Email JEM Like Us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Watch our videos on YouTube JEM's CD, Artists for Change Subscribe to our Blog Feed Subscribe to our Podcast feed
« A New Mosaic: Life in the Grout Lines | Main | Life Together: Two Big Questions »
Tuesday
Dec302014

A First Holiday Season in Our Shared Household

Blending Family Cultures

One of the challenges of merging two separate families into one household, particularly given that we want to actually share life together, is that in doing so we are actually attempting to blend our unique family “cultures”.

Culture has been defined as “The system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning” (Bates & Plog.

While the term is generally used in anthropological discussions of broader society, it certainly applies, for example, to the Carol and Harry Watkins’ household. Over the 38 years of our marriage, we have lived in 13 homes in three Western states, raised two daughters, obtained three advanced degrees, pursued several different careers, and are now retired (Carol) or approaching retirement (Harry), and enjoying 6 grandchildren. Over the years we have developed “beliefs, values, customs, behaviors and artifacts” (i.e., acquired stuff) that are strongly (and often unconsciously) tied to our sense of identity as a close-knit, loving, and relatively happy family. Similarly, Lee and Juanita, too, bring their own family history and “culture” to our shared home.

So in these early days, we are “learning by doing”, negotiating day by day what cultural patterns from our individual histories are central to what we bring to our shared family, and which can be set aside. Obviously, this process is also strongly influenced by our individual personality types, “strengths”, and so forth. This learning process has been simultaneously a source of some (relatively little) tension and anxiety, and of fun discovery and growth.

Examples?

  • Where do we put our furniture and artwork in our new home? What do we do with excess furniture? Juanita has a strong aesthetic sense and so does Carol. Can they release enough control to work together and leverage each other’s creativity as we build a shared space that meets all of our needs?
  • How do we merge two kitchens? Two sets of dining wear?
  • Lee and I have both tended to do the finances in our families. As we are sharing expenses for the household, food, gardens, etc. can we manage the finances collaboratively?
  • Juanita, with Lee’s help, is extensively involved in caring for three of her grandchildren during the week after school, often in our home, and feels this to be a major calling at this stage of her life. Carol and I enjoy our grandchildren, but more sparingly. How are we about “being invaded” 3 days a week by someone else’s kids?
  • Other than dinner-time, do we spend time talking, reading, watching TV together, or do we live essentially separately in our private rooms. Can the extraverts (Carol and me) and the introverts (Lee and Juanita) give each other grace while we balance our respective needs for association and recuperation against the demands of our busy weeks?
  • What about celebrating Christmas? Carol and I are what Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis call “red-letter Christians”, i.e., fairly traditional in theology, but in concert with the teachings, behaviors and purposes of Jesus, deeply concerned about social justice and creation care issues. Lee and Juanita both come out of “main-line” Christian backgrounds, and are today more eclectic, if deeply committed, in their spiritual expression. Do we pray, sing, read poetry or what to start our dinners? For Christmas, do we sing Christmas carols together? How Christ-centered is our shared holiday? Do we give presents on Christmas Eve or on Christmas day? We have enough Christmas tree ornaments for 5 trees. How do we negotiate decorating only one? And so on.

Patience, Communication, Humor, and Respect

The above are just a few of the issues, big and small, that Lee, Juanita, Carol, and I have been working through in these first months of living together. These are early days yet, but frankly, I believe we would all say that our experience so far has been extraordinarily positive, and generally happy. Why? Well, here are a few observations, from my perspective:

  • We entered into this process with a clear sense of purpose and commitment to each other. We knew from the outset that we are in this for the long haul.
  • We have, I believe, a mutually held conviction that we will work through the initial tensions of living together, and that we will benefit from our differences.
  • From the outset, we have tried to follow practices that will foster community, such as eating dinner together, meeting bi-weekly to discuss household and interpersonal issues, and playing together.
  • We bought a house that allowed each family to place its stamp on some personal space (two bedrooms and a bath each), and have deferred to and collaborated with each other on the rest. Logistically, the house also helps us meet our needs for down-time and recovery versus our needs for community and conversation.
  • In particular, our commitment to each other has been more important to us than our individual stuff, or consumption preferences, for example. In practice, that has meant that “artifacts” - e.g., a painting, a rocking chair, a set of cast iron pots, and life habits, e.g., buying bulk organic foods, or avoiding certain household chemicals, that held particular significance for one of us have been embraced by the rest of us as we have built out our lives together. An attitude of “if it is important to you, then it is important to me” has seemed to inform our decisions together.
  • Finally, we have been purposeful in celebrating some of the early “wins” from merging our households in this larger house, e.g., making a beautiful living space that blends the “found objects” of our individual families, finding that our living expenses have dropped, hosting large and successful holiday gatherings, the joy of daughters from our respective families, each with new babies, becoming friends, etc.

So What about Christmas?

Well, we each pulled out a few of our most meaningful ornaments and decorated one tree, while telling the stories of the life events associated with those ornaments. We decided to celebrate the season as a family on Christmas Eve. Harry and Carol cooked the meal and Lee and Juanita cleaned up. Then, Carol played her harp and Juanita her Ukulele. We sang Christmas Carols “with Justice” from a resource that Lee and Juanita obtained years ago from the organization Alternatives for Simple Living. We exchanged gifts, and enjoyed some eggnog. Christmas morning, Lee and Juanita gathered around as Carol and I placed baby Jesus in the manger in our crèche – a ceremony from our girls’ childhood – and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. And then we each went off to celebrate Christmas gatherings with our respective extended families. It was a surprising and blessed time.

Merging families isn’t child’s play. It isn’t for the faint of heart, or risk adverse. And truly, we haven’t faced any major crises together yet, or been tested in any serious way. But so far, so good! I’m optimistic, and am feeling blessed to be part of my new “chosen” family.

Happy New Year!

Harry

Reader Comments (1)

PLEASE, WHOEVER HAS THIS SERVICE CAT NAMED PATRICK IN THE RITZ BUILDING AT JUBILEE HOUSING PLEASE BRING IT BACK TO IT’S OWNER BY CALLING 202-445-5937, OR IF FOUND OUTSIDE THE RITZ BUILDING CALL 202-445-5937. THIS SERVICE ANIMAL IS TRAINED FOR 3 DISABLED PEOPLE THAT NEED ITS HELP BADLY. HE IS TRAINED IN POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER, SEIZURES, CEREBRAL PALSY, FALLS, AND BALANCE ISSUES. THE FAMILY REALLY NEEDS THIS SERVICE ANIMAL. THE OWNER IS MS. JACKSON.

April 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJESSIE KENNEDY JACKSON

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
All HTML will be escaped. Textile formatting is allowed.

Connect on Facebook

Email JEM Like Us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Watch our videos on YouTube JEM's CD, Artists for Change Subscribe to our Blog Feed Subscribe to our Podcast feed

Blog | Podcast | FAQ | Contact Us | Support JEM | Login

Jubilee Economics Ministries • 3295 Meade Avenue San Diego, CA 92116 • 619-528-8075

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.