Monday, 21 May 2018

International Day of the Family

by Matthew Wood 

The 15th May 2018 marks the International Day of the Family.  The word ‘Family’ is used so generically that it can often be difficult to discern what ‘Family’ truly means.  Culturally, the word ‘Family’ can be interpreted very differently depending on where you were born and raised.  

So who is your family and why do they matter so much?


  In the UK ‘Family’ is determined very differently to here in Ghana.  In the UK they tend to use the nuclear family system, your family is; you, your parents and your siblings.  Once you move out, get married or have children you then have your own little ‘Family’.  Extended families consist of lots of smaller, autonomous, families.  They do not so much as rely on one another to function and survive.  Each works towards its own growth and development, often unaffected by the actions of the other wider family members. They may move cross country, inter-country or even cut contact with other family members for weeks, months or even years at a time. A by-product of this way of structuring ‘Family’ is that you get widespread family all over the country and world, lots of smaller family groups and a lot less communication. 


  In contrast, a Ghanaian relies on it’s ‘extendedness’ to function.  Each member, from Great Grandparents to Great Grandchildren, has an important role in contributing to the greater family unit.  Ghanaian families are often a lot larger than families in the UK.  This can be due to a number of factors, one of these being that Polygamy is legal and widely practiced in many families in Ghana, one husband, multiple wives.  Culturally, If a man can afford to care for multiple wives then there is a possibility that he will marry more than one wife and take on the responsibility of caring for them financially, physically and emotionally.

  For example, in my host family the house father has 5 wives.  Three live in the complex with us and the other 2 are housed in other compounds in the area.  All of these women have their own children with their own families.  The biggest cultural difference is that those children have a duty to serve and care for their parents until they no longer can.  Therefore all of these small families live with or near the host father and his wives.  As a result, the complex we live in houses 27 family members originating from the host father and his wives.  They are all autonomous and function individually, but their individual efforts help power the greater machine that is the family as a whole. This way of viewing family fosters strong communication and loyalty whilst limiting the families independence.  Some members will rely other members to care for them at the cost of their own livelihood.  

Roles within a family:

  One key fundamental difference culturally, between the UK and Ghana, is the role of family members.  In the UK there is a high chance that both the women and men have the opportunity to work and / or take care of their family. For the most part, children spend their time at school, doing chores, playing outside or investing in electronic games of one sort or another.

   In Ghana this can look different.  Specific gender roles are usually followed in order to achieve all the necessary tasks in any given day.   In short, the men earn money to support the family, take care of the property and do any required landscaping.  On the other hand, the women will cook, clean and take care of the family.  The young girls will help take care of the home and care for their younger siblings, whilst young boys will help earn money by working and learning their trade.  
Throughout all of this the community elders invest in the younger members of their family by demonstrating how to live, love and care for their family and the community in general.  Although elders in the UK are respected, they do not hold such an essential commanding role as in Ghana.

My conclusion:

  Although families may vary from culture to culture, I have come to realise that their fundamental goal always stays true: to love, care and light the way for future and current generations.  
  Some cultures foster families that are split into smaller nuclear groups, within the wider family. Parents develop their children with the knowledge that, eventually, they will release them to pursue their own adventures.
  Others cultures, seek to develop one  another, within the family as a whole, investing in younger generations, then keeping that wisdom close to home. This approach sees value in the knowledge that each family member plays a part in their families greater adventure. 

 Whichever way your family approaches life, just know, there is no right or wrong way to be ‘Family’. Whether your family is few or many, we should learn to enjoy one another’s company and find joy in the time we spend together.


  1. A very well written, interesting & enlightening summary. Thank you.

  2. A very thoughtful, interesting explanation of 'family'.

  3. Very good article.
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