What do you do when you live with extended family and you’re void of a voice within the household? You move out and become the queen of your own castle. As hard as it was to go against expectations, that’s exactly what I did. The extended family all living under one roof may be a foreign concept to some, but for me, it was a way of life. And what I can tell you is that it’s so much harder than I could have ever realized.
When my husband and I got married, I knew I would move into his family’s house—with his parents, grandfather, brother and sister-in-law. It was a full house and became even more so once I arrived. Chaotic was an understatement.
An extended family is a household with far too many opinions and far too little privacy. That many personalities are bound to clash, so I learned to weigh my words and watch my actions. Because of that, the house never felt like a home and I was always uncomfortable inside its four walls. I wanted to be myself, but that’s not how it works. I began playing roles that were expected of me—helpful daughter-in-law, obliging granddaughter. I always felt I had to be “on” as I tried to navigate between them. Being myself was secondary—an inconsequential afterthought that only made it harder.
I learned to sneak in moments of autonomy. Taking my phone along for walks to talk without being overheard. Shopping longer than necessary to be alone. Little escapes that were enough to remind myself of who I still was.
I knew then that when I had a child I would need my own home—which we now have. Most days I would love an extra pair of helping hands—perhaps my mother-in-law to watch the baby while I shower and cousins to keep my daughters company. But I wouldn’t give up my home for anything. In my own house, I’m free to live my own life, free to spend my time as I want. I can come home after work and read a book. My family can have nachos for dinner. Perhaps most importantly, I can raise my children how I choose.
I’ve lived two lives in my marriage: One where I was safely ensconced within the family home but where I lost myself, and one in my own home with my own family, where I may not have the safety net of an extended family, but where I’ve gained something greater: I matter again.