Monday, October 18, 2004

On Our Own

Recently a friend in Brazil told me about an American coming to visit and possibly live there. He is 24 and has only recently moved out of his parents home saying he needed to be on his own. My Brazilian friend told me this was not at all common in her culture and would be frowned upon as disrespect. I am certain the same would be true in Ghana. But I told her that in our culture, there is a need to establish a sense of independence and grow into your own sense of responsibility and awareness of who you are as distinct from you parents. I think this is true. But it got me thinking.

Truthfully, I am glad I moved away from home after high school, and, except for one summer, have not returned to live for longer than a week or a few days. For one thing, I think my family would drive each other crazy living together. For another, I really have grown from the experience and it has been good for me. But in a lot of cultures, Latin America and Africa for example, children continue living with their parents until they marry, and often even after (Someone has to care for the parents). In some ways, this is economic necessity. Every one works to support the family and income is hard to come by, so they need each other's support. Additionally, though, there is a cultural sense of community interdependence and respect that is very interesting. I have spent a lot of time studying this aspect of African culture, and now Brazilian as well. I think it is good in that it promotes a greater sense of closeness and respect between parents and children.

Recently, when I stayed with a Brazilian family for two weeks, the brothers even slept in their parents' room so that I could have my own space. I never asked for this and fully expected them to not be very pleasant to me because of it, but I spent a lot of time with the brothers and they were great. Don't know if I could have done the same. The daughters pitched in with daily chores (a good three hours) of sweeping, mopping, dishes, trash, laundry, etc. I never heard one complaint. I also never heard one family member snap at another harshly or talk anything but kindly. I was the crankiest one in the house, and I was the guest. (Hey! Jetlag's murder and I had medical issues plus it was freezing as they had no heat and no air!) But even I had no real complaints against anyone. Can people really live like this? Where did my family go wrong?

I have observed a similar phenomenon in African households. Children always respectful and polite to one another and their parents. Even when one parent was cranky or rude to them. I really think there is something to be learned from this cultural understanding of family and discipline and closeness. And yet, I remain glad I didn't have to stay at home longer. But I sure envy their closeness to one another. My family has to work hard to achieve that, and even then, we can't go a day or two without someone arguing or taunting or snapping. A lot of American families I know are like that. Just something to think about.

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