Among the many things we all have in common as we learn and adjust to another culture is we inherit family that is often times, not as vested into adjusting to western cultural idiosyncracies as our asawas may be, and also, may require much more adjustment on our parts. For those residing abroad, of course, this is not nearly as impactive on your life .. at least not on a daily basis... but for those that are in the Philippines... and those in particular that live near this new extended family... sometimes challenges abound.
Like most, I have read my fair share of others experiences in this area, most not good, but many are success stories. I have also known people, personally, that have had both good and bad experiences with extended families. I have no idea if there is any kind of difinitive rule in how to improve your chances of the relationship you develop turning out positive, but I will share here, my experience and some of the insights I have into how I may have helped it to be a positive experience.
Extended Family... where does it end?
As I and my wife were dating, I was fortunate to be working in Asia and I could then spend long periods of time with her, and her family, and really get to know them before there was a commitment. I knew in Asia, that when you marry, you possibly gain more than only one person that will potentially have a major influence in your future life. Some you will welcome, some you may not... they are all part of a package though, so the strategy of dividing and conquering should not be implemented... in my opinion. For me, having traveled for work extensively over my career, I have lost contact with so much of my own family that being welcomed into my asawa's was refreshing... as long as it was not exploited, I was happy.
Of course, we should all say this, but for me, it is really the first time in my life I can mean it about my spouse. I appreciate her so much, we rarely argue anymore, since getting past our cultural adjustments. What are cultural adjustments?? For us, mostly her understanding that I valued her opinion and that she had a say in our decisions and my understandding that everything I introduced her to was so new and strange on a grand scale... that I needed to understand that and have patience as she grew to take it all in. My asawa has never asked for anything, ever.. even today, I anticipate her wanting something and nudge her to getting it. I am not sure how much influence she has had over her family, but I sense she laid down some very strict edicts early on and manages their "adjustment" to me herself.
Her mother and father have never asked me for a single centavo... this includes never asking my asawa to ask me for them, not even hinting around that they needed help of any kind. They are a simple couple, very VERY fiscally poor their whole life, but in my opinion, rich in their love for their children and in their character. I also, never approached any family with offerings that were in any way excessive, by Filipino standards. ie: I only give gifts during Christmas and only on birthdays of the first degree family. In return, my inlaws have turned out to be some of the few Filipinos that I know will tell me the truth... eaning, in their opinions on thigs I talk with them about... no, they do not speak English so conversations are challenging, but we find a way as both sides are interested and patient in trying to build a repoire. I have respect for them anf their lives and they do for me and they are some of the few that do NOT think life in the USA is all gold paved streets and money trees in every yard. When we moved to the Philippines... I am not sure how it first happened, but they moved in with us... from their bamboo hut in the forest, to our rental house in Carcar. I think it started as my wife and son missed them, and they missed my wife and son... so the move in was kind of like.. .visiting and then it turned in to not leaving.... honestly, I was wrapped up in our resto effort and the next thing I knew they had not left... but I was fine with it just the same. Some adjustment was required though. For me, I had never shared a house with anyone other than spouse and children. So having inlaws running around was a bit wierd for me.... bathrooms were backed up al the time.... suffice it to say, we do not share the same ideals for home maintenance and cleanliness... not that they are dirty, but hey, maintaining a bamboo house with twine and tape is a bit different than doing things the right way. For me? Our son was 2 the last time they saw him, and now he was 6, mom in law trerats her 23 yo son like he is two so imagine my challenges in trying to get her to let him dress himself etc.... So they and I adjusted.. .we found that happy middleground... but I feel we are lucky to have had the patience on both sides to do so. They have a place in my life until the pass... they are great freinds, FIL is a fun drinking buddy and MIL stays busy all day doing stuff she enjoys doing.. washing clothes and cooking... .we laugh and have fun so no reason for them to be anyplace else in my opinion.
My asawa has 3 sisters and one brother. she is the middle child of 5.
So, brother is the easiest... he is 23 and works his a$$ off, never feeling as though he has done enough for us...and we get along really well. He also, never asks for a centavo and in return, I anticipate things like fiesta time and slip him some pesos for fun once in awhile... he lives with us also and is a HUGE helper that is eager to learn... and VERY useful when he and I go out to get materials or whatever. He does not speak English but again, we find a way to communicate becuase we both want to be able to do so.... he is learning English from me and I am learning Visayan from him.
Younger sister, well, although she did not ask us, this one was the recipient of my asawa's feeling responsible to put her through nursing school... we agreed and my asawa managed the payments to her and the reconciling of expenses... when we hit tough times in 2008/9, we asked the sister to get a job to help with expenses and her repy was to be insulted at such a request and to quit school 2 years into a nursing degree.... turns out she was also engaged to a Filipino mariner, who is capable of funding her continuing education. We then knew why the asawa was having trouble getting acurate receipts from her... long story short, my asawa and she do not speak much and my asawa will not allow any gifts etc to her anymore.
Older sister 1: Historically, she never asked for anything, but did alot of hinting about their needs... I joked one time and told her with 5 kids, no job and an often unemployed spouse, maybe she really needed was some birth control... not a joke she found funny. When we moved and started our resto, we hired this one as she was pretty bright and in need of a job... who isn't. She worked ...ah... OK, not a real shining star but reliable and fairly able to remember instructions so all was good.... UNTIL.... as she was a waitress... my asawa managed her.... and when she would not stop breastfeeding her 3 year old in front of the customers... and my asawa asked her to move inside.. .she let lose with a tirade that she was dis-respected, she left and never came back.. me thinks she had other issues with her sister, but who will ever know.. .the Christmas list got 1 shorter on that day, as well.
Older sister 2: Always wanted money.. .from day one, to the last day she was allowed in our home. The asawa banned her when she caught her stealing makeup out of our bedroom.... for me? good riddens as she was always a pain in my a$$.. .seemed to only want want want and one time when we were opening an LBC box that came after us... .she started fist fighting with another sister ofver a pair of shoes.... every nest has a rotten egg I guess. Another dropped from the Christmas list.
So you see our extended family is small... my asawa must have laid down the law to those beyond this small subset of family as we do associate with them, but only under certain circumstances... like, we never invite them all out to dinner... we bring a small contribution to their homes and dfecline invites to go out to dinner.. .and harmony exists... as far as I can tell. One notable exception is an aunt in Cebu City that provided my asawa with a place to live when she was attending high school in Cebu City..... this aunt is grerat and was an essential part of my asawa's success in life and drove her to attend college. We do not miss a Bday or Christmas gift for her.
So I assume there will be some similarities to others experiences, I will now lay out my plan for the future as while I do not intend on supporting extended family forever... no matter what, I am ok with her parents needing help... nonetheless, we will try to "teach them to fish" and that plan is as follows:
The Independent Future
So we are committed to having her parents and brother as part of our immediate family unit, the sisters are on their own. That said, I am of a strong opinion that unless incapacitated, which none are, then they should "learn to fish for themselves". In our master plan, we will have our resto back up and running... in that resto, we will need produce, chickens, eggs, goat, goat milk (cheese), and several other products that could be purchased from our family. Our home site will have a goat house, a chicken house and alot of crop capacity. In addition, we will have a rather well equipped workshop that is developed through the project. Therefore, the plan is, to eventually turn over the workshop operation to the brother and see if he has what it takes to make a profit on shop type work, welding fabricating etc. He is a certified welder now and like many Filipinos,.... a natural mechanical "McGuyver".. .can he learn to interpret cost vs profit and be a success? I will be looking over his shoulder every step of the way towards finding out, but his time on our property is tied very strictly to him succeeding on his own with my shop. With the parents, their forte is farming crops and raising livestock. Our choices for both will represent needs for our resto so that they will have a small, but consistent customer base to start, and then their money all comes from this operation... With me being their accountant and technical advisor, as with the brother, we will see if they can grasp the profit/cost/loss concepts or not, but their long term residencs with us is not tied to success.. they are self-motivated and driven and proud and do not need my external motivation.. .they will succeed or not on their own capabilities to learn.
Of course I hope for this grand family plan to be a success story, but in reality, I am giving it a 50/50 chance on all counts. The investment for me is only my time as if they are not trying to run all of this, the workshop will still get built, the goats, chickens and crops will still be raised for our use... it is only an opportunity to expand this effort to increase family income and to offer an opportunity for a future for the brother.... his options are limited and he knows it.... only time will tell, but I am happy to give it a go as I said, additional investment is nil and only my effort to help them learn and grow.. .so I am happy to invest my time.
An important component of our experience being mostly positive is that my asawa is a very strong willed woman that will not tolerate those that are against working for a living. She rose from the same nothing her siblings were raised in and knows how hard it was to do so and against all odds. Before we met, she was on her way to realizing her career aspirations in hotel/restaurant management, hence one of the underlying reasons for why we have incorporated a resto into our lives. That is her dream realized and she deserves that and so much more. Without her strength in family matters, we might easily have had a much different outcome. I am disappointed in the fact that her sisters have taken the positions that they have, but respect my asawa very much for not tolerating anyone taking advantage of us.
That is my family experience... and how I hope to return my respect to those that deserve it.