«Vancouver Centre of Excellence Research on Immigration and Integration in the Metropolis Working Paper Series No. 06-08 Parental Sponsorship – ...»
Some lived in an extended family household of three generations that included a son or a daughter (and spouse) and grandchildren. For example, a woman lived with her husband, son and his wife, and 2 grandchildren in one-half of a house. Some lived in more complex, extended family households. A participant lived with her husband, two sons, their partners and 2 children in a large house. Another lived in a basement suite with her husband and adult daughter; the participant’s son, his partner and 2 children lived upstairs. One woman lived with her son and his partner and 3 children in a house. She shared a bedroom with 2 grandchildren.
Many referred to fluid housing arrangements, sometimes living for a while with an adult child who sponsored them and then moving to live with another adult child. A participant initially lived with her older daughter for the first 2 years, now lives in a house with her younger daughter, son-inlaw, and 2 grandchildren. Another initially lived with her husband, the daughter who sponsored her, son-in law, 2 grandchildren and younger daughter in the house; the daughter’s in-laws lived in the basement. Later the participant and her husband moved to their own basement suite with their younger daughter. Another (with her husband) lived previously with the eldest son for 8 years, his wife and children; currently she is living with her youngest son, his partner and children in a house.
Another lived initially with her daughter, her partner, her in-laws and child; now the participant lives with her daughter, her partner and 2 children in a basement suite; her other daughter and her family are in another basement suite on other side of the same house. A participant lived with a sister-in-law and 3 nephews for the first few years; now she lives in a 1 bedroom apartment in senior’s housing.
Another lived with her daughter and her partner for the first year; now she and her husband are in their own house.
Becker (2003) calls attention to the little studied topic of the living environments of older immigrants. The women in this study were on the move in coming to Canada and some had changed their housing situations after living for a while in Canada. Nearly all had lived in a household with grandchildren, suggesting that the presence of grandchildren was a strong link in why the women (and often their husbands) came to Canada, why they were sponsored, and the nature of their experiences in Canada.
Complex web of family and social networks in Canada and elsewhere
The women’s complex housing arrangements manifest the extensive web of their family and social networks in Canada and elsewhere. The following example illustrates the density and fluidity of the networks and what they meant to one of the participants, who lived with her husband, 2 sons, 2 daughter-in-laws, and 2 grandsons. Her eldest son had sponsored her. One of the daughters-in-law,
however, was not staying with them continuously because she was studying in India:
They are trying to accommodate her so she can finish her studies in India and then she can come back…..She said, you have to make adjustments all the levels, for example, there are kids, they are too young, so you have to work according to them, so there are the sons and daughters, they are at a different age level and then you have the third view, yourself but just for the harmony and the whole family, you make adjustment for all 3 different levels. Because she loves her family so much, she wants her family together…..So to some extent she knows what this country’s about because she was in England and over here, during her 2 month visit she knew what Canada was about….She said I miss my brothers and sisters back in India, my mother…..When they visit the relatives outside of Vancouver, so that’s another way of having an outing and then another 2 months ago they went to Calgary…. visiting relatives and meeting friends….She said I enjoy sitting with the family but sometimes when the other family members or other guests come, then they start talking English. It’s natural that she doesn’t enjoy. It’s natural because she understands Punjabi and then she enjoys it. At the get together as long as they’re speaking Punjabi, that’s fine…..When she’s here she always feels like going back to India because she misses the family….Because she said they tried it out, they went back to India, she and her husband but over there they feel a lot of loneliness because the kids are here so that, the level, that you miss that, that always stays in mind….They came in ‘97, she was talking about the level of support so she, they both came in 1997, since then 5 times they’ve been to India and 6 to 7 times her husband has gone to India. Whenever they feel like it, their kids, say okay, go ahead.
So what else are they expecting, this is the level of support.
The woman’s family networks and transnational movements are vast. She has children and grandchildren in Canada and siblings, a grandchild, and a mother in India. Her daughter-in-law is based in both Canada and India. The participant had visited England and Canada before landing in Canada and continues to visit relatives in BC’s interior as well as in Calgary, Alberta. She misses India and her relatives who are there and has visited India several times since residing in Canada.
Other women talked about their struggles arising from the loss of having relatives both in
Canada and India. For example:
She said her family’s divided. One family’s here. The other sons and daughters are back in India. When she’s here, she misses that family over there, when she’s there so that’s why she said I wish whole family is at one place but it’s not possible…..She’s got two sisters here and two sisters back in India, one brother in India. Her mom is here.
She said, you know, all the time feeling divided. So when they are over here, they miss their daughter back in India. When they are in India, they just feel that they have to be here. So to some extent, just feeling stuck, you know, so, divided…..In November, they went back to India and then they came in March again, and after that, after every two years. They are going back to India because they miss their daughter a lot. Because she’s in India…..But there was another reason why she was going back to India again and feeling, because her grandson that is the son of another daughter who is in India, he used to stay with them. He used to stay with them, you know, so then that son, that grandson, you know, he was staying with so they missed him a lot, because they had to give that back to the mom. And they said they are so attached to that kid. But she said after the visit, the first visit, when they went back, see the daughter, see the grandson, so they feel, after spending time, they feel much better. And then they came back.
Other research has shown the intricate and strong connection of families across national boundaries. Some of the connections, often associated with families pursuing entrepreneurial interests (Ong 1999; Walton-Roberts and Pratt 2005), provide evidence of an easy, flexible citizenship of family members living in and traversing across various locations throughout the world. In negotiating family relations that are spatially dispersed, the women in this study seemed to be trying to sort out the meaning the dislocations had for them, of being both together and apart.
Complex household work and childcare
It is not unusual for commentators to note that sponsored parents often help out with childcare, and that their help is important. But little is known about the texture of such activity and how central it is to family activities and strategies. The women in this study were often caring for several grandchildren, sometimes the offspring of more than one adult child, and were busy with household work. A participant talked about her daily routine with the grandchildren: “The grandsons get up in the morning, so after that she said that she is busy with the household work, cooking, taking care of the kids, so she has 2 kids and one kid is going to pre-school, she takes care of him, dropping him off”. Another said: “My daughter has two daughters. And my son has one daughter. So I have to take care for three daughters…..At 6:30 I get up….So then she prepares lunch for kids, kids’ meals, for daughter-in-law and son, because go for work”. Another participant discussed in more detail how she
cares for a grandson under two years of age and a granddaughter who is almost three:
She gets up at 5:00. Then she cooks their lunch for the kids and then she does the prayers so we have the holy book to recite and she does that…in the meantime, the other family member they go out for work, her daughter-in-law, her son is working, husband is working, the second son is also working, all family members are working…..She said I prepare lunch for everybody, so after that she goes to bed again. She said she’s cleaning the home and doing the laundry and taking care of the kids so in the meantime she said in the evening time they come back from work and then she gets busy. She said by 7:00pm she does the whole thing. So she’s very busy.
She cooks food for the dinner and by 7:00pm she hands the whole thing over to the kids……She said whatever the kids want, she’s preparing them, for example, milk, baby food and washings and other things. She is taking care of them, bathing them.
She said now I give bath to the kids, otherwise her daughter-in-law she used to give.
She said I do the diaper change and other things.
Most of the women were caring for grandchildren, usually more than one, and often they were young. As well, many rose early in the morning to help everyone in the household by preparing meals; they continued to do household tasks throughout the day and often into the evening. They were generally helping the everyday running of a household that was fundamental to sustaining family members who were in the labour force.
The women’s care of grandchildren and domestic responsibilities were shaped by the work activities of their children (and their partners). The women generally saw themselves as helping and coordinating with the mothers of the children, most of whom were in the labour force, typically in jobs that had non-standard hours. Many worked at night or had shift work, jobs that are often filled by
immigrant women. Here are a few examples:
Her daughter-in-law, she’s working night time from 11:00 to 7:00 in the morning.
Her daughter-in-law is working from 5:00 (in the morning) to…1:30pm…..She said from 6 ‘till 2 o’clock I’m doing all the work and taking care of the kids and other family things…..She’s all the time busy…and after 2 o’clock when she’s back then she takes care of the kids and it’s a great help to her because morning time, breakfast and other things….She don’t have to do too much work when she’s back home from the office.
Feed, everything I have to spend my time. --- Everything I do….(My daugher-in-law) goes at 4:30 in the morning. Starts at 5. Five to 1:50.
She said my daughter-in-law, she is working, she goes to work for three until twelve o’clock, night shift. So that’s why most of the stuff she’s doing.
Many of the women expressed the idea that their childcare and domestic work was essential
to their children’s financial livelihoods, and particularly helpful to mothers. A participant said:
“They’re carefree now, so they can go out to work and they don’t have to worry about household things…..She said yes, it’s useful because when she’s taking care of the house and kids so she spares them so they can go out for work so that’s it, contributions to them if you won’t they wouldn’t be able
to go for work”. Another said:
Yes, it’s useful because when she’s taking care of the house and kids so she spares them so they can go out for work so that’s it, contributions to them if you won’t, they wouldn’t be able to go for work…..She said in her family there’s an understanding that everybody’s working hard. She said that when everybody’s working hard I feel like working hard too. She said my daughter-in-law, she’s going out for work, she’s working eight, nine hours outside so I feel that I must do my best, do the cleaning things and the cooking things so that when she comes home she feels better. Because when she comes, all the kids they go around her so she cannot wait, she cannot cook, she cannot expect. So she’s understanding, everybody’s working hard, she wants to work hard as well. She’s trying to accommodate.
Occasionally the participants referred to their sons or sons-in-law taking care of children, cooking meals and so forth. But usually the participants reinforced the notion that their childcare and domestic responsibilities were assisting the mothers (daughters or daughters-in-law) more than the fathers. With several adults in the household working in the labour force, many of the older women felt compelled to help out in the home. As well, some wanted to repay their children for their sponsorship and support: “Look, my kids, they are taking care of so much—of us—so that’s why, she’s fully dedicated, she wants to give”.
Several stressed that they were doing the domestic work for themselves and for a feeling of
family unity and affection. For example:
We are not doing it as a job not as a responsibility, out of love, out of affection we are doing that automatically we are doing that – so the same thing that we are doing here so we should not take it as doing it for them, it’s nothing for them, it’s for ourselves, for our family, it’s a matter of attachment, taking care of things, taking care of kids, she’s taking care of family.