Family is Everything

How often do you drop everything to have three hour meals with your family? What age were you (or will you be) “kicked” out of your parent’s house? Do you always hug and kiss your family when you first walk in the door and when you’re about to leave?

I have been blessed to have grown up in a family that values one another and time spent together, and has positive relationships with extended family. I grew up having family dinners after school, going to church together, going on family vacations, working together around the house, and celebrating all holidays and birthdays with both immediate and extended family. What I thought was a lot of family time, is nothing in comparison to the time that Ecuadorians dedicate to family.

My family never spends three hours eating one meal… not even on Thanksgiving or Christmas! Sure we have gatherings in which we spend quality time together for hours, but it is often focused on other activities. In Ecuador, it is normal on the weekends to have meals with extended family that have no schedule but typically are all afternoon or all night events. This is a weekly custom, not a holiday event.

I am learning that while in my West-Michigan culture family is valued, as it is in Ecuador, the dynamics within the family are very different. The issue of machismo is very prevalent throughout Latin America and is evident in the family dynamics in Ecuador, for example. The purpose of the wife or mother in the home is to work in the house so that the man of the house can rest. It is frowned upon for a man to be helping with cleaning in the home or doing laundry or cooking. Because of this reality, many women either are unemployed to work in the house, or the families hire a family employee to help fulfill this role. Often in the United States, we think of people who have help in their home to be upper class individuals but in Ecuador it is more weird if the family doesn’t have someone helping in their home. Finances are not a factor in the equation.

Growing up in my home, Saturday mornings were dedicated to “job lists.” Given the fact that my siblings and I always dreaded them, I realize how important this aspect is in being part of a family. In Ecuador, all of the household chores are for the wife/ mother/ maid to take care of so that the man of the home and the children can rest. If you are a working man, earning money is your only responsibility. If you are a child in a family that has given you the opportunity to study, your only responsibility is to study. Children and young adults in Ecuador do not learn how to work or save money, and this becomes problematic when they themselves get married and move out. (A quick side note on when “kids” move out of their parents home in Ecuador: it is normal for kids in their upper 20’s up until 30 to be living with their parents). They move from a world where everything was given to them, literally everything, to a world where they are on their own without any phase of transition. I was talking with a woman yesterday who was talking about this issue who told me that this is a problem because she got married at age 30 and had no idea how to do a load of laundry, clean, or cook anything. My parents have always helped and supported me and my brothers tremendously, but they also taught us to be responsible by giving us specific responsibilities that had to be carried out from a young age. Wow, am I so thankful for that now!

Hellos and goodbyes are also of incredible importance in Ecuador. This goes for family especially, but really applies to every aspect of the culture. One cannot enter or leave the house without saying hello to everyone and giving them a hug with a kiss on the cheek– it would be considered very rude. This same custom is important with friends and anyone you meet. The first day I got to school I was so thrown off by everyone greeting everyone, (including professors). The first time one of my professors greeted me, I was so thrown off by what was happening and I felt like a rude gringa. I greet my friends and family at home, but not so formally. Physical contact is also not always required when meeting up with friends and family at home, but in Ecuador they explain that they are very affectionate.

It has been very interesting to learn and experience these different cultural dynamics within family. I have learned about the aspects that could benefit the family culture of the United States, but also some of the difficult cultural realities that Ecuador faces within familial roles.

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