The Extended Family – Vlog

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The Extended Family

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I believe the only way to better handle the multiple relationships, is to realize the difference between urgent assistance and personal responsibility. Much of the confusion lies in determining which areas need intervention from the extended family, and which don’t. Unnecessary conflicts arise when relatives start to dip their fingers into areas where they should not be. For instance, fights between couples become fights between two sides of the family.

by Nathan Chua

If you think this is a phenomenon unique to Asian families, well, guess again. During the crisis of 2008, we saw how important the extended family is even in the US, where rough and rugged individualism is considered an asset, and an admirable trait. We witnessed how families banded together to assist each other survive America’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Adult children of working age had little choice but to move back into their parents’ homes.

I think what makes our brand of extended family more complicated, is the involvement of uncles, aunts and cousins. With some, it can go as far as a clan no less. Although it is hard to blame the culture for this, as I see it as partly a failure of government institutions to improve social services like health, education and pension services. Families can only count on each other when crises strike, just as our current president described he envisions his future illness as one that should be taken care of by his children, or even his children’s children. In the more developed economies, individuals can manage to survive on their own through institutionalized government services.

Unfortunately, this dependence on family and the extended family, leads to another dimension of relationships that people need to maintain. It is difficult enough to relate to one other person, how much more challenging will it be if one needed to do it with a whole bunch of people!

I believe the only way to better handle the multiple relationships, is to realize the difference between urgent assistance and personal responsibility. Much of the confusion lies in determining which areas need intervention from the extended family, and which don’t. Unnecessary conflicts arise when relatives start to dip their fingers into areas where they should not be. For instance, fights between couples become fights between two sides of the family.

The second drawback is the debt of gratitude that parents and the older generation expect from the innocent young. Enormous amounts of pressure are dead weight on the young shoulders of a generation of children. The consequences are evident, not only in the social fabric of society, but also in the false selves that a whole bunch of kids have to assume. Their lives revolve around playing a rescuer role for the family, completely oblivious of who they really are. The debt of gratitude becomes simply a debt.

There is also that element of gossip. Many say that gossip is rather inconsequential. It’s just fun chatter that makes for an interesting piece of discussion at dinner time, or even during large family gatherings. No one gets hurt and everyone has a good time. It can even give participants that smug feeling, that they have insightful ideas, notwithstanding the fact that these ideas, are confined to the feebleminded task of faultfinding.

What is unseen is how gossip affects the very same people who engage in it. Yes, how many times have I heard people feel frozen in life, just because of the fear of being shamed by relatives. And yes, behind every gossip, is that part of us that feels shameful of some of the things that we all experience as human beings. It can be, most of the time, a projection of our own shame on other people. We participate in gossip thinking that we will never be or make the same mistakes as the other.

Now imagine the anxiety and depression that can provoke in anyone. Be perfect lest be subject to the same gossip mill that you were once a participant. For after all the flipside of gossip, is simply shame, a most powerful tool we use to feel above our own humanity.

The upshot is, while it is true that the extended family plays a vital role in helping both the young and the old generations survive in a Third World country, we must be aware of its limits. Be careful to make it a healthy interdependence. Be watchful that most deeds are done based on love, and a willingness to give, without any expected return of the favor. Do it because you love, not because it is the way it is supposed to be, for it is at bottom, an act of love to be accepted, not an entitlement to be claimed.

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