I wondered, listening to the whispers in the early morning, if my aunt in Guatemala resented getting up early to take charge of the care of her youngest grandchild. Her daughter would deposit the baby in the waiting arms and then hurry off to her job. She was happy to have integrated and free child care, and my aunt, when I questioned her, told me that she could think of nothing worse than to have her baby granddaughter in the care of a stranger. Convenient and happy for everyone.
In my experiences there, many families had this arrangement. Extended generational families seemed to be commonplace and practical despite my own feeling that it was odd to have so many people living together in one place.
I have been thinking of this arrangement lately as my own attempts to balance child care and a career have dictated some changes in my life.
In the United States, the nuclear family has been the predominant family model for a very long time. But during the mid part of the last century, the number of extended families in the United States began to decline. Then the economic morass that took hold of the U.S. economy caused a shift towards the extended family once again. Family arrangements that I have come to associate with so many families in Latin America have started to settle onto the landscape of the American family unit.
Uncertain of how I would feel about the proposition of having to learn to live with many members of the family, there is the intriguing prospect of having a large clan in the house, of having the workload divided into many parts, of having trusted child care, and, most importantly, of having access to the memories about my ancestors and of having my children exposed daily to their genetic roots.
One thing I have regretted about having emigrated to the United States is that I severed intimate contact with my very large extended family. My grandparents were known to me sporadically on short visits. I met my great grandmother, alive through most of my childhood, only once. I witnessed a family culture among my relatives of which I was clearly not a part.
Undoubtedly, such is and has been the experience of many immigrant families who strain their familial ties when they come in search of the ever elusive American Dream.
The economic necessity of many individuals to share expenses with family members has become a demographic trend over the past few years. Despite the fact that U.S. culture is one centered around the nuclear family, it is interesting to speculate on the societal changes that might take hold over individuals raised and influenced by such a home environment. Children raised by the family village with adequate resources could theoretically develop better skills to thrive in their educational environment and societal adjustment. Parents could concentrate on their work and financial goals knowing that they have loving child care at home.
Perhaps the Latinization of the American family would do us all some good.