I have been laughing at my in-laws for the past couple of days. Not in a mean way, you understand. It’s just that they were in Curicó with family since my mother-in-law is off from work. They came home this week to take care of Lola. The friend who’s been taking her out every day is leaving the country, and my in-laws decided that instead of me having to find someone else to take her out they would just come and pick her up from my apartment, play with her all day, and then bring her back. Every day.
Now, I am supremely grateful. With our usual dog walkers currently all out of Santiago, I was struggling to think of who might have the flexible schedule and a thing for dogs. My in-laws are making my life much easier. But who does that? Who drives 2.5 hours back from hanging out with family to drive an hour round-trip twice a day to take care of someone else’s dog?
The answer, of course, is my in-laws. Not only because they are fabulous but because they are Chilean. I am on record as saying that I don’t think Chilean families are by and large tighter-knit than American families. I stand by that. However I do think that the way families interact is at least partially cultural.
My dad would do just about anything for me. If he had been in my in-laws’ position, and I’d asked him for help with Lola, I’m sure he would have come through. However I also know that he is aware that I’m not a little girl any longer, and as such he respects my space. If I said to him “oh don’t worry about it, I don’t have someone lined up for Lola yet, but I’m sure I will soon,” he would have felt like he was intruding if he called me back later that day to say he was on his way to rescue me.
Rodolfo’s parents, on the other hand, always do things like this. I used to be offended that my mother-in-law would walk into my apartment and immediately start washing my dishes or cleaning my kitchen, but now I know that she’s not judging my housekeeping skills, she’s just trying to help. When I’m alone for a weekend while Rodolfo is off playing handball, my father-in-law calls asking if I would like him to come pick me up and take me to their house for lunch – nevermind the fact that I have a car and a scooter to drive myself there.
I think similar behaviors can be seen in many more gringo and Chilean families. In the US and UK, children get to an age at which they demand more independence, and parents are expected to respect that. In Chile, I don’t see that happen as much. Rather, I see parents continuing to drop everything for their kids even as those kids grow up. And, by extension, they race to the rescue of their children’s partners, especially when those partners are all alone in a foreign country.
Like I said, I don’t think that the Chilean approach means Chilean families love each other more. I think plenty of people from other cultures would feel stifled and meddled with if their parents suddenly starting forcing help on them. I did at first because it was so different from what I was used to. Now, however, I’ve realized that my in-laws aren’t trying to take over my life, they’re just trying to help. And if help comes in the form of taking Lola on a picnic so that I don’t have to worry about her being alone all day, then I am extremely happy to accept that offer.