Dear Ate Anna
My wife complains that I don’t appreciate all the things she does for our family. When we lived in the Philippines she seemed happy to raise the children and work at home. But now, in Canada, she complains that she works too hard and nobody even appreciates it. I know she has extra work with her job, but I don’t understand her attitude.
Ate Anna thinks your situation is actually quite common. There are many things that a husband and wife do for each other and for their family that are just part of normal family life. These things (cooking, cleaning, working at a job) have to be done to keep family life running smoothly.
In some countries, like the Philippines, gender roles are more clearly defined than they are in Canada. This is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong – cultures are just different. As well, it has taken 40 or 50 years for gender roles to change in Canada. And still, many Canadian women complain that they do most of the work at home even if they also have an outside job.
Tony, you are used to your wife doing all of the work around the house without complaints. Are you expecting that to continue, even though your wife now has a job outside the home? The whole family has to work together to adapt to new ways. When a family knows how to express appreciation during this adaptation phase, they can keep family relationships strong.
Most of the work related to family life can be called “invisible work.” We only notice it when it is not done. The hard work of adapting to a new culture as a couple is also “invisible work.” And don’t forget about the challenges your children face. Many immigrant parents remind their children on a regular basis that the family came to Canada so that they could have a better life. As parents, we may assume that our children are supposed to work hard at school and do the best they can.
You might think, “If I start saying thank you every time my spouse does something for the family, the words would lose their value;” or, “Our children will become spoiled if we tell them we appreciate their hard work at school.” Ate Anna doesn’t think that this will really be a problem. The truth is most people are not very good at expressing appreciation to their spouse or children.
So how can you (and other readers) change this? The first step is to take notice of things your spouse or children do for you and the family. The next step is expressing your sincere appreciation. This can be as simple as saying, “Thank you,” or, “I really appreciate you doing that.” Let your spouse or child know how it made you feel or why you appreciate something. For example, “Thanks for cooking good meals for me and the children.” You and your wife can tell your children, “We feel so proud when we see you working hard at school.” If you make a conscious effort to repeat this new behaviour on a regular basis, you will gradually develop a new habit.
Tony, think of a time when you felt appreciated for something you did. How did that feel? Ate Anna is guessing it made you feel happy and you felt like doing that same thing again in the future. This is true for most people because feeling appreciated is a basic human need. When you are able to fulfill that need for your wife and children you are likely to have a happier family life.
Readers, adapting to a new culture is difficult for everyone in the family. The Pilipino Express is sponsoring another Meet Ate Anna evening on March 6, 2009. It is a chance to get together with other Filipino parents to discuss some of the challenges as families adapt to a new culture. Look for more information in this issue of Pilipino Express.
Ate Anna welcomes your questions or comments in English or Tagalog. Contact Ate Anna by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to 555 Broadway Avenue; Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 0W4.