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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-ReynanteTwo families under one roof

By Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

A year ago, Jimmy was looking forward to the arrival of his brother Michael from the Philippines. Under the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program, he supported his brother’s application and the entire family was overjoyed that Michael would have the opportunity to come to Canada.

Jimmy, his wife Melanie and the three children welcomed Michael into their home. During the first few months, Jimmy took great care in showing his brother around the city – where the extended family lived, where to shop, where his workplace would be, and the most convenient bus routes. He helped him to apply for a provincial health card, find a doctor and most importantly, assisted Michael in finding a job.

Things went well for the first little while until Jimmy and Melanie began to notice little things such as Michael not tidying up as much as he used to in the beginning. Dishes were left in the sink and clothes were randomly strewn around the house. During the winter months, Michael did not assist with the snow shovelling.

To Michael, he felt like a bit of an outsider and did not want to intrude. He was having a hard time adjusting to his new job. He found himself feeling more and more stressed and by the time he got home in the evening, he just wanted to eat, relax and go to bed. He was homesick and missed his wife Linda and his kids back home. Jimmy and Melanie never said anything, but they were starting to feel increasingly resentful towards Michael.

Months later, Michael brought his own family to Canada, and he, Linda and the two kids lived in the basement level of the home. In the beginning, both couples and the kids were happy with the arrangement. But it wasn’t long before Melanie began to feel resentful that she was doing most of the cooking for the entire family. Jimmy noticed that Michael and Linda rarely offered to help pay for groceries. Although he knew they didn’t have much money, he would have appreciated an offer. It didn’t help that he knew Michael and Linda sent money back home to the Philippines to her parents.

The children in the home would often fight over toys and the television. Jimmy and Melanie felt that these belonged to their own children and should get priority. Michael and Linda felt that the other kids should share their belongings as they had grown up more privileged. Jimmy found himself scolding his niece and nephew more and more. As a result, Michael was frustrated that his brother was interfering with his parenting. After all, he had always been loving toward Jimmy’s children and left the disciplining to their parents.

Then one day, Jimmy scolded his nephew for not cleaning up after himself. Michael was again upset that his brother took it upon himself to be the discipliner and he yelled at him to mind his own business. An argument started which led to Michael storming out. Jimmy and Michael did not speak to each other for weeks, which led to Michael moving his family out of the home. Years later, the brothers and two families are estranged and no longer see each other.

The above is a fictional story inspired by real issues that affect newcomers to Canada and their sponsoring families. It is a tragedy when settlement in a new country full of opportunities is tainted by family conflict. Families in this same situation must keep in mind that it is hard work to peacefully have so many people under one roof. The key to achieving harmony is to encourage open communication at all times. Start the discussion as soon as possible, even prior to the Nominee application being approved.

Useful tips

  • Talk about the division of chores and household responsibilities. Some might think that bringing up this issue is embarrassing, but it could save family relationships later. A simple strategy could be to have each family clean up after themselves, or to take turns during the week. Draw up a physical chart which clearly shows the schedule for cleaning common areas like the kitchen and living room, cooking, grocery shopping, taking out the garbage, lawn mowing, and shovelling the snow.

  • Work out a schedule for everyone’s transportation to and from work and school.

  • Specify the time of night where there must be quiet in the home. If 9:00 p.m. is the agreed upon time, there should be no loud TV’s or music playing, and no outside guests.

  • Regarding parenting, leave the disciplining to the parents. If there is a concern with one child in the home, talk to the parents and trust that they will handle it.

  • Acknowledge that the sponsoring family cannot do everything for the newcomers, but will be as supportive as possible.

  • Financial contributions. Money is often the root of arguments and resentment, so be clear and honest from the beginning about what the expectations are. Will it be a monthly contribution? How much? When will payments start? What happens if a payment has to be missed? Everyone should review this agreement every six months because circumstances change.

  • Each family should still have their time separate from the other family, even if it has to be outside of the home.

  • Plan for disagreements. Life will not be perfect. The first option is to ask for a meeting to discuss the issue. If conflict arises, find a third neutral party outside the home to hear both sides and then find common ground.

  • Acknowledge that the entire plan will have to be updated at least every six months. All parties should evaluate what is working and what is not.

  • Say please and thank you. Humility and gratitude go a long way.

The worst outcome would be a feud that lasts for years – all started because of a pile of dirty dishes. Now ask yourself, is it really worth it?

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is the founder of Nexus Counselling and a licensed counsellor with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She provides counselling services at the Nest Family Centre on Stafford St. and is a proud member of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council. Cheryl has experience helping clients with issues such as grief, depression, relationship difficulties, parenting, aging and illness. She can be reached at (204) 297-6744 or