Here’s a breakdown of my family before we proceed. My grandparents emigrated from Tamil Nadu soon after their marriage in the hope of a better future. In the past, the borders between Malaysia and Singapore did not exist as it does today thus, my family is dispersed between the two countries. My Grandparents had 12 kids, 9 of which are deceased, 9 grandkids, 11 great grandkids and 2 great-great grandkids. I am the youngest of the grandchildren with the oldest being 44 years my senior, this is a direct consequence of early marriage, no birth control and my mother’s late pregnancy. For as long as I can remember, I loved being the baby in the family, showered with unconditional love (for the most bit ). However, living abroad, being exposed to different cultures and upbringing has altered my narrative on the importance of having a tight knit family.
The existence of big families may appear to be considered more of a curse, depending on who you ask. Recently, I spent roughly more than a week living with my relatives. As wonderful as it was to engage in domestic activities together such as taking turns to clean the house, washing load after load of clothes on the daily and to the more demanding task of preparing edible food, I felt very much trapped in the big house. The thing with family is that you do not necessarily choose who you are stuck with, instead you have to grow to love them. That by far is the hardest part. To be in a space filled with people of different age groups, with different personalities and a lot of passive-aggressiveness is truly an ordeal that I wish upon no one. The easy solution would possibly be to disengage, limit interaction and practice the highest form of ignorance; which has come with its share of success based on observation of friends abroad who have resorted to such measures. Failure to do so essentially results in having to make a choice between confrontation or non-confrontation, and if your family tends to get as salty as mine, the latter is the ideal choice to prevent having your bravery to stand up against them shot down, and your existence erased (slight over-exaggeration).
Yet, I could be at any stage in life, facing various difficulties and possibly even be in the midst of an existential crisis, but my family has an inexplicable power over my emotions; their ability to tug at my heartstrings with their silliness on days I suffer from stonecoldheart syndrome, to disarm my self-destructive thoughts and fill them with love in the purest form and to subconsciously advocate trust-falls in the form of a support system strong enough to ease the burden of a troubled mind. I may not completely be myself, I may not be able to say whatever I want without having to face the wrath of my easily riled up family members, but I have been given a safe space that allows for me to enjoy the small things in life such as watching my nephews get excited over our visits to see the cows, listening to my cousin talk to me about the different cows, correcting me when I got their names mixed up, partaking in temple prayers with guidance from the family to perform the rituals correctly for my own benefit, being there when my niece got drunk for the first time and the list goes on…..
And now on to the most important bit, the notion of being too close for comfort is very much valid. However, it should not be mistaken for complete alienation of family members instead we can learn a thing or two from this piece written by Marcia Carteret highlighting the empirical difference in independent westerner and collectivist Asian. Each individual unit within the larger family group has its own characteristics, albeit there being an overlap, misalignment of the stars is inevitable. In such situations, the most vital aspect that should be afforded is space. Given sufficient space to nurture and develop each individual family unit, the collective family contingent will be less divisive, stronger in spite of the differences and present a more united front to overcome challenges as a family. This will only be possible if raising kids is a delegated task, as opposed to a joint family venture with disagreements on everything from discipline to spousal choices. In that sense, not having to be in constant contact with my family on a daily basis helps create that sense of independence and personal space; allowing absence to make the heart grow fonder. However, when I do reunite with them, I fall into a state of subliminal bliss, I am back in my safe space guarded by their love. There is truly nothing else quite like it.
lots and lots and lots of love and peace,
(p.s. thanx in advance for reading T)