When Sweetie, a sauntered into her office with a box of chocolates because she moved into her new million dollar plus McMansion house in Caledon, her white colleagues were naturally in awe, they did not think anything of the five cars parked on her driveway, but Sweetie’s South Asian co-workers smiled knowingly at each other because they knew something the other didn’t know or would have trouble understanding- in allthere were three families with children and in-laws living under the same roof.
Large families and big houses
In all there were 15 people all living under one 6,000 square foot roof. And one more thing, Sweetie and her sister-in-law weren’t on talking terms with the in-laws. Occasionally the two brothers and parents also get into arguments. Sweetie would love to move out but since buying this house was a joint effort, they were stuck, also it would look terrible if they moved out and lived in a ‘small’ house. What would the community think?
Extended family or tenants
If South Asians don’t have extended family living with them, they still buy large homes and fill the rooms or basement with tenants.
This was one reason why in the past and to some extent even today, the more sophisticated second-generation children move out on their own often glad to be leaving their parents’ homes that resemble hostel dormitories, but in recent times, the rising cost of housing is forcing a significant number of second-gen children not to move back into their parents’ basement but have their parents move into their basements or in-law suites. That way the community will think they’re doing the parents a favor and not the other way around.
Joint families is alive and kicking in Canada
Last week a Brampton resident with family members scattered in the region mentioned that many of his second-generation cousins who’ve lived here all their lives were buying large 5-6,000 square foot homes and inviting their parents to live with them. One of their cousins has both sets of in-laws living in a home that has two in-law suits.
These are able-bodies in-laws are often invited to live with their sons after being convinced it is in their best interest to sell off their old home and move in with them. Had they been sickly and in need of help themselves, they might still have been living apart.
Hypocrisy at its best
Turns out there is a financial angle to this living arrangement and has little or nothing to do with the commonly assumed line about us being a family-oriented ethnic community.
These young South Asian Canadian couples opting to have their in-laws live with them are quite often calculating professionals holding down great jobs and seeking a fabulous lifestyle. This they figure a small price to pay for the lifestyle they can enjoy. Having in-laws take care of their young children eliminates the need for child care. Having freshly prepared meals and other household chores taken care off for free eliminates the expense of a live-in housekeeper or a cleaning service. The parents who’ve sold off their smaller dwelling end up putting in portion or all the house sale proceeds into the larger home purchased by their son. It allows their son to boast about his $2 million dollar house and go for two or three vacations every year. Furthermore they get to write-off childcare costs and save a bundle. In many instances, the children manage their parents’ pensions which goes toward the family kitty!
The truth is ugly
The person who told me of this trend narrated an incident at a family get-together where a perfectly manicured Canadian-born mother of a toddler got really flustered changing his diaper. Turns out her mother-in-law who wasn’t at the get-together and she either didn’t quite know how to change diapers or was afraid of ruining her nails. What’s more is the young mother boasted that she got her beauty sleep because her toddler slept in the in-law suite! Naturally then the hard working couple could wake up fresh, eat freshly made parathas and leave for work early.
Grandparents see it as mutually beneficial
While many such parents who are co-opted into such a living arrangement don’t see it necessarily as a bad thing given that they feel useful and get to bond with their grandchildren, the problems often begin when sickness strikes.
When in-laws invariably grow older, feebler and sicker and the grandkids they cared for no longer need their constant attention, things can change very quickly. From being a help and a money saver/earner for their yuppie Canadian-born children they are suddenly a burden.
Situation is ripe for elder abuse
A social worker once told me that elder abuse often happens at this point of time. These old people are often dropped off a mall in the morning and picked up in the evening by their children in order to save on heating or cooling costs, or they are left at free senior drop-in centres. In some cases they get sent back to live in India ostensibly to ‘re-connect’ with family.
This is a trend that often begins as a happy story where parents and their children opt for a living arrangement that is mutually beneficial but sadly ends on a cruel note. This Family Day weekend, many families will take off with their children for a much needed break leaving their senior parents behind, some couples will no doubt be framing Family Day weekend as a time their in-laws can have the house to themselves and enjoy time off from their 7-day a week child caring and house-keeping routine.
Happy Joint Family Day! – CINEWS