very high expectations, forgetting that marriage is not only about love and happiness but also about ethnicity, religion, property, children, power, status, rights, responsibilities, and these have to be negotiated throughout one’s life.

All these problems are not new but they are more likely to have disastrous consequences if they are approached within an archaic framework. Given the fact that the family is a dynamic institution in any society and will remain so, it cannot be insulated from other societal changes. There is a need to be alert to changes taking place in society, to discuss and understand them. Such discussions should involve everybody concerned and conducted in a democratic manner.

Changes taking place can be ephemeral, transitional or permanent — some are good or bad; there is a lot one can learn from the past and a lot that has to be rejected too. In the end what every family should do is not to hark back to a nostalgic past but to empower every individual in the family so that he or she can face any challenge, becomes aware of all possible options, takes informed decisions, accepts responsibility for his or her actions and forges his or her own future.


* Published in print edition on 14 December 2018

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