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Cultural differences vs. enmeshment...


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#1 Weesheart75

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 12:24 PM

Thanks BSW for that lesson on the Greek culture as you've experienced it. I like to learn about other cultures from people who experience them firsthand instead of textbook versions. :) The differences from what you describe though has made me wonder. Is "enmeshment" really unhealthy and abnormal in general? Or is it just a cultural issue? I know it really does depend on the family as a whole being ok with that type of lifestyle, but we are often taught that enmeshment is unhealthy and not normal (at least here in America). From what BSW described that seems an awful lot like our definition of enmeshed families, but yet they as a culture seem to embrace it or at the very least don't know any better?! Or am I just reading BSW's description wrong? Thoughts anyone?

#2 MrsKitty

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 12:40 PM

I think enmeshment is almost always unhealthy because it makes people too dependent on others. My mom comes from a "pro enmenshment" culture but she is anti enmeshment. Her sisters give her heck about how she needs to "tell" my sister and I how to live our lives, who our friends should be, our jobs, etc. My mom ignores them all and actually had to limit contact with them because of *their* constant meddling. My mom says that a parent is doing his/her child a disservice by making that child too dependent on the parent. She says: What will happen when the parent dies? The child (even if he/she is an adult) will be completely lost and unable to function or make any decisions. I agree completely. We need to prepare our children to stand on their own two feet because we won't always be here for them to tell them how to live their lives. Interestingly, my DH's dad also comes from a *pro-enmeshment* culture. He shared my mom's beliefs and wanted his kids to make their own decisions. Smart man. He died a few years ago. Although we miss him and I nearly always tear up when I think about him, my DH was not *lost* when he died. He was *horribly sad* but not *lost*. He certainly had his faults but I think my FIL was a success as a father overall because he taught my DH to be his own person and to stand on his own.

#3 oscarsmaman

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 12:52 PM

My family is far from enmeshed. We're of a predominately German background. DH's family is enmeshed. They're of a predominately Italian background. I think that as the world becomes more modern, DILs increasingly question enmeshment. I recently read something to the effect of, Italy saw a huge increase in divorce, with MILs being a huge factor in the dissolution of marriages. Turns out Italian DHs were married to mommy, more so than wifey. I remember decades ago, a 60 Minutes story on how many Italian sons were living at home well into their 40s because "no one can care for me like momma!" I think Asian and Middle Eastern cultures are heavy on "respect for elders" and so the MIL is often revered, but I also read about inter-family honor killings and I've seen a lot of Indian brides lamenting the pedestal upon which their MILs rule their home (possibly why I suspected Parsley's ILs were of Indian extraction-- ha!). Here's why enmeshment just isn't a good idea: At its worst, it's oppressive, dictatorial, antagonistic and confusing. At its best, it sets up a false impression of individual "strength" and "health" that isn't there. That's not to say that healthy family dynamics don't exist where family members are supportive of one another when needed. But the "need" shouldn't always be ever-present and there shouldn't be an overwhelming sense of entitlement to give opinions on how others should live their lives.

#4 Eowyn

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 01:21 PM

Really doesn't this boil down to a question of cultural exceptionalism? If a MIL berates her DIL, criticizes everything she makes, expects her to clean the house top to bottom, gives her less food than she needs, refuses her medical care, and ultimately abuses her into such a mental state where she attempts suicide, does it really MATTER that this is part of Afghan culture that the IL's are in charge? Or is it just wrong? Obviously that's the most extreme case, but I'm very very very against the idea that things can be right based off the excuse of "it's their culture!" Now, might someone be more patient with frustrating--but not outright wrong-- behaviors because it was someones culture? Sure. But does that make wrong behavior right? No. I also believe the cultural card is used intentionally against AC's in many cases. I include my own in this even though DH and his family are American, he was raised abroad by a nanny and educated in a school system that REVERED parents. Of course he had a difficult time "cutting the cord" and I don't believe for one moment that MIL did not make those choices intentionally to cement her control over her children, particularly her son. Options existed to give him an American-style education and an American-style upbringing...but why bother if the result is someone you're unable to control. Much better if, under the guise of "cultural exposure" you train you child to be obsessed with obedience to Mommy and Daddy and determined to make them proud...all without needing to do all that work that Tiger Mother had to put into it.

#5 missmm

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 01:56 PM

I am finding it very hard to figure out if DIL is emeshed with her family or just close in a healthy way. I know she goes to her DMs at least every Sunday and that her DM expects each of her AC to call daily and come home on Sunday if they are not out of town, (her DM told me so directly). What I try to be careful of is not comparing my time to her DMs time with GD so for the most part I choose not to even think about it since it is out of my control. But maybe I need to just understand DIL better and her greek background is very important to her. I like her DM and her family. They are lovely, warm, generous people but I don't know them well. They can get pushy at times but it's never bothered me to just politely refuse food or activites when I've had enough. I also know I'm a quiet person by nature, not one of the natural social butterflies, but I like to observe.

#6 SueSTx

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 02:51 PM

Our family is 100% Americsan 'melting pot'. When DD/SIL first got married, they would come every Sunday and eat lunch and visit. Even after GD was born they would come nearlly every week for that first year. They have been married now for nearly 10 years and now they come about once a month. They have developed couples friends and other activities took up their time. I am glad they have found other interest.

#7 Julia6

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 02:57 PM

When DD/SIL first got married, they would come every Sunday and eat lunch and visit. Even after GD was born they would come nearlly every week for that first year. posted by SueSTx ^^^^and SIL did he see HIS family weekly?

#8 footballmom

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 02:57 PM

We are a mish mash of a little of everything, my Mom would answer when people were ask about her family tree "deep roots and lots of nuts". We are as close to the old southern family as you can get, we get together eat and talk and you better be there or you will be the one talked about.

#9 SueSTx

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 03:10 PM

@Julia...as a matter of fact they did. DD had to work late on Thursday nights and MIL had a standing invite for them to come eat with his FOO. They continued this until DDs work situation changed. As a matter of fact, FIL provided daycare for about 18 months and several summers after Gd started to school. They have spent time together with both families.

#10 BSW

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 05:20 PM

I’ve seen extended families living together in Greece that appear to be very enmeshed, but it works for them. It’s all they know, and is so much a part of the culture that it isn’t really questioned. I’ve also seen the negative sides of enmeshment too. My BIL is 40, never married and still lives with my IL’s. DH’s cousin is 50, never married, and still lives with her mother. Another cousin is 45 and his mother is his companion in life. They have been emotionally crippled by it. I’ve thought about why a lot with DH’s family. One theory I have is that many of the Greek marriages up through the 60’s and even 70's were arranged. The parents weren’t all that into each other, so the focus was on the kid, especially with mom. With DH’s aunt, her son became her companion, because there was no love in this arranged marriage. It led to a very enmeshed relationship btw the two of them. Also, although it is changing now, the Greek women I know from my MIL’s generation didn’t drive, work or pursue many interests. The focus was the house and the kids, especially the boys. The boys became momma's boys in every aspect. So the key in all of this is to marry well and get a life!

#11 janetskid

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 04:48 PM

Sue, that is nice and a good example of how a son can see his mom if he tries. Eating dinner with his mom and dad while your DD worked late is a good compromise. ""DD had to work late on Thursday nights and MIL had a standing invite for them to come eat with his FOO. They continued this until DDs work situation changed. As a matter of fact, FIL provided daycare for about 18 months and several summers after Gd started to school. They have spent time together with both families."

#12 SueSTx

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 05:06 PM

Actually, SILs mother would go by the daycare and take GD home with her and prepare dinner for her family and SIL and DD when they both got of work at the same time late. DD ate there also.

#13 rosered135

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 04:01 AM

I'm thinking that how 'wrong" enmeshment is may, indeed, depend, largely, on the society one lives in. If one comes from an enmeshed family in a culture that promotes enmeshment and you're living in a country where that is the norm, chances are you're ok. It's the more independent person who would have trouble there. But if your family relocates to a society such as ours, then their enmeshment is likely to become a drawback, at some point, especially for its younger members, as they try to make it/fit in here. But I also see that there are excesses to enmeshment, no matter where the family lives, such as the "honor killings," etc. that a PP mentioned. I'm not sure it means their style of family is totally "unhealthy," however. B/c I'm sure it has some benefits w/in their world. I just think it shows there are some unhealthy aspects to it even in their native country. I also agree with Eowyn that there are extremes the world can't accept just b/fc of culture. For example, just b/c we're a society that tends to favor independence doesn't make it ok to leave little kids unsupervised. Neither is it "ok, IMO, for a MIL to beat and starve her DIL, just b/c MILs are important in their culture.

#14 Weesheart75

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 08:33 AM

Rose I think I tend to see it in the same perspective that you do. I just thought it was interesting how BSW described her extended family's culture and it made me wonder if some cultures actually do see enmeshment (not to the extreme degree of course) as healthy or maybe if they just don't really know any better because that's how they have lived for many years or generations. I also tend to think in some ways, if ALL members of families like this are content, who are we who have a different view, to come in and judge and tell them they are wrong? I think the extreme scenario that Eowyn described really doesn't fall under the category of enmeshment rather than just plain ole human being cruelty and no one, to me anyway, should have to endure that regardless of how their culture tends to be. Anyway, like I said, I get fascinated with learning about different cultures from people who experience that culture first hand and hearing BSW's version peaked my curiosity on the "what ifs" I guess.

#15 oscarsmaman

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 02:39 PM

"I also tend to think in some ways, if ALL members of families like this are content, who are we who have a different view, to come in and judge and tell them they are wrong?" I agree....As long as ALL members including ILs) are content. If all are not, then healthy families respect differing customs and opinions. Unfortunately, enmeshment doesn't seem to allow for that by its very definition. My MIL, I would say, is pretty much Italian. FIL did not grow up Italian (he's German), but both SILs identify themselves as Italian. They are all very enmeshed, the mother rules the roost while trying at timesto give the appearance the father does (Another "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" reference: "The man is the head of the household, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants it to go.")

#16 BSW

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 04:37 PM

I agree that everyone needs to be onboard for an "enmeshed" family to work. Also, so much of this is born out of economic necessity that there really isn't a choice either. It is considered a luxury to have a separate home with just mom, dad and the kids in Greece especially now with the economic troubles they are in (by all counts a depression).

#17 Wyndua

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 10:41 PM

BSW, so true: "I agree that everyone needs to be onboard for an "enmeshed" family to work. Also, so much of this is born out of economic necessity that there really isn't a choice either. It is considered a luxury to have a separate home with just mom, dad and the kids in Greece."

#18 rosered135

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Posted 02 March 2012 - 09:19 AM

Yes, I agree, Wees, that some cultures may see the "enmeshed" family as "healthy" or, at least, "the norm." I also think it's interesting that, as BSW points out, the nuclear family that we see as commonplace in our society is "a luxury" in some countries. I also get that economic necessity often accounts for the number of multigenerational households (which increased in this country, too, in the last few years) and that can lead to a little or a lot of enmeshment. Once again, though, I think how well such families function depends partly on the world they live in and the values that are part of that world, regardless. it's one thing, IMO, if you (general) come from a culture that sees it as a good and powerful thing for all members of a FOO to work together for the sake of all; quite another if you come from a culture that tends to favor personal independence and "rugged individualism," etc.

#19 rosered135

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Posted 02 March 2012 - 09:24 AM

In fact, I'm thinking that how "healthy" it feels to be in an what we're calling an enmeshed family depends, partly, on how you see your role in the family. If you're proud and happy to be doing what seems to be best for the whole, then, I imagine, you're going to feel good about yourself, even if you have to sacrifice some personal freedoms. If you resent having your own needs and wishes put on the back burner and feel you - or you and your spouse - should be able to make more of your own choices, then that's a different story. Make sense?

#20 Weesheart75

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 10:39 AM

Yep, makes perfect sense to me :0)