Family life in Ecuador is INTENSE. Families are very close and spend a lot more time together than most Irish families seem to. Families are so involved in each other’s lives that it often proves difficult for an outsider to tell exactly who belongs to a particular family and who does not.
While staying with my first host family in Quito for example, I assumed (naturally) that the woman my host mother referred to as “mi hija” (aka “my daughter”) was, in fact, her daughter (duh). She came to visit the house almost every day, sometimes accompanied by her husband and young son, as any daughter would. Maybe my broken Spanish was to blame, but all the signs were there. A whole week later an awkward car journey revealed that this woman was not her daughter at all, but her granddaughter. Huh?
Similarly, while attending a baby shower with my second host family (which was quite a grand celebration by the way, further proving the importance of family), I found myself utterly baffled. Repeatedly I heard different women refer to the same young women as their daughters. How could that be?
As time went by I began to realise that “mi hijo/mi hija” (“my son/my daughter”) is an expression used by a lot more than just one’s parents. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings and elders in general use the term when speaking to or about any young person in whose life they’ve played a part. Ecuadorian’s LOVE family, especially children. Since many adults live at home for so long (usually until they are married which can mean 30+…eek!), a huge range of people are involved in the rearing of a child, not just their biological parents. They all help in the decision making and shaping of the little person’s future. They all discipline the child and call them out when they’re wrong. That’s a whole lot of parents! This results in quite the challenge for the foreigner trying to figure out exactly who belongs to whom.
In the end, one has to get their head around the fact that Ecuadorian kids are not only the sons and daughters of their own biological parents but of their entire extended family too. As kind and wonderful as Ecuadorian families are, I think two parents are enough for me…