Fostering Beliefs and Value Structures in Children (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Oct 25, 2010

Extended Family Fosters Roles and Rituals

In many families, parents garner emotional support from the extended family, and in some cases, they receive economic support as well. Extended family members may live close by, or they may live at some distance but still have strong ties. In addition to teaching about role expectations and hierarchical structures, the extended family helps children absorb the traditions and rituals of the larger group. An interesting example of such learning is told by Oladele (1999) as she explains how her mother, during the daily routines, taught her academics and spirituality and also about her African heritage. Her grandparents also influenced and reinforced this learning, beginning with a ritual of listening to her Bible verse recitations.

Celebrations are often a time when children learn about who they are, as extended members share the rituals and customs of their particular culture. Children in bicultural homes often have very different experiences, especially when both sets of the extended family share holidays with the nuclear family. Sila, in the vignette that follows, is the child of a European-American father, Dan, and a Turkish mother, Nara, whose own family members are practicing Muslims. Nara no longer observes religious practice, but Sila is introduced to the Muslim faith through visits from extended family members.

Seven-year-old Sila is excited about the upcoming holidays, because both Easter and Kurban Bayram are being celebrated close together. Greg, her father’s brother, will be joining them for Easter week, and as he does every year, will help her dye Easter eggs, take her shopping, and on Easter Sunday will help her hunt for Easter eggs on the church lawn. Sila is only beginning to understand that Easter week is about Christ’s crucifixion and has begun to ask questions such as “Why was Jesus killed? Did bad people kill him?” Though her father tries to explain, Sila is anxious for Uncle Greg’s answer.

Then, at the end of the month, her mother’s sister, Bilge, will join them to celebrate Kurban Bayram. Sila will not wear her new Easter hat or dress during this time, but instead will wear a special head scarf. The family will then go to the Muslim market to buy a lamb and have it killed in some special way, Sila believes, although she isn’t quite sure how. Last year, her aunt explained that they kept only a small part of the lamb for cooking. She will need to ask about the lamb again this year. Though they have no relatives in the Muslim community in the city, Aunt Bilge and her mother will take her to visit the mosque. She does remember Aunt Bilge telling her that Mohammad was the great prophet in the Muslim faith, as Jesus was in the Christian faith. She wondered if they were friends. She would certainly ask her Aunt Bilge this time.

In some families, both sets of extended family members have equal access to the nuclear family, then the customs and habits children learn from these members are of equal importance. Because family structures differ however, what children learn from the extended family depends on the influence these relatives have on the nuclear family (Berns, 2006). The extended family expands the home curriculum by sharing its own values and interaction patterns. When extended family members work out the cultural differences and values of the others, children like Sila will learn how to solve the problems or confusions that arise because of these differences.

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