“Out of many, one people” – the Jamaican motto, sums up the diversity of cultures which over the centuries have come together to make up what defines West Indian culture. This motto can be seen to be symbolic of the philosophy of the wider West Indies.
This West Indian culture tells the story of a dynamic cultural situation which extends to the family, which we will now refer to as the Squire’s. This family interviewed is my neighbor and is comprised of a mother (Anna), father (John) and a young son (Tyler). Anna was born and raised in Trinidad and migrated to the USA when she was 21. John is Jamaican and migrated when he was 18. They met when Anna was 24 and not long after, they were married and the union produced four children – Blake (28), Zoe (24), Micah (21) and Tyler (09). Their children were all born and raised in the USA. The Squire’s depended a lot on Anna’s parents for assistance when it came to raising their children and it appeared as if the children were reprimanded more by their grandparents than their own parents. They were also taught respect and principles by their elders. The proverb: “It takes a whole village to raise a child”, is symbolic of this communal tradition. So, whereas some children are growing up in a one-parent household, the notion of single parents is not an issue for them because neighbors and extended family alike help with parenting.
I have lived beside the Squire’s, for the past 3 years and over the years it has been evident that culture, respect for the elders and learning is paramount; the belief that the elders have knowledge and wisdom gained through experience of life, is also important. Parental responsibility is supported by the extended family and oftentimes neighbors. Their extended family is very visible in their lives and it was a very happy time for them when Anna’s parents were even visiting for six months from Trinidad.
The tradition of sharing, especially food with friends and strangers alike is a classic example which characterizes West Indian homes. This is typical of the Squire household, where they are always doing cook-outs, barbecues’ and inviting the neighbors to visit. For me, this was also very heart-warming, because being from similar culture, it was a welcoming change to have them as my neighbors. I was able to share very freely with them, visit them and they would feel free to leave their son with me to babysit when they felt the need to go out and unwind. They also had no problem with our family bathing, feeding or clothing him, not to mention reprimanding him.
This family is a strong Christian Family whose firm belief is in the notion that if a family prays together, they will stay together. They are very spiritual and believe that everything they have become is because of God’s will. They believe that God has led them to each other so they are a match that was made in heaven. They feel very blessed that they have come from so far and are now successful career people. In one conversation Anna said to me, “All that I am, I owe it to God, without, him I am nothing.” The family worship at an InternationalMinistriesChurch. They are very active within their Church Community and it is obvious that it plays a key role in their every day life. They are involved in Couple’s Ministry, Family Ministry and Men’s Fellowship, to name a few. Their young son Tyler is also very involved in worship. When he is not attending Children’s Church, he assists in playing the drum. They believe that Faith is necessary as a Christian family and have taught all their children to pray and receive God’s word. When asked how they follow the principles at home, John said they pray together every evening, during their Family worship where each person would be responsible for presenting an item. It was also important for them to have at least one meal per day together, in order to continue the spiritual growth of their family. I continued to see them as spiritual, even as John left the house, for the store. He kissed Anna goodbye and she responded by saying “Go with God.” This truly touched my heart because it proved their continued love and support for each other and for God.
Their family activities included a monthly games Family night, entitled ‘Battle of the Sexes’ and is among three other families including themselves. This was very important for them to show their sense of unison with each other. They also visit restaurants together and entertain movie nights in their home.
This Family is not in one concrete stage, and because of certain life changes it has altered their situation. They are primarily in the Launching Stage because they have three adult children who have moved away, but still are a part of the ‘Family with Adolescence Stage’ because they have a son at home. Tyler is 12 years younger than her third child and in some ways, is treated more like a grandchild. The parents were past middle age when he was born. Anna was 46 when she missed her monthly period for about six months, she figured that she was in menopause. She even checked with a doctor who confirmed this. But low and behold, she started feeling sick, when she checked with another doctor, she was told that she was four months pregnant. While not prepared, they welcomed the child and are happy. Tyler is getting a different type of socialization from his siblings, whom he sees rarely. For years Micah has been treated as the baby and he feels he is now replaced by Tyler. He still has not come to terms with losing his position and cannot see the wisdom in all of this. Tyler craves for his love and affection, and would do anything for him but this is not reciprocated.
It was difficult for Anna & John to let their children out into the world, because they felt that they were still ‘children.’ Blake and Zoe moved out because they got married and left their family of origin, forming their new life as a couple, while Micah moved away to College. Their family now includes in-laws and a two-year old grandson. Although they still have an important parent-child relationship, it has now evolved to an adult-adult relationship. They now share a sense of mutual understanding and respect for one another, while still continuing their own individual lives. Even though the older Squire children live on their own, they still depend a lot on their parents for advice. John and Anna have the responsibility of caring for their elderly parents financially since they are unable to work. While I was visiting with them, they were discussing sending money to buy food and pay the rent for John’s parents. They also ensure that their parents have adequate medication since the both suffer from hypertension. The care and concern for their parents ties in with a cultural reality whereby, usually, once a person from the Caribbean has an aged parent, they make every effort to provide for them in their own homes rather than put them into a nursing home. The family seems to be fulfilling their developmental stages, because while they have started to now focus on themselves and their marriage, their children’s health and wellbeing are of importance to them.
It was also relevant for me to examine the history of family of origin of both Anna and John. This aided me in getting a better understanding of the reason for certain decisions, rituals and practices. From a conversation with Anna’s mother, I was able deduce that the way John and Anna were raising their children, was very similar to the way they were raised by their parents.
The Squire’s live in a three bedroom single-family house in a quiet sub-urban community. John keeps the lawn well manicured and has two lovely gardens, a vegetable and a flower garden. Food from the garden is consumed as a part of the meal. They live in close proximity to schools, churches and the nearest shopping mall is about 30 minutes away. The neighborhood is comprised of about 250 residents, most of whom are friendly. While they don’t know every one by name they are able to identify the faces and the houses to which they belong and greet each other whenever they meet and may stop for a chat on matters of importance to the neighborhood. Tyler, being the only child at home, makes friends with children in the neighborhood. From time to time his friends would visit him to play. Anna and John treat them as if they were their own children. If they are taking their child to the movies, there are always three or four other children going along with them. Similarly, their neighbors will invite Tyler if they are taking out their children.
The family owns two motor vehicles which they utilize to commute to work daily. On weekends however, they all travel in John’s car. He takes Anna and Tyler wherever they want to go. Tyler travels on the school bus and whenever Micah visits, he uses Anna’s car. On weekends, before they begin their chores, Anna and John can be seen taking early morning walks. They both believe in health and wellness and the importance of exercise.
The Squire’s are aware that effective communication is the corner stone of strong, healthy families. This is a key component for the building-block of strong marital, parent-child, and sibling relationships. Communication, verbal and non-verbal, within the family is extremely important because it enables members to express their needs, wants, and concerns to each other.
Anna is an outspoken and proactive individual, John on the other hand, has an infectious smile, is quite reserved and is non-confrontational, but he is aware of the importance of openness and honest communication in a relationship. This can create an atmosphere that allows them to express their differences and their love and admiration for one another. He is a positive person and an active listener who pays keen attention to what others are thinking and feeling. Together they talk about their problems, their challenges and their disappointments and try to make compromises as well as comfort each other. During the early stages of the marriage, this was not so due to financial difficulties. Anna had to work more than one jobs, John as well would work on weekends and so they had no time for each other. As a matter of fact, they barely saw each other and could be classified as living separate lives. Fortunately, the extended family was there to provide guidance for the children and overall support for the family. The birth of Tyler was also a turning point in their life, because Tyler came as a surprise, especially after so many years. They both realized that they had to put their family first and so made some changes.
John and Anna have grown closer over the years and he (John) can now say categorically, that his relationship with Anna is strong because she understands him well and has at all times given him attention and respect and does not do things behind his back. She is a forgiving person and understands his non-verbal communication. He says that his wife can read him like a book. He too sometimes understands the different moods of his wife, but is of the opinion that women are complex and therefore it is not possible to completely understand everything they do. When Anna is displeased about anything and she believes that John may not really understand how she feels, she would send him a letter, where she pours out her heart and explain how she felt. John on the other hand, after reading the letter would truly understand her feelings and they would engage in a meaningful and worthwhile dialogue to come to an understanding about the matter. John truly loves Anna and is still in love with her and will do anything to make her happy.
The Squires are all involved in the decision making process and there are times when they would consult their older children to get their opinion. Depending on the matter, even Tyler is often brought into the discussions and is encouraged to give his opinion and to talk to his parents about anything. John will engage in discussions on topical matters with just about anyone as he is highly read. He was once a teacher so he is quite aware of the art of communication.
John has complete trust in his wife and says that any decision that she makes is fine with him. His comments would always be “you have never made a bad decision, you chose me”. However, once a decision is taken, he embraces it and willing sees to its implementation.
The strength of this family lies in the fact that they are a loving, supportive and cooperative team who understand each other, believe in each other, and is willing and committed to assist each other to succeed and to meet the various challenges of life. They are encouraged, and feel that their personal interests are valued. They are, for the most part, open and honest with each other and this is what helps to build the trust in the family. Anna has done a good job in helping her husband to develop confidence, self esteem and the self. John on the other hand has helped her to be patient and tolerant.
Anna is a strong-willed person, who is at times controlling and likes to get her way. This appears to be a weakness in the family. Despite what Johns says or thinks, many times he agrees with her, not because he thinks the decision is correct, but just to have a peaceful life. Micah and his mother usually have a stormy relationship. He feels that his mother is too interfering and treats him like a child. That’s one of the reasons he opted to go to college in a different State.
John and Anna are both bread winners of the house. They have taken seriously, their role as parents, not only to their own children but also the neighbors’. John usually plays games with Tyler and takes him to the library but they all go together to visit places of interest or amusement parks such as, Disney World. They all watch television together, whether it is a cartoon or a family movie. They all seem to find time for each other. In earlier years when Tyler was vey young, Anna’s mother would assist with babysitting. This action took a huge load off their shoulders. Anna and John remit money to their parents to help take care of them.
In reference to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, from the physiological to self actualization, it can be safely said that the Squire’s carry out these functions well. They are good for each other and the adult children all keep calling home for advice and help with their relationships. When John was diagnosed with diabetes, it was a trying time for the family. Their older children visited and brought a diabetes testing machine so that he could test himself regularly. Anna changed the diet of the entire household to ensure that he got the proper meal. Through the web of friendship that the family has, it is able to cope with any stress that they may come.
A family is multifaceted and takes a lot of work to get everyone in synch. Each person is unique and is socialized differently and when two people from two different worlds come together and start a family. it calls for varying levels of compromise. In rare cases, do people carry out background checks on their spouses to see what they are getting into. Nevertheless, when people are committed and willing they can do the impossible.
Family Name : Squire
Date: June 15, 2009
Family Address: Atlanta, GA
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