A Happy Myanmar Family
Much has been said about the institution of family in Myanmar. that it is essentially a relationship based on specific duties and responsibilities on the part of husband. wife. parents and offspring. These rights and duties are taken seriously and adhered to closely (although being human there may be lapses). Love and respect. rights and responsibilities are the foundations of a Myanmar family irrespective of religious creed. This holds true today as it did in ancient times and is a tradition that we hold dear. But there is another basic element that knits a family together although it has not been given much prominence. And that is the love and humour that is very much a part of Myanmar family life. Not much has been said about the fun and laughter that a Myanmar family enjoys. but it is there. The ability of the Myanmar people to look on the lighter. if not funny side of life is carried over into family relationship.
As. I'm sure it has been mentioned often enough. the father of a family is the "Ein Oo Nat" (Lord of the forefront of the house). Which also implies that the mother rules the rest of the household. The term "Lord of the front of the house" will probably conjure up a stern and remote figure to be approached warily with humility and respect. Far be it. There is even a popular song "Hpay Hpay Gyi Ko Chit Tai" meaning "We love big Daddy". Generally. we think father melts quicker than mother when a child sheds a few crocodile tears. Mother sees through the children's foibles and fables and when she picks up a cane children are apt to run crying to father.
Myanmar people as parents are usually indulgent with children. No self-respecting mother will let her infant child cry but pick it up at the first whimper. But by school going age they have been taught the basics of discipline and morality. Mother sees to that. But. there is a lot of fun and laughter that help to strengthen the bonds of love. Father on return from work is greeted joyfully by the children. They run to him. clamber over him and ask for goodies. A small daughter is quite capable of running into the bedroom and come out trailing a "pasoe" (men's nether garment) for father to change into. Another older child might run to fetch a glass of cool drinking water or a fruit juice. All this goes on till mother shoos them away for father to have a bath and relax a bit.
Then there is the evening meal with the family around the table. The first choice morsel goes to father. but it somehow gets back to the tiniest tot or others in turn. The parents eat sparingly if they are not affluent and see that the children get the lion's share. But you should listen to the chatter and banter at the dinner table. Father teases one or the other of the children. Myanmar children can be mischievous and deliberately let cats out of the bag. - about mother scrimping on meat and groceries to buy the latest 'batik'. Or someone or other will say artlessly that father's breath smells tangy or sour- if he has had a secret nip or two on the way home much to mother's annoyance.
There may be some form of corporeal punishment in poorer homes where the parents are ignorant and under some financial stress. but downright physical or mental abuse of children is rare. And if there is. the neighbors will see to it that it doesn't happen too often. There may be tears but there is also humour and affection.
A pre-teen son will try to support a staggering drunken father and put him to bed and an elder daughter baby sits younger brothers and sister for mother who is out trying to supplement the family's income. When such a family comes into a windfall. they will all get dressed in their best and get on a crowded bus or mini-bus to go the pagoda or. to the zoo if they should happen to live in Yangon. In smaller towns and villages they will go to a video hall (for want of a better word) or go see an all-night drama (zat pwe) at some pagoda festival. The children will gorge themselves on ice-lollipops and all kinds of roasted things - corn. peanuts. pumpkin and sunflower seeds or a wide variety of Myanmar snacks. Each of them. if lucky. may have a helium balloon or at the very least a Myanmar papiere mache doll to play with.
If a foreign visitor is observant enough. he will probably see on weekends or on holidays. a family dressed in their best. the youngest child in the mother's arms. the second youngest astride the father's shoulders and the rest tugging at mother's skirt or father's pasoe straggling along the sidewalk on their way to catch a bus home. The parents look hot and exhausted and the children are tired too. But for them all. it has been a day of fun and excitement. a day they will talk about for a long time afterwards. till the next holiday comes around.
Myanmar children are taught to love and respect their parents. But they may like all children. sometimes "talk back" to parents and be cheeky. When the parents are in a good mood they get away with a mild rebuke. if not they're in for a spanking. But the children do not fear their parents. They are wily enough to know how far they can go.
The close bonds of Myanmar family life become clear when a daughter or son enters the teens and start to show an interest in the opposite sex. A growing daughter makes the father fidgety and he looks on all boys as: "swine among the pearls. they marry little girls". But when the son shows an interest in girls. the Myanmar father. like all fathers. preens himself and thinks "Oh! chip off the old block." On the whole. especially in middle class educated families. an offspring is free to choose his or her mate. within reason.
Sometimes. of course. there is a runaway marriage. If it is a daughter. a mother will beat her breast and shed oceans of tears. But then the boy's parents come along with downcast eyes and apologies and assurances that they will put things right. that is. hold a wedding feast to declare to all and sundry that their son has chosen his bride. If however the son of the house has brought home a wife. then the boot is on the other foot. The boy's parents have to take the girl back to her parents and give assurances of their good will. Sometimes of course things go sour. but it's rare. And when a grandchild comes along all is forgiven. All focus is now on the newcomer who will be showered with love from grandparents. parents and uncles and aunts plus a horde of relatives.
To Myanmar people. all children are "Yadana" that is treasure. but there is play on the syllables that admonishes them not to be "Ya - dar - nar" that means "unfortunate to have had you".