When Barack Obama took time off from his campaign to visit his ailing grandmother, it made me think of the time when I woke up one morning, got out of my room, looked around the house, and wondered, “where’s my furniture?”
Barack Obama, like myself and many Asian Americans, has experienced living in an extended family. I grew up with an uncle at home, my mother-in-law and father-in-law lived with my wife and I for five years, and my brother-in-law (BIL for short) is currently living with us. Here in Silicon Valley, some builders have catered to the extended Asian American family by creating a bedroom and full bath downstairs (for older parents). Houses like that tend to sell for a premium.
Extended families happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes the reason is financial – pooling and conserving financial resources by living together. This is often critical in expensive Silicon Valley. Other times the reason is care – caring for elderly parents or getting help with childcare. My in-laws definitely contributed to helping with child care, and BIL chips in with rent and with bringing the kids to where they need to go.
As you might expect, there are good points and bad points. You might think that living with my mother-in-law would be difficult. It really wasn’t for me, and instead was much harder on The Wife. They are her parents, and she had all of that baggage accumulated when growing up that she had to deal with. I remember once time when she came in late one evening. It was no big deal since I was home. But her mother said to her, “why are you late?” I thought The Wife’s head was going to explode, and I was glad that an argument about “whose house is this anyway who is paying the mortgage” did not ensue. Other Asian-American friends have told me that this is often the case, where it is much harder for the child when parents move in rather the son-in-law or daughter-in-law. To be fair, it must be hard for a parent to give up control.
BIL is great to have around, and he is a big help. In other situations, the extended family situation can be exploitative, where grandparents or other relatives are used as cheap live-in daycare. Personalities can clash. I know that it is difficult for BIL to deal with The Daughter and her teenage angst. Everyone gets on each others’ nerves at some point, which can make things tense. There can also be conflicts about how to raise children. As an example, my mother-in-law and father-in-law would speak only English to my kids. I wish they would have spoken Tagalog or even Ilokano to them, but they didn’t. Other weird things can happen. In my house, there are three languages spoken. I only know two of them, so that puts me at a distinct disadvantage!
I generally like living in an extended family. I am thankful that my kids got to experience living with their grandparents – I never had the chance to get to know my own grandparents. They were a great help during their time with us, and BIL is currently a great help also.
Regarding my furniture: my brother-in-law is a realtor and needed some furniture to stage a house for one of his clients. While I helped him move the furniture, the impact of that move only hit me in the morning where I could see the light of day!