Feature Article
Monday, March 12, 2018
Maria Bechara
The Extended Lebanese Family: A Third Parent to Your Kids?

If you happen to be a Lebanese parent residing in your home country, then you might be familiar with some old-fashioned extended-family-member interferences. Your father-in-law might’ve been disappointed to know that you won’t be naming your son Arnabitet-Lawze (Cauliflower-Almond - proper noun- definition: an imaginary name chosen to make a point without offending anybody) after his great grandfather, and you might have feared giving your mother a heart attack by telling her that you’ve given your sick daughter doctor-prescribed medication instead of making the home remedies she insisted worked on her family ancestors for generations.

etcetera spoke to Dr. Ketty Sarouphim-McGill, Associate Professor of Psychology and Education at LAU, who explained the effects of extended-family-member interferences and how parents can handle these tricky situations.

How Culture Plays a Role

What one person might consider “interfering”, another might call “caring”. Some family members believe it is their duty to intervene, and in a culture in which the elderly have a sacred and revered place because of their wisdom, you might put up with outer interventions to stay away from family quarrels.

The Lebanese culture tends to be a collectivist one by nature. This is characterized by people’s interest in each other’s lives and the idea that they must be there for each other.

“When your family, friends, and even neighbors feel that they have a say in your life, it brings along advantages and disadvantages” explains Dr. Sarouphim-McGill, “People are there to support you, but you lose your privacy at times”.

Hilary Clinton once said, “It takes a village to raise a child”, so the more love and kindness the child gets from the many people around, the better. “Again, there should always be boundaries” reminds us Dr. Sarouphim-McGill, “The nuclear family is responsible for showing the child what is acceptable and what isn’t through clear-cut rules and discipline.” 

Decision-Making: Who Calls the Shots?

Rules, boundaries, structure, and consistency are the pillars of raising a child, which is why parents must agree on the same principles without contradicting one another.

“Parents are the key decision makers in the life of the child, so they’re the ones who should put and implement rules on a regular basis” Dr. Sarouphim-McGill states, “It is pointless to threaten with a punishment you can’t actually execute”.

When two parents are in agreement, it makes it much easier for extended family members to respect the rules that the parents have applied. “Decision-making doesn’t have to be exclusive to the parents as long as these decisions are consistent with the parents’ regulations” Dr. Sarouphim-McGill clarifies.

Sometimes the Gatecrasher Can Be Mom or Dad Themselves.

A disruption in a child’s routine is not always instigated by aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Sometimes, the parent working abroad who comes to visit on special occasions ends up spoiling their child to make up for the days when he/she couldn’t be around.

“It is very important for the visiting parent to side with the parent who is raising their child on a daily basis instead of sabotaging their work” alerts Dr. Sarouphim-McGill, “The child will end up seeing one of their parents as the cool one and the other as the mean one. It just isn’t fair to the person who has been swamped all year long with raising the child to be shown in a bad light”.

Children love routine because it makes them feel safe and secure, and they know what to expect. Having said that, “it is okay every once in a while to break that routine” clarifies Dr. Sarouphim-McGill. For example you could tell your child: “Your father is visiting now, so it’s okay to stay up a little later than usual”.  “Make sure to state it in a way that lets them know that it’s an exception, rather than letting the child believe that his/her parents are breaking their own rules” says Dr. Sarouphim.

So, What’s the Harm in It?

In order to escape family conflicts, parents sometimes convince themselves that it is okay for their child to be exposed to extended-family interferences, even when they stem from values contrasting their own. Dr. Sarouphim-McGill brings to our awareness some interesting effects that interferences might have on the child: 

1. Confusion:

“Children are not born knowing what to do, and it is the job of the adults in their life to guide them” explains Dr. Sarouphim-McGill. When bombarded with contradicting values, the child will be confused as to which actions are correct and which aren’t.

2. Undermining parental authority:

The confusion will lead to children questioning their parents’ credibility. “No one should undermine the parents’ authority as they should always be the reference that the child seeks when he/she is in doubt about what to do”, warns Dr. Sarouphim-McGill.

3. Manipulation:

When denied their wishes, children will sometimes seek extended family members for approval because they know that they might grant them what their parents won’t. “This turns the child into a manipulator”, explains Dr. Sarouphim-McGill. “This is why extended family members must stick with the parents and take their side.”

Steps to Follow to Bring Back Order Into Your Home

Here are some tips that Dr. Sarouphim-McGill says ensure family peace while maintaining boundaries between nuclear and extended families:

1. Birds of a feather understand each other

It is preferable for the parent who is related to the extended family member to handle the situation of interference. This way it is less likely for friction to occur.

2. Remember that they care

Interference is a big word and it usually denotes something negative, but when you think of it as your family caring, it becomes positive. Put this in perspective because otherwise you’ll be fighting and quarreling with family members all the time.

3. Validate good intentions

When approaching an interfering family member in an attempt to restore your household rules, you might want to start your sentences by validating their good intentions before you break it to them. Some examples might include:  “I know you’re a great mother/father”,  “I know you care about the well-being of my child and want what’s in their best interest”, demonstrates Dr. Sarouphim-McGill.

4. Put up the fences and paint them white

After recognizing their good intentions, you need to set firm yet peaceful boundaries. You can do this by reminding them who is the primary decision-maker. You can use phrases like: “I am the child’s parent, and I would like my child to abide by my rules”, or “These are the rules in our home, and I would appreciate it if you could respect and understand them”, Dr. Sarouphim-McGill models. When you put it this way, people are more likely to be responsive.

5. Everyone comes with a manual, explain yours

Explaining your most cherished values and the things that are important to you is crucial. Remind them that it is okay for them to give your child advice or tell him/her what to do as long as what they advised is consistent with your own values and beliefs.                

6. Make them your sworn allies, pinkie promise!

When you ask your extended family members to cooperate with you when it comes to implementing certain rules, they will feel in charge and will not want to disappoint you.

 

“It’s not about what you say, it’s always about the manner in which you say it” Dr. Sarouphim-McGill concludes.

 

Dr. Ketty M. Sarouphim-McGill is Associate Professor of Psychology and Education at the Department of Social Sciences. She is a member of several professional organizations, including the American Educational Research Association (AERA), International Research Association for Talent Development and Excellence (IRATDE), and the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children (WCGTC). Her research focuses on measuring intelligence and identifying gifted students, as well as developing programs for the education of gifted students in Lebanese schools.

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