Monday, April 26, 2010

Family - in Brasil and in the US

Family dynamics here in Brazil (within ours and other families) are different than I experienced them in the United States. That is, regarding my family in Michigan in the 1970s – 1980s, then later with me in California from the 1980s - 2008, things would be unrecognizable to most Brazilian families. Cultures are different.

It totally freaks people out here when I tell them that when living my adult life in the States I would see my parents (later my father had passed) in person perhaps three times in seven years. They/my mom lived in Michigan or Florida and I lived in California. For me this seemed (and still seems) quite reasonable. When we saw each other we were celebrating an occasional Thanksgiving, Christmas or wedding – or, heaven forbid, attending a funeral.

Here it seems to be unthinkable to go so long without face to face contact. Unthinkable. Impossible. Unimaginable.

In fact my phone contact back then with my mom was so infrequent by local (Brazilian) standards as to be shocking. But my mother and I were quite fine with it.

One of the thoughts I always had back home was that IF I had a vacation – lucky me – I should go explore and have some new adventure somewhere in the world (not always return to my home town for a family visit), the world is HUGE. Here that impulse seems less prevalent. When I speak to people they can think of no place more desirable to go on their vacation than to visit their family. Things are different.

Now that I live here, I should say, I talk to my mother in Florida on the phone multiple times per month. This is totally unprecedented. And we love it.

But what now presents a difficulty for me is the assumed frequent contact with Luiz’s mother. I love my mother-in-law -- make no mistake. But this daily contact thing is so far from my reality that it is confusing, confounding, irregular, disturbing and a bit upsetting. I am not upset with her. It is the daily checking in that is so dissonant. It is difficult to feel our independent selves when always listening to her daily instruction. It can be a drain. Luiz and I – we are our best when we are ourselves, together.

I love Luiz and he loves his mother (as do I). Goddess bless him for his endless patience to care for his mother’s daily needs. I understand and support this. She lives, after all, just three doors down the street.

We both want the best for Zozó. I am not arguing against that. I am just being an American, with my American past experiences – feeling the dynamics of being a Brazilian son of a loving mother who desires our daily involvement in her life. It’s different. I am both up to the invitation – with love – and feeling the difference between how these situations are played out here and how I know how to play them out within my American cultural experience. Things are different. There are different cultural expectations.

And so we struggle as a couple, as a family and me as a person.


Danielle said...

Sounds like you're being much nicer, more patient, and more understanding than most people would be in your situation. How does Luiz feel about all of it?

Let me just say that I'm VERY thankful that my in-laws live relatively far away and that Alexandre isn't close enough to warrant daily check-ins! Like with my family, they have weekly phone chats and occasional emails of pics or whatever, and everyone's happy.

I'm proud of you!

Benjy said...

I covered this following a recent survey in the UK in my blog Being brought up in Africa, we always have contact with not only our parents but extended family members as well. Maybe not as often as you suggest in your article but often.

Jim said...

Danielle - Luiz is a bit in culture shock, after living 20 years in the US and now back again. He feels in his bones the desire for frequent contact, but said contact rattles in his head as a since-minted American.

Benjy - thanks for the link. I am not proud of my history of infrequent contact, but it is my experience. I certainly honor the depth of feeling shared in most Brazilian families. Thanks again.