by Jennifer Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach
Stepping out of the reception hall into a honeymoon with my new husband- and his father- and his sister- and her husband- and her daughter all at once was an experience of a lifetime I would not trade for anything!
One big happy family, no doubt as we planned our honeymoon to the Jersey coast and the Big Apple! For two weeks we all honeymooned together traversing the American Eastern seaboard. Not only did I – nay- we learn to live and adjust together as ‘one big happy family’ on a honeymoon but for the next few months until they went back to India!
For me, as an American of European descent it was a double culture shock- not only for the first time living in an extended family, but living in an Indian extended family- as ours was now an intercultural family. Being in an extended family continues to be a great opportunity for me as we visit India regularly. Though some simply dread these experiences, for me, I yearn for them as they help me to feel alive. There are three main aspects of extended family life that are equally exhilirating as they are challenging: adjustment, communication, and routine.
What can I do in any situation to make that situation easier on someone else? Even if the answer to this makes it harder on me, at least it is me who is inconvenienced, not the other person. It’s about helping others be comfortable. So, yes, much so-called “deprivation” happens. But in that self-deprivation to make other’s situations more comfortable, in reality our situation becomes more comfortable and bearable in the end. If any one person doesn’t carry out their role in the household, it is not only that person who suffers, but everyone. One person’s ability to make the situation easier on the others can make all the difference – in the extended family and in the world in general.
Everyone needs to have a voice in an extended family. Let everyone have a say. Weigh the options then make a decision. I know about this from both sides. I have been overly expressive and this did not work for me or for everyone. I had to learn to step back and give some control over to the family process. The important thing I learned is that though my suggestion may not be carried out to full detail, it is considered. Maybe part of my idea would be included with parts of other’s ideas to create a first-class solution. All I had to do was learn to shut up and listen!
As in any environment, including work, school, society a routine must be set to how a household is run so people can adjust and communicate better with one another. I believe that the more people in an extended family, the more a routine is needed as people of all ages living together under one roof need to know where they fit in and how they can feel worthwhile and participating members so the whole family can feel successful. Daily routine is a small part of the routine of life; as there are monthly routines, season specific routines, and yearly routines. From a global perspective, routines translate into rituals, observations and traditions. It is these routines, rituals, observations and traditions that define a family’s culture and are more easily passed on the closer the family live in proximity to each other, meaning extended family situations can encourage this more than nuclear families.
Overall, I find it regrettable, in some ways that the extended family situations have broke down in modern life. Extended families allow for a range of experience and emotions, but also allow for freedom. Though there is more work in extended families for all members, there are more people to help out. Yes, it may come at a cost of lack of personal privacy and not living independently, but it provides a social security unmatched by those 401K contributions deducted from your paycheck on a weekly basis!
Author Jennifer Kumar is a cross-cultural trainer, relationship coach and American English tutor. Looking for some help in exploring how to enhance or better your cross-cultural or interfaith relationships or deal with your culture shock as you experience cross-cultural and global lifestyles? I am happy and look forward to meeting you in person, over the phone or via Skype. More about enhancing your Authentic Journey- http://journeys.alaivani.com.
Updated Jan. 2011
Thank you for reading and participating!!!
References on Culture Shock from Alaivani (my website):
An American in Ecuador
Cross Cultural Experiences – Keeping it in Context
Educational Entrepreneurship: The First American To Matriculate at Madras Christian College
Honeymoon with Husband and his Family: Experiences in the Life of an Extended Family
How To Choose the Right Path in Studying or Living Abroad (Questioning how much cultural change can you handle?)
Integrating Two Worlds: Life in America with an Indian Twist
Is Mine a Case of Reverse Culture Shock?
This article has been published in the book Culture Shock.
Japan Through American Eyes: Joe Conley
On The Move: How have you absorbed Culture Shock?
Preparing for a trip to India to visit Family
Test Taking Trials and Tribulations in India
Yearning to Return (Why I want to go back to India.)
Relearning How to Communicate (Interactions in an Intercultural Family)
Others thoughts and experiences:
Culture Shock- Moving Back to India by Isheeta Sanghi
A Returning Indian Entrepreneur Reflects
Thank you for reading and participating in this journey with me! E-mail me with your comments, questions or feedback!