In many ethnic cultures, extended family helping with child rearing is the cultural norm.

The Use of Extended Families in Ethnic Child Rearing

by Sharon Secor

Families with extended family members active in the rearing of children tend to be more common in ethnic cultures. A paper published in the June 2007 “Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review” suggests that cultures influenced by collectivist and communal concepts, especially those that developed from tribal cultures, are more likely to embrace the extended family model. In many Asian, African, Middle Eastern and Latin cultures, the family operates as a whole, with intermingled finances, businesses and property, including residences. This family structure has been used for thousands of years because it offers important benefits.

1. Ethnic Identity and Cultural Continuity

Children learn family traditions and history from listening to elder family members and participating in family functions. The routines of daily life, like the foods eaten and the division of household labor, impart cultural knowledge. This transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next promotes cultural continuity. The socialization children receive in a supportive, extended family encourages a strong, positive ethnic identity, a sense of cultural belonging and healthy self-esteem. These can be especially important to ethnic minority children, helping to avoid or mitigate the negative impact of discrimination they may encounter in the dominant culture.

2. Decreased Financial Stress

When extended families help parents to raise their children, it often results in decreased financial stress for the parents. Providing childcare while parents are at work can be a real financial help, because daycare can be quite costly. Extended families often help with school costs and special events, and some help with more basic living expenses, like food and clothing. Although it is traditional in many ethnic cultures that embrace the extended family model, like those from the sub-Saharan region of Africa, to spread the costs associated with child rearing throughout the extended family, as noted in a study published in a February, 2006 issue of “Demographic Research,” an online journal of peer-reviewed research, this practise is fading out.

3. Help Managing Parent-Child Conflict

In ethnic families, when conflict arises between a parent and child, there is a supportive family network to help, according to “The Ethnic Context of Child and Adolescent Problem Behavior: Implications for Child and Family Interventions,” a report published in 2007. A grandmother may step in to diffuse the situation, protecting the grandchild from too harsh punishment. Adult family members may try to resolve the conflict by reminding the child of his obligations to the parent. Studies of traditional African and Latino cultures reveal that it is not unusual for children to temporarily live with other family members for a cooling down period or while family members work to resolve the problem. If it cannot be resolved, an extended family member often takes over the rearing of the child.

4. An Important Safety Net

The extended family model common in many ethnic cultures provides a valuable safety net. If something major happens, like death, divorce or job loss, the extended family is there to help. If for some reason one or both parents are unable to care for their children, kinship ties mean there is an obligation to take over the responsibilities of child rearing. To allow children to be taken into state care due to the absence or inability of parents is unthinkable in many ethnic families, even if taking in the children will result in financial hardship. Ethnic extended families traditionally are willing to make great sacrifices in the interest of the family's children and the family as a whole.

About the Author

Sharon Secor is a freelance writer living in upstate New York. Her journey into freelance writing was inspired by Christine de Pisan (1364-1429), a widow and writer of social commentary who, in addition to being one of France’s earliest well-known female authors, was able to support her children through her writing. Ms. Secor read her first college level psychology textbook in the fourth grade, along with the feminist literature of the era, beginning what has proved to be a lifelong passion for the humanities and social sciences. Ms. Secor is working towards completing a double major in Journalism and Spanish – preparation for writing for both English and Spanish language markets about social and economic issues in Latin America, as influenced by increased industrialization and the global marketplace. As an anarchist and single parent, she also devotes her time to practicing resistance and raising revolutionaries.

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