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The Family: A Proclamation to the World outlines divinely supported principles that parents should implement in their families. These principles are not always reflected in the media today. In the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), they are obedient to some principles and disobedient to others. These things have good outcomes for the main character in the end, but not so good outcomes for her relationship with her parents.
The basic plot of the movie is that the main character, Toula Portokalos, comes from a high-spirited Greek family that is deeply rooted in Greek tradition and culture. When Toula wants to get an education instead of running the family restaurant and marry a non-Greek (Ian Miller), her father (Gus) and mother (Maria) put up a strong fight at first, but eventually come around to accept Toula’s educational and romantic desires.
The Proclamation states that parents have a responsibility to “teach their children to observe the commandments of God” (¶6, The Proclamation on the Family). In My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the Portokalos family is obedient to this principle. One example of this in the movie is that they go to church regularly. They also observe the commandment of baptism. Gus insists that Ian get baptized so that he and Toula can get married in their Greek Orthodox church. Regular church attendance and baptism are commandments of God, and many faiths follow those commandments.
Another one of the family proclamation principles is “to teach [children] to love and serve one another” (¶6, The Proclamation on the Family). Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “love is really spelled t-i-m-e, time” (Uchtdorf, 2010). In My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the Portokalos family is obedient to this principle by placing heavy emphasis on spending time together as a family. Two examples in the movie are that they frequently have family gatherings and always invite their extended families to their events, like when Ian’s parents came over for dinner. Another example is that they have family dinner together every night. And when Toula and Ian finally got married, the entire family is there to support them. Loving and serving siblings and family members comes from spending time with each other and building friendships.
The Proclamation also states that “parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness” (¶6, The Proclamation on the Family). In the movie, the Gus and Maria Portokaulous are obedient to this principle in some regards. By the end of the movie, they eventually support Toula in her endeavors and aspirations in both education and her love life. One of the greatest ways parents can show their love for their children is to support them in their choices. They also exhibit this principle when Maria stands up for Toula by working with Gus to overcome his apprehensions with her getting an education. Maria shows love for Toula by being her advocate and fighting for her goals and dreams as fiercely as if they were her own. These are some characteristics of authoritative parenting. Authoritative parenting includes “expressing warmth, affection, and responsiveness” and “being involved in the child’s life” (Nelson, 2016).
However, the Portokaulos were also disobedient to the the principle of “rearing children in love and righteousness” in other ways, specifically in their parenting habits. They did show some characteristics of authoritative parenting, but most of the time, they were using an oversolicitous parenting style. Oversolicitous parenting includes “not allowing children to make decisions for themselves; not allowing children to try new things; and encouraging dependence on parents” (Nelson, 2016). Gus was extremely reluctant to accept Toula’s decisions for her education and love life. He did not want her to try new things by initially not letting her go to college, because he wanted her to continue to depend on him to run his restaurant. He wanted to Toula to “never leave him” (Zwick, 2002).
The Portokalos family are also disobedient to the Proclamation principle that states, “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners” (¶7, The Proclamation on the Family). Gus and Maria do not do a very good job of this. Gus repeatedly states that he is the “head of the house,” that he makes all of the decisions, what ever he says goes, and that the man is the smarter and more capable one in a traditional relationship. He obviously does not view Maria as his equal, but his subordinate. Maria doesn’t view them as equals, either. In one scene, she tells Maria that “the man of the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants” (Zwick, 2002). Though she is standing up for herself and trying to make up for the difference of Gus’ dominance, she still does not show that she want to help him as an equal partner. Rather, she views herself as a subordinate with the power to manipulate her husband into getting what she wants.
For the principle of “teaching children to obey the commandments of God,” research shows that “adolescents that embrace a religious community are more likely to exhibit behavior that is consistent with positive moral values” (Hawkins, Dollhite & Draper, 2012). Religious involvement fosters “better academic performance, prosocial behavior, and less delinquent behavior, lower levels of sexual activity, and drug and alcohol use” (Hawkins et al, 2012). For the most part, the Portokalos children fit this description. They all grew up to be honest, hardworking adults who didn’t cause many problems. This probably came from their deep-seated religious roots that their parents instilled in them. If people learned from this movie that religiosity is good, then more people would reap the benefits of religious practices and internalizing good character principles.
Research shows that the outcomes of frequent family meals are “decreased substance use, cigarette smoking, sexual promiscuity, alcohol consumption, and delinquency such as stealing, vandalizing, shoplifting, and violence” (L. Nelson, class lecture, SFL 100, Winter 2016). In the movie, again, none of their kids smoked, drank, used drugs, or were delinquent. This was probably a result of their emphasis on family togetherness. If people learned from this movie that they should implement family meals more often, there would be less of these delinquent actions and addictions in the world.
The outcomes of “rearing children in love and righteousness” are plenty. This principle in the proclamation can also be described as authoritative parenting. Authoritative parenting has many positive outcomes for children, some of which include: social and moral maturity, academic achievement and educational attainment, and less traditional gender-role behavior. Toula showed these outcomes in her dating life; she was very mature socially on her dates with Ian which enabled them to fall in love. She also showed signs of educational attainment and less traditional gender-role behavior by pushing her parents’ limiting expectations by getting an education and working the travel agent job rather than simply getting married and having children like they expected of every female family member. Because Maria “expressed warmth, affection, and responsiveness” and exhibited signs of “being involved in [Toula]’s life,” Toula reaped the rewards of authoritative parenting. If more people based their parenting style off of Maria’s example, they would have better relationships with their children and their children would feel more supported and validated.
Unfortunately, Toula did have a harder time because her parents exhibited lots of oversolicitous parenting styles, too. The outcomes of oversolicitous parenting are anxiety, social fearfulness, social withdrawal, negative self-regard, and peer rejections. Because Gus and Maria did not allow her to make her own decisions, and try new things, grade school was hard for Toula when interacting with the other kids. She showed social fearfulness and social withdrawal when she did not fit in with the other girls or try to be their friend, and that led to low self-esteem and peer rejections that led to depression as an adult at the beginning of the movie. If everyone followed their oversolicitous example, children would be worse off by exhibiting these bad outcomes.
There were many outcomes to Gus and Maria’s unequal relationship. Research shows that spouses who work towards equality in their relationship have “happier relationships and greater marital satisfaction; more effective parenting; and better functioning children” (Nelson, 2016). However, because they had an unequal relationship and Gus was so overzealous about Greek heritage and traditions, his expectations and rules caused Toula to lose respect for him and her heritage. Toula had a strained relationship with her father all growing up because he would only talk about how she was supposed to get married and have children, and there was no communication between them. If Gus had had a more equal relationship with Maria, they would have had better communication together, and Maria would have enabled him to have better relationships with his children. Parent-child relationships would suffer if every spousal relationship was as unequal and hierarchal as the Portokalos’ relationship.
In order to bring the movie in line with proclamation principles, the Portokalos family would have to change their oversolicitous parenting style and their hierarchal relationship. Gus would need to relent a lot and change his view of women. He would need to give Toula more autonomy and allow her to explore her talents and desires starting when she was a young child. If he did that, then she would have had better respect for her Greek heritage if it was her own personal appreciation rather than just her father’s that he was shoving into her life all of the time. She also would have had way better self-esteem as a youth and a young adult, and may have actually married sooner like her father wished. If Gus and Maria had a better relationship that was built on equality rather than hierarchy (Nelson, 2016), they would have had more effective parenting and better functioning children. Meaning, if Gus and Maria had communicated better and were unified in rearing their children, Toula may have had an easier time in her early years in making friends and loving herself.
In the end, Toula does succeed in her educational goals. Those lead her to her eventual husband, and though her engagement brought to light all the problems in the Portokalos’ parenting styles, they were eventually able to work out their differences. In our endeavors in raising righteous families, we can model our efforts after the Portokalos’ successes and learn from their mistakes. We can also learn to recognize Proclamation principles in the media and apply the principles we learn to better raise children in righteous families.
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