I often encounter locals in Mexico who are quite shocked to hear that I have three sons…one in the U.S. one in Hong Kong and one in Thailand part of the year. To make it worse my husband is in Thailand also.
Why do you let them go there!? Never mind that the kids at least are 44, 42 and 37! And as if I could do anything about it anyway!
Sticking his finger out at me, one teacher implied I was a bad mother to let them go. Why not, I asked? Because it is dangerous! Never mind that the countries they are in are no more dangerous than Mexico! Never mind that kids as young as 12 crawl across the border illegally without their families. But that is survival and maybe another story. Or not.
Mexican children are expected to take care of their parents until death. This means not leaving home (or at least nearby their home) while they are alive if they have a choice. It means that Mexicans who have immigrated to the U.S. and lived there for 30 years are proud to come home as their parents age to spend their last years, months, weeks or days with them. Maybe we Americans could learn something from these people if we had more respect for our elders.
We Americans, until the recent economic downturn, usually have expected our kids to be on their own by about the age of 18…or out of college. We Americans are pragmatic. My Mexican-American friend, who was born in the U.S. but grew up with migrant parents and now lives in Mexico with her Mexican National husband responds this way when she hears Mexicans lamenting the American style of family
“If 18 years isn’t long enough to teach your children to be independent, then how long does it take?” Ha ha. That’s Patty!
I would never want my children to feel pressured by any kind of emotional blackmail. I would hate for my kids to feel a “duty” to me instead of love and interest freely given and received. I have my own life as does my husband in Thailand and we are careful not to try to live out our lives through our children….in other words…laying a trip on them. Often it is the parents who are getting their needs filled through their children.
I feel that I had a chance to live my life the way I wanted. I left home at the age of 12 because all children of isolated farm families had to go away to school if they wanted a decent education within which to prepare for university. My mother, a child of Polish immigrants and having grown up on an isolated ranch in Montana, did the same.
And it is now my children’s opportunity to answer to their heart’s desire. When I talk to young Mexicans this way I sense yearning. When I describe what my children are doing in various parts of the world they sigh. When I talked to my young female dentist about her mother who she took care of until she died, I asked if she was very sick. No, she said. She just had a problem in her head. Oh, I said…she was senile? No, no, no, she said. She was fine. She just wanted her children around her all the time so me and my three brothers would take turns visiting her each day! Oh, I said. Needy. Yes! she said. Then she sighed.
I think it’s good not to confuse geography with intimacy. It’s not the location that makes the difference. For me, it’s the frequency and quality of the communication. You can be interdependent and not living in the immediate vicinity of each other. Whether it is “fashionable” or not strikes me as an odd question. I am proud of my very close relationship with my “kids.” And thank God for video skype. I suspect they are quite happy that I am not in their hair all the time with me in Mexico. They always just rolled their eyes and did what they wanted to anyway.
Having said that, however, we are all very dependent on each other for safety and helping each other with personal needs. I have recently sent my oldest, in the US, a lengthy list of instructions…and put his name on the title of my car, and my living will, in case something happens to me here in Mexico. My Thai daughter-in-law says, “mom, I take care you!” You should have seen the look on my son’s face! hahahaha. Whatever will be will be but I know I would want to be independent as long as possible. Maybe located in a group home with a wonderful caregiver where my 94 year old mother-in-law is.
The kids left home when they went to university and afterward found their own paths in life which happened to take them away from their birth place. The oldest, unmarried, is in Las Vegas because that is where there was the greatest demand for his work at the time. Besides he hated the cold and windy and cloudy NW of the US and Chicago where he did his medical residency and likes the heat to physically train in. The middle one visited Thailand, loves the culture and the water and fell in love with a young Thai woman to whom he has been married for 9 years. She’s the daughter I never had and she’s funny and very wise. The youngest went to culinary school after university which led to working in Manhattan for eight years, Beijing for two and now Hong Kong for three. He has decided to stay in HK, has just been promoted to Executive Chef at the American Club and is quite happy to be avoiding the financial crisis in the US. It probably helps that he has a long-term relationship with his Cantonese girlfriend.
I suppose living internationally came naturally to my family because they were raised within an extended Mexican family that I had lived with in high school. Then I was a volunteer director of a foreign student exchange program while they were in high school and they were exposed to students of many cultures when I would often host parties for them in our home. And I had a disabled Mexican girl for six months and a boy from Brazil as exchange students for a year in our home. And they all separately often traveled internationally before settling into their jobs.
Truthfully, I am so happy that they are all healthily capable of living independently…finding adventure and new horizons. I am excited though, that, after 14 years, we are all meeting up together on Koh Samui Thailand at the end of January 2013.