Friday, June 25, 2010

Nuclear vs. Extended Family- Culture, Value Systems and Hospitality

Living in an extended family, I’ve always taken for granted the presence of wise grandparents and the stories of past wisdom they joyfully pass on. I’m used to all the noise and bustle and especially catering to their whims and fancies when it comes to entertaining guests in our home. We’ve never had a shortage of guests at home and I’ve found myself kicked out of my room many times in order to accommodate guests. When I was younger, it seemed natural and easy to adjust as guests came along. As I’ve grown older, I’ve started to resent the intrusions into my personal space, especially when they are enforced against my will as the elders seem to take it for granted that even though I’ve grown up, nothing has changed and so I would not mind being kicked out of my room for their guests. I can’t say I blame my family. They are extremely hospitable and find it enjoyable entertaining guests.

Our religion and culture also encourage us to invite guests into our homes. In Islam, a guest is viewed as an individual who brings goodness, joy and prosperity into a home while taking along all the bad luck and poverty with them once they leave. I believe I learned that bit of wisdom from my grandparents. Or maybe even my dad. Or possibly even my mum. Whoever I learned it from, I can still trace it back to my grandparents because I’m pretty sure that any wisdom passed onto my parents was passed down by my grandparents.

What’s got me thinking about this topic and my views on it is a Hindi movie I just watched, entitled “Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge?” which roughly translated means “Guest, when will you leave?” It’s quite funny how we can react differently to the presence of guests depending on the period of time they plan on staying. I believe that another bit of wisdom passed down to me was regarding the etiquette of guests in Islam and, if I’m not wrong, a guest is required to stay for no longer than 3 days in one place so as not to inconvenience their host. I think that’s a beautiful rule and if everyone could obey it, life would just be so much simpler. Unfortunately, not many people have had the privilege of gaining such wisdom from their elders or other knowledgeable people and so they go fumbling on, inconveniencing a number of people along the way.

Really, it is only when I take the time to sit and think about it that I realise just how fortunate I am to have grown up in an extended family. Of course, being a private person who greatly values silence and isolation, I cannot say that I can ignore the obvious merits of living within a secluded nuclear family unit (the peaceful environment, for one!) but, just as this movie has highlighted, when a family lacks the presence of a wise elder, children can grow up so much poorer with regard to the development of their value systems and knowledge of life and relationships.
Growing up with my grandparents has resulted in my ability to speak more than one Asian language, to hear richly detailed first-hand accounts of past experiences and to learn the value of a strong and supportive family system. Of course, there is a great deal more that I could have learned had I not allowed the views and opinions of peers within the external environment to influence and change the way I viewed this mode of living. Most of my friends have only ever lived within nuclear family units and I have found that most of them face fewer restrictions on their movements and conduct than I have faced throughout my life. When living with elders, it is often the duty of the younger members of the family to seek permission and counsel not only from their parents, but also from their grandparents. This practice is inherent to Indian culture, while the nuclear family structure propagated within Western culture (and which has become increasingly common), requires that only parents be consulted on important decisions.

Previously seen as a normal and acceptable practice to involve grandparents in all of life’s major decisions, I later began to resent the fact that I had to seek the permission of anyone other than my parents. Since that moment of realisation, I have been facing a continuous battle to evade these resentful thoughts and to go back to accepting my grandparents as a natural part of the family system and to respect and uphold their right to be informed of every major, and a few minor, decisions to be made in my life. While fighting this battle, I feel fortunate to have come across this particular movie which has highlighted for me the importance of elders in a family system and the manner in which an individual’s life can be enriched by their mere presence.

From now on, I am determined to value my elders more as well as the valuable insights and wisdom they can pass on to me. Living with elders, I find, helps to keep me grounded. When they are struck by illness and we are filled with a sense of urgency to heal and strengthen our relationships with them before they depart from this world, it helps to cut out the bullshit and clear the fog in our minds so that we are able to see what’s most important. In the end, all we have is each other and God. We only have a short while to spend with them so I’m determined to make the most of that time. From now on, I will attempt to value our time together above all else, to strengthen the relationship I have with my grandparents and to learn as much as I possibly can from their bubbling springs of wisdom and experience. Of course, there are a number of more practical skills we can pick up from them. For instance, my granny knows how to knit, crochet and embroider, so I think I’m going to start right there and maybe that will help me get to know and understand her better. After all, positive communication is known to have shattered many a misperception!



hi many thanks for your kind comments on my blog re the giveaway i am amazed that i have someone from south africa reading my blog


Hi Joan. I'm not sure if you'll ever read this post, but I'm equally amazed to have a follower from the UK (actually, I was initially just shocked to see that I had any followers at all, seeing as how I grew shy and embarrassed after writing my first- and only- post since it came across sounding more serious than I intended and left me feeling foolish for spilling my guts in my very first post). So, I'd just like to say how thrilled I am to know that there's someone out there who considered my only post worth reading. I guess I just have to muster up some courage and not be afraid to express myself more ofetn and then I can maybe move forward with the blog. Thank you so much for following and showing your support:)


This is a beautiful post! Filipino culture also is high on extended family/high regards to elders and I find it a blessing. I admire your challenge to value your elders. Good for you!!

Thanks for stoppin' by and following my blog. I appreciate your time. ~Take care. :)

Nightly Cafe

Hi Sarah,

You won Denise Verrico's giveaway on my blog. Please send me your mailing address to bkwalkerbooks at comcast dot net so I can let Denise know and she can get your prize in the mail.

Thank you,
BK Walker


You said, "Thanks for the great giveaway:) I noticed that you had visited my blog in July sometime after I entered a giveaway on this blog in a giveaway hop and you were sweet enough to follow via GFC and comment, but I only came across your comment this month because I don't blog much. Thank you for your support, nonetheless:) It is greatly appreciated!"

~You're welcome. Continued best wishes to you mi dear. Thanks for visiting me at my blog. :)

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