A big difference between the middle class in Brazil and the middle class in the US is that teens and young adults in Brazil do not work until they finish college. And sometimes grad school.
No jobs during high school, college or summer vacations. No learning early to earn their own money. Parents pay for everything until their mid-20’s. I heard that the children of the president of Lilly Pharma here in the US had odd jobs in their youth to learn the importance of work. My daughters had odd jobs in clothing stores and departments stores, tutoring kids and day care centers.
Upper class Brazilians don’t want their kids (often white) mixed in with people from the “lower classes”. Jobs like waitressing, babysitting, gardening, etc, are considered beneath them. Work ethic is just not valued. Why make your poor kid work when you can give them everything? I understand the importance of concentrating in your studies, but what about summers? Are you going to let your 20 year old sitting for 3 months doing nothing? How about teaching them the satisfaction of earning their ow money, even if it’s peanuts?
Different cultures, different values. But a lot about the class system in Brazil is based on this idea that some people are better than others, and that lowly work is not dignified.
I was lucky to spend a part of high school in the US. I had a paper route and babysat. I loved not having to ask my Dad for pocket money and buy my records or other things I wanted. When we returned to Brazil and I started college, I worked as an assistant teacher at the American School of Brasilia, because I spoke fluent English. I also taught English in private language schools throughout College. I paid for my first ticket to Europe when I was 22 myself, and was proud of that. I never liked to ask people for money.
A lot of first marriages break when people reach 40, unfortunately. In your late 30’s and early 40’s most people who were married in their 20’s and early to mid-30’s have children. There are many family obligations when your cuhildren are dependent on you. You still interact with your ex, and sometimes that is a source of conflict for the new boyfriend or girlfriend.
Merging familes is not a piece of cake. It is much easier when one of you do not have children and are willing to become a step-parent figure; as long as you don’t demand exclusive attention from your partner. If both have children, it is easier to understand the demands that parenthood entails. It is easier to arrange your routine around the children. However, it can also create a whole slew of problems, namely because you are trying to integrate two families with different values and habits into one. There is also interference from the other parent. No easy task, and I don’t envy couples in that situation.
When you become single in your 50’s though, a lot of the complications with children are generally gone. They may still be in College, but they are not dependent on their parents on a daily basis anymore. That is a great phase for dating again: you both have time, freedom to travel when you wish and lot’s of energy-you are still young. I see the greatest harmony in couples that age.
Finally, the maturity they have achieved make the petty stuff not so important; jealousy is not so much an element any longer, a sense of calm and understanding prevails, a sense of “we don’t have that many decades ahead so let’s make the best of life”, a sense of accomplishment, may it be professional or having successfully raised your children, an interest in causes and other bigger things than worries about money and kids, less need to impress, more personal confidence, less attachment to material things and less sexual addiction-relationships are more based in common interests and companionship than lust. Hopefully, 50 plus folks get to find someone who they want to spend their old age with, since being single and isolated in your later years is one of the biggest causes of early death.
What are dinks? That is how you call couples who have double incomes, no kids. Obviously childless couples that make a choice not to have children fit into that category, but I want to discuss the ones who are now empty nesters and middle aged. If you happen to have a good marriage and your kids are grown, living on their own and financially independent, you can have the best of lives.
When does middle age start and end? Somewhere from 45 to 65. Some say middle age starts at 40, some say at 50. Anyhow, since we are all living longer and looking a lot better at 50, I think that age group has been pushed forward.
This phase of your life can be the best in many ways. Your health should be good, provided you take care of it. Your finances are usually more secure, provided you have not been a victim of the job loss and economic upheaval of the 2008 recession former President Bush left us with. Having two incomes, sharing a house and not having any financial or time obligations with your kids does allow you to travel more, invest more, remodel more, enjoy hobbies, eat better, exercise more…the list of benefits is long. Not everyone though is lucky to have a companion at this phase of their lives, especially with the high divorce rate. And some people do very well on their own, financially and emotionally. For people like myself though, for whom having a loving relationship rates as a priority, being part of a DINK is just the ideal situation to be.
Parental alienation and Religious indoctrination are both very harmful to children. They are both lying to your children, even if you think you are right when it comes to the other parent.
Parental alienation is common after bitter divorces with minor children. The parent who has custody badmouths and attacks the other parent, with the purpose of creating fear and resentment in the child. It’s a petty revenge tool. Parental alienation can also be family alienation, when parents badmouth other relatives which they have a beef with to their child. Whether it’s grandparents, uncles or aunts, the child grows up with a terrible view of that person, poisoning their relationship.
Religious indoctrination, as Richard Dawkins points out, is a form of child abuse. Teaching myths to children as if they are real is basically lying to your child. Instilling fear (which many religions do) and guilt and undermining the child’s questioning.
Unfortunately, children belong to their parents and the indoctrination will continue. The good news is that when it comes to religious indoctrination, more and more parents are becoming secular and raising their kids with morals but no religion (like I did).
A Brazilian was shocked when I said I was going to ask my adult daughter to contribute towards the household expenses (a small percentage) since she is coming back to live with me after College and before she heads to Graduate school. I have talked about this subject before on this blog, but I want to discuss this big cultural difference that shapes how different Brazilians and Americans are.
Basically Brazilians live with their parents until they get married. And if they never get married, what happens? They will live with their parents forever. Shocking? For most Americans, yes. If you ask any 20-something American, their dream is to have their own place, or live with people their age. Yet, with the economy still in recession and high student loans, young people are flocking back to their parents’ house. Nevertheless, they still want it to be temporary.
What is hard to understand is how Brazilians let their employed-and many times very gainfully employed-adult children live with them without ever contributing to the household expenses. Especially if the parents are not rich and have to think of their retirement. This teaches their children to feel entitled: entitled to protection, entitled to have someone taking care of them, as well as being always dependent.
The main reasons Brazilian adult children live with their parents in Brazil are the lack of opportunities, low salaries, very expensive apartment rents and the comfort of their parents’ house, which many times have a full time maid. Who doesn’t want to have dinner on the table, freshly washed and pressed laundry and a clean house for free? But there is a secondary reason: Brazilians are much more emotionally dependent on their parents. They take a longer time to mature, especially women. They don’t seem to mind their parents’ interference in their daily life. Few Brazilians leave their parents’ home and the city they live to venture into the world as I did. They want the benefits that being close to home brings.
Who is right or who is wrong? Based on my own experience, having raised two very independent and responsible young adults, I think I prefer the American way. I am very proud of the young women they became; very proud of how self-sufficient and fearless they are, all the while keeping their emotional ties with me-in a good healthy way.
More and more people are speaking up about being molested as children. Celebrities like Ashley Judd, Oprah Winfrey, singer Sinead O’Connor, actress Mackenzie Phillips, Senator Scott Brown, actor Rob Lowe, DWTS dancer Cheryl Burke and many others have spoken about it in their memoirs. Last year, a Princeton grad student, Bill Zeller, left a very shocking suicide letter (read letter here: thttp://www.ivygateblog.com/2011/01/bill-zeller-graduate-student-at-princeton-passes-away/) describing the horror he lived with all his life after being repeatedly raped since age 3.
Many Catholic priests have been accused and confirmed of having molested minors. More and more stories are coming out of the woodwork. Child molestation is the dark secret that for decades and probably centuries was always very well hidden, since it was always perpetrated by an adult to an innocent child, who was often threatened if they dared tell anyone. These cowards use their power and strength to scare the child, who they know have little chance of reacting. These people are often frustrated people who in real life do not have much power over anything. It is not so much about sex as it is about power. Imagine the suffering millions of children have gone though and have carried with them through their lives. Most children don’t tell anyone afraid of the consequences and the fact that no one will believe them.
The more people speak about it and warn their children to tell them if it ever happens to them, the less these sick people will get away with such a terrible violation. The effects of being molested affect people in different ways, and the degree of molestation can vary from a caress that is inappropriate, to exhibitionism and to full rape. Whatever the degree of sexual abuse is, it is never forgotten and can negatively influence one’s life. Few children get any psychological help.
Parents should always be careful with whom they leave their children. Many parents, especially those with low incomes, have little alternative than to leave their kids with relatives, sometimes male relatives. These relatives are publicly “nice” people who would never be seen as child molesters, but who are sometimes able of such a horrible act. Even though I don’t want to vilify the male sex only, (there are many women who also molest children) there are many more cases of male caregivers who do it. Fathers, stepfathers, uncles, grandfathers, neighbors, friends of the family, clergy. There are too many stories in the world to ignore this terrible violation. I have personally heard from many people who have been molested as children by people who their parents trusted, if not by their own father. The more we expose this, the more we talk about it and the more we alert our children about it and make them feel safe to tell us, the less chances these monsters will get away with it.
I have mentioned the difference between the Brazilian and American cultures when it comes to kids living with their parents. American kids who go to College usually live in dorms, fraternities and sororities as early as age 17.
Brazilian kids live with their parents through College, and sometimes even after graduation. Many still live with their parents even though they earn a decent living. Many only leave the parental home when they get married. The sense of family is so strong that some young Brazilians like the comfort of home-cooked meals and laundry by mom or the maid. Furthermore, homes are very expensive in Brazil, and people in their 20’s cannot usually afford a decent apartment. Living with roommates is considered less desirable than living with Mom and Dad. What are the upsides and downsides of young adults living with their parents?
– When American children go to College, they are usually 17. That is an age when kids still need parental guidance. For some kids, losing the parental influence makes them more prone of getting into trouble. Thus, Brazilian kids observe curfews and know they cannot sleep with boys or girls that easily.
– It’s a lot cheaper. Parents spend fortunes (namely retirement money) to pay for their kids’ room and board. Even when it’s the kids that pay, they graduate with huge debts that are will follow them into their middle-aged years.
– Kids living at home in their early 20’s have to gain with their parents’ life experience. The daily contact with Mom and Dad creates a bond that is for life. Conversations around the lunch (Brazil)/dinner table are fruitful. It is undeniable that even though kids come home during holidays and summer vacations, they don’t have the same level of interaction than kids who live at home during early adulthood.
– Kids usually live with more comfort at their parents’ house, and don’t have to worry so much about laundry and cleaning.
– College students and young adults eat healthier if they live at home and have family meals. The “freshman 15” is a sign that pizza and burgers sometimes becomes the staple of some College kids’ lives.
– Sometimes living with Mom and Dad way into adulthood is really a fear of facing reality and hard work. It can be an easy way out. It often happens when lonely or unhappily married parents project their neediness into their children. In that case, it is the parent who doesn’t want their child to move on.
– Children who live at home until they are well into adulthood don’t learn to be independent. They have trouble in performing simple housework tasks when they are finally on their own.
– Young adults who live with their parents until they get married are basically leaving Mom and Dad for the new spouse. They never learned to live on their own, or even to be alone. Brazilian women have an exaggerated fear of being alone since most never lived by them.
With all the immigration that America has seen in recent years, it is more common to find College kids living with their parents, especially in families from China, India and Central and South America. Many of these parents are afraid of losing influence over their kids, and want to avoid the subtle discrimination that happens with kids from different cultures in dorms, sororities and fraternities. There is also a religious aspect (fear their children will be influenced by more secular philosophies or have sex before marriage) and a financial aspect (immigrant families generally have less resources).
We also see parents who WANT to see their kids out of the house early. In this highly individualistic society, the ME is always in play. After decades of child rearing, many parents want to have time for them, especially if they are divorced. They want the freedom to come and go and travel during low season. The ones who are in the dating world want the freedom to bring their new dates home without having to worry about their kids’ reactions.
Conversely, many couples fear so much being alone with each other (the only thing keeping them together are the kids) that they hold on to their children for as long as they can. Many women define themselves as mothers first, and when their kids leave the nest they lose their purpose of living. They are unable to find pleasure in other life pursuits. These are the parents who will certainly interfere in every aspect of their children’s life and marriage.
Every family is different. Instead of having to follow a certain pattern, parents need to balance independence and guidance, family influence vs. world influence. Remember the old saying that we don’t raise kids for ourselves but for the world? It’s certainly true.
I have some distant cousins in Brazil that represent a lot of the Brazilian values I have talked about in this blog. I spoke to them via Facetime the other day and enjoyed seeing them all. The father and mother are in their late 50’s. They are considered “upper middle class” and have a very good lifestyle. This lifestyle includes a residence in the city and a country “resort”, with soccer fields and swimming pools. The father looks great for his age and being a wealthy man, could have gone the selfish route and exchanged his wife of 35 years for a younger woman. However, they remain married, and the wife said he is getting better and better as a husband. How many women can say that? She too looks very good for her age, dressing in that youthful style that many Brazilian women have: slender, long hair, trendy.
The couple has two sons. You would think that being the sons of a wealthy man they would be involved in drugs or behave like playboys who wreck the sports car Daddy gave them. None of that. Both sons (late 20’s) are married and are doctors. The oldest son has a daughter. Nice Brazilian guys from good families get married to another nice Brazilian woman from a good family and settle down early. And they stay married. The family is very important. They were all together celebrating NYE in their summer house. Everybody looked healthy and happy. They have a cook who they treat like family. Most Brazilians with a high financial status such as this family has cooks, maids and gardeners. Their leisure time is for the family. Here in America you see so many husbands and wives who spend their weekends mowing the lawn, cleaning the house and fixing things that little time is left for just hanging out and talking to their family members. I know there are many families like this one in America. I would like my readers to tell me about stable families in America they know. Families not plagued by divorce, single mothers, drugs, prison time, cheating, etc.
I was very impressed by this family. I concede that having money helps everyone. It can make people happier and look better. It can allow them nice things and vacations that make them happier. But don’t we all know many families that have money and are super dysfunctional? This is an example of a balanced family which is rarer and rarer these days. Where the concept of marriage, kids and family is more important than selfishness and individualism.
Sitting at my dentist’s chair the other day, I listened to the dental hygienist give me her whole life story while I could only go “aww” and “a-huh”. I promised her at the end I would mention her in a post, which she gave me the thumbs up.
She and her husband came to America when they were only 18 and 19, as newlyweds. They are Russian Jews. Neither of them had any money nor any education above high school, and knew very little English. When they arrived, she became pregnant of their first child. They both had odd jobs and decided that to advance in this society, they needed skills and education. Therefore, he worked while she got her dental hygienist license. When she was ready to enter the job market and bring home a better salary, it was his turn to go to school.
They had one more son and prospered. Nowadays, their grown children are successful on their own. As a couple, they have this huge sense of commitment as a family and to each other. They’ve been married for 30 + years now, and wouldn’t have it any other way. What a far cry from other couples out there, where you see so many stories of selfishness and infidelity!
There are many immigrants that have a similar trajetory in America. They fight together and they make it. They don’t even consider divorce because they know they have a good marriage based on companionship, friendship and common goals.
I also happen to know a couple who moved to America about 6 years ago. She is an architect, and he has a degree in Languages. Since she was not authorized to work as an Architect in America, she had to clean houses while she learned English. Her goal is to eventually be able to get a license and return to her profession. Her husband is a delivery man, and they both bring home just enough money to keep them afloat while sharing a small apartment with their two grown children.
The two children learned to work hard and study at the same time. Since you cannot live without a car in America, their 17 year old daughter has her own car payment. No gift from Daddy. The son wants to be a lawyer, and pays his own College bills with his work as a waiter.
Here is what I see when I meet them: a very cohesive and close family. They are happy and have get togethers with friends. They work hard but are always smiling, knowing they have each other. Meanwhile, in the mansion on the other side of town….
There are some advantages on becoming an empty nester: you have more time for yourself, you can dedicate yourself to causes and new hobbies, you have less dishes to do, less garbage, less mess in your house and you can travel during the off-season, with cheaper fares and hotel deals. Sure, you miss your children, but when they come home it’s always a joy. On the kids’ side, they get to become much more independant, responsible and less spoiled.
So what’s the downside?
The downside is the loss of the sense of family very early in the short time you have with them, before they become full adults with spouses, jobs and kids of their own. Additionally, in America, kids sometimes go to Colleges away from home, in another State and sometimes on a different coast. Many after graduating do not come to their original area, and end up marrying locals or finding jobs near where they went to school.
The consequences are deep and affect the bonding and cohesion of a family, and what will become an extended family. Brazilians often criticize Americans for seeing little of their children and how kids seldom visit or call their parents (“only at Thanksgiving and during the holidays”). The truth is that when kids leave their parents’ home at 17, the bond does get less strong over time, and they get used to being on their own, which is good and bad.
With the high divorce rates, many parents do not have the original family structure and lifestyle to accomodate grown kids and a new boyfriend/girlfriend, and seeing the kids go away to College provides them with the necessary freedom and privacy to start their new lives. Children in that situation lose their primary family which probably pushes them even more to become independant.
Young women and men in Brazil only leave their parents’s home when they get married. It is odd for me now to see 30-somethings living with their parents. One of the main reasons is how expensive apartments are for someone who is starting their professional life. The advantage is that adult kids can care for their parents when there is a need.
My adult kids are in College and Grad school. They often visit, which is wonderful, but I know they might never live with me again. I have told them that I would prefer them to live within driving distance from me. No California please, no matter how nice it out there!
I left my parent’s house at 23 and went far, far away. I spent my whole life missing being with my family during holidays, birthdays and celebrations. I’d call my parents and hear the happy chatter in the background while I was alone with my husband during those occasions and feel some sadness. My children grew up without having grandparents around, and of course the bond between them is not as strong. I also grew up far away from my own grandparents, and when they died, I did not feel an intense sadness. They were people I saw every now and then.
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