Family – The Heart of Greek Society

Η οικογένεια είναι το πρώτο ουσιαστικό κύτταρο της ανθρώπινης κοινωνία:
This Greek saying translates to: The family is the first essential cell of human society.
And it might seem quite drastic and exaggerated, but family is the most crucial establishment in Greek society. And therefore, this saying is like a guideline. Of course, families have a vital role in every culture, but when it comes to Greece, as an individual you are a family member at first. To get a personal view of some family traditions and habits, I interviewed Dionisis Tonas. Tonas has greek parents and could confirm but also deny some cliches of greek families that I read and heard.

Family is status

One cliche I was curious about when I heard about it was the importance of family status in Greece.
When I asked Tonas about his pride in the family, he stated: “I’m super proud of my family and my name.”
It’s apparent Greeks care about their family’s reputation. What one member of the family does reflects on the whole family’s honour, and at the same time, one is associated with all the members of one’s family too. For this reason, relative achievements are essential for the whole family. The bond also applies when one family member fights. The rest of the family can be mad too. So look out with who you may start a dispute; the family will always stand by their blood relative.

greek family
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Furthermore another tradition in families, Tonas explains to me: “We have the habit of putting the name of our father or grandfather in our children to continue the family name”. But unfortunately, this practice is sparingly, and some old names vanish.
Nevertheless, Tonas still got his name from his grand-grandfather and states that family names continue in most families

Do you feel like this pride for the family is only typical in Greece? I ask Tonas. He illuminates: “It’s a Balkan thing to be proud of your relatives.” Wherefore the perception of family in Greece is based not only on the country of Greece but also on the whole Balkan region.


Roles in the family


In typical greek families, the γιαγιά’ (grandmother) and ‘pappoús’ (grandfather) have the highest status because, traditionally, age equals authority.
They also play an essential role in parenting. Often kids are with their grandparents when the parents have no time. For once, daycare is only affordable for some. And also, some parents don’t want strangers to take care of their children because they believe children are more comfortable with someone familiar and put their trust in their parents.

Parents are supposed to care a lot about their children. Unfortunately, in these very traditional families, the roles of men and women are gender-based. Whereas society and gender roles are changing, in Greek families, fathers are expected to be the provider of the household. Therefore the mother is supposed to take care of the household. Still, the woman typically works too, but more for the financial aspect. Even though women in Greece get higher education and are very capable in their jobs, the wage gap between men and women contributes to the remaining role of men as providers.

However, nowadays, there are more cases where families have a more modern view of gender roles. Like in the case of Tonas. “Both my parents work the same; my father isn’t the provider.” He admits that this way of thinking is different from most greek families, but he still sees a change in society.

Support in the family

In general extended family tends to stay close together, and when parents get older or sick, it’s natural that their children take care of them. Likewise, it happens a lot when grandparents get old or ill that they move together with their children, so they take care of them. Furthermore, according to Tonas, sending parents to a nursing home is not wanted when they get sick. “Only in special cases, children send their parents away when they have no time or something else.” So by talking to Tonas, I realize it’s a taboo not to take care of your relatives.

Also, children stay with their parents for a long time, into adulthood. “It’s usual to live with your parents at the age of 30 or 40”, Tonas explains. Tonas further explains that it has an economic purpose but is also very typical in society without the financial aspect.

Consequently, the construction of the family is working like an organism. Old takes care of young, young take care of old, and each individual can always rely on the support of their relatives. Both economic and emotional.


Family tradition in crisis

Considering the importance families have on an individual greek person, the fall of the family tradition damages society. For example, marriages decreased by 36 per cent in the last 20 years, while divorces increased. Also, the second largest group of households makes married couples without children. They make up 25.2 per cent of households. This development, away from traditional families, happens all around Europe.
The family tradition implements the function of society like the organism I referred to before.

Therefore the financial crisis didn’t break greeks society because the family members supported each other. Thats why taking care of eachother in families remains until today and is crucial for most individuals emotional as well as economical.

Still, today’s society is changing and so should the perception of traditional families. Keeping the tradition and heritage without gender roles, and blood shouldn’t be the only factor to hold onto each other– see patchwork families and adoption.

Post Author: Elena Leiterer

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