IMMIGRANT FAMILIES 1:
Three Basic Conflicts within the Family
Immigrants are usually faced with enormous problems in their new environment. Adults have to be concerned about jobs and the children about their education and social adjustment. Both have to deal with new customs, weather, language, food, transportation and household accommodations.
Within the families, the problems encountered are more intense and seem to last much longer. These difficulties come about mainly as a result of the clashes between the two cultures: the one accustomed by the immigrants in their homeland and the other of their adopted new homeland.
THE CONFLICTS STATED
For recent Chinese immigrants, the major conflicts they face within their families are primarily three:
- Conflict between husbands and wives;
- Conflict between parents and children;
- Conflict between the couple and their parents.
THE CONFLICTS EXPLAINED
1. CONFLICTS BETWEEN HUSBAND AND WIVES.
Conflicts between husbands and wives of recent immigrants are principally due to changes in their roles, expectations and interactions:
ROLE: Typically in a traditional oriental society, wives are subservient to their husbands. Husbands work hard for the material needs of the families while their wives take care of the housework and the children. Men, as the head and breadwinner for their families, are used to having the final say. But in their new environment, wives often have to work to help support the family. In doing so, wives become more independent and their position at home is elevated toward more equality. This upward movement of the wives put pressure on their husbands resulting in conflict between them.
EXPECTATIONS: In their new environment, wives typically expect more of their marriages and their husbands. Immigrant wives, especially in North America, see the differences between their husbands and the husbands of the predominant culture. They tend to view the later as less dominating, more involved in caring for their children and in helping with the household chores. The wives’ perception elevates their expectations of their husbands and therefore increases the conflicts between them.
Further, from the perspective of wives, their husbands are happy if they are provided with food-service, maid-service, laundry-service and sex-service. But wives want more. They need emotional support and understanding. They need security and protection. They long for meaningful conversations and occasional concrete expressions of love from their husbands.
INTERACTIONS: Traditionally, it is not uncommon for husbands to beat up their wives, with or without provocation. Society condoned it and wives, viewing themselves as powerless, took it. But in their new homeland, wives, protected by law and encouraged by friends and relatives, take their stand. They give an ultimatum to their husbands: stop your violence or I’ll call the police.
In general, wives become more assertive as they become more independent. They are no longer willing to go along with their husbands’ decisions without having their own input. Not infrequently, they expect their husbands to go along with their wishes. As this pattern of interaction between husbands and wives is changing, conflict between them increases.
2. CONFLICTS BETWEEN PARENTS AND THEIR CHILDREN
PASSIVE AND ACTIVE: Conflicts between parents and their children are caused primarily by this one fact: Oriental parents expect their children to be passive whereas American culture encourages children to be active.
Traditionally, Chinese parents expect their children to be passive and obedient, unassertive and modest. But children brought up in a western culture and encouraged to be active – independent, aggressive and self-sufficient.
In a word, the Asian parent say, “listen” whereas the Western parent says, “speak up.”
ALWAYS RIGHT: Also, many Chinese parents view successful parenting as having children who share their views and values. Unconsciously, many parents still hold the traditional view that parents are always right. On the other hand, immigrant children, influenced by the culture of their peers, are taught of human rights, justice and fairness. From the mouths of children we often hear words such as, “fair,” “not fair,” “why” and “why not.” When the children assert their independence by disagreeing with their parents, the parents view it as a threat to their authority and a lack of respect. Naturally, the parents will put more pressure on the children. Sensing more demands, children view their parents as being unfair and unreasonable and naturally react against pressure from them.
REACTIONS: The conflicts between parents and children leave both side frustrated. The parents either give up or apply even more pressure on the children. On the part of the children, some withdraw into themselves while others react in open rebellion, engaging in destructive behavior: sexual promiscuity, drugs, fights, gangs, etc.
Understandably, conflicts between children and their parents become acute when the former seeks for independence as they reach their teens.
AREAS: The most common areas of conflict between parents and their teenagers are – music, internet gaming, clothing, studies, issues related to dating, curfew and manners.
3. CONFLICTS BETWEEN A COUPLE AND THEIR PARENTS
PRIMARY RELATIONSHIP: From a traditional Chinese perspective, a view which is still held by many immigrant parents, the relationship between parents and their married son is more important than the relationship between their son and his wife. According to this view, a daughter-in-law is an outsider. Her main responsibility is to produce for the husband, and his parents, sons to carry on the family name.
But from the perspective of a wife, her relationship with her husband is more intimate than the relationship of her husband and his parents. She expects her husband to consult her before he makes promises to his parents.
If a conflict were to arise between a wife and her mother-in-law, the husband is usually caught in between. His mother expects him to be on her side because, according to her, her relationship with her son is more important than his relationship with his wife. On the other hand, wife expects her husband to be on her side because she believes her relationship with her husband has priority over his relationship with his mother.
In such a conflict, the husband is torn by two women whom he loves. If he were to take the side of his mother, his wife might threaten divorce or suicide or simply develop psychosomatic symptoms continually. But if he were to side with this wife, his mother might unload ten tons of guilt on him rendering him paralyzed from his brain down.
HEADSHIP: Another area which causes conflict between a couple and their parents hinges on who is the head of the house. Traditionally, the grandfather is the head of the house because he holds the financial reign of the family. But in North America, financial responsibility usually falls not on the grandfather but on the son who feels he should be the head of the house. This question is further complicated by two other factors: first, some grandparents verbally concede the headship to their children but actually try to assert it, and second, while some adult male children know they should assert the right and responsibility as head of the household they are afraid to do so because of long-term dominance by their fathers.
DISCIPLINE OF GRANDCHILDREN: As a corollary to the headship of the house is the discipline of the grandchildren. Traditionally, a grandfather, being the head of the house, has the final say when it comes to the treatment and disciplining of the grandchildren. For example, a grandfather might entice his grandson with candies to watch TV with him. If the grandson were to say something like, “my father does not allow me to have candies,” his grandfather might respond with, “never mind what your father says, he is also my son.”