Families come in different shapes and sizes. They also have different rules about relationships between older and younger people, divide tasks differently between women and men, and have different ways of managing money.
Deanna Wong, a young New Zealand-born Chinese woman, spoke about communication gaps between older and younger people in Chinese communities. She says that ‘young people may remain silent on many issues that they know elders may not be right about’.1 This happens because, traditionally, younger Chinese people must not talk back to their elders and must accept that they do not know as much.
All cultural groups in New Zealand consider that older people deserve respect.
For many Chinese families filial piety or ‘xiao’ is very important. This involves obedience to elders and recognition of their authority, which may be in conflict with messages young people receive from wider society about personal autonomy. Other cultural groups also have difficulty preserving conventions relating to respect for older people.
Many Asian families expect that parents will come to live with their sons and their families when they need care and support. Research on Indian families in New Zealand suggests that parents try to maintain these traditions by facilitating their children’s marriages to people of the same language, region, religion and caste.
Women’s lib for fathers?
Scott Lancaster, full-time father and co-founder of DIYFather.com, thinks that fathers ‘need the equivalent of a Women’s lib’. 2 He argues that they need to be more assertive about sharing responsibility for caring for children, just as women have asserted their right to be in paid work and pursue careers.
In most two-parent heterosexual families women have done more childcare and domestic work. Sometimes this has meant that women are financially dependent on their partners. However, parents are increasingly sharing responsibilities for childcare, domestic work and earning. In some households men have become the main caregivers – some for a few years, others on a continuing basis.
In some cultural traditions it is very important for women and men to continue to do different things within the family. Usually this involves women focusing on childcare, domestic work and the care of older relatives. Men are more likely to be involved in paid work. Some immigrant women manage to avoid some of these cultural expectations, due to living in New Zealand.
Families and money
Families have always shared resources within and across households. Sharing money with relatives in different households is usually a matter of personal choice for Pākehā. However, keeping what you earn for your immediate family is often seen as selfish in Pacific Island communities, who frequently provide financial support to family members overseas as well as family members beyond the household.
Māori understandings of whānau encompass financial responsibilities for people beyond households of parents and children. This can include the upkeep of group property or gifts and loans to whānau who need help. It also involves providing accommodation and food to visiting family members, even if there is little money to go around.
Joint or separate finances
A study of money management in the late 1990s showed families used different ways of managing money. People who pooled their finances saw it as a symbol of their togetherness. One man said: ‘When you separate things, that’s when you get problems.’3 For other couples, including those who had been married before, separate finances but joint responsibility for household expenses was used to avoid problems and preserve independence.
Money management systems
How people manage money within their family households varies. In some families, the person who earns the money controls it. Other families use a ‘pooling’ system and a joint bank account into which all the money goes. In other families individuals keep some of the money they have earned for their own use, and put some into a common pool or ‘kitty’ for household expenses. This is more likely to occur in Pākehā families, especially those with two full-time earners.
Support from grandparents
In Pākehā families, as well as households with other cultural traditions, gifts from grandparents and other relatives are often used to cope with financial crises, or for presents or special treats for children. In Māori and Pacific Island families research indicates that parents are more likely to provide money to their adult children to help them cope with basic day-to-day expenses such as rent and food.
Children and money
Parents may give children specific amounts of pocket money, pay them for doing chores or encourage them to get jobs if they want to have personal money to spend. Research indicates that children in Pākehā families generally use this money to buy things for themselves, and children are taught personal money management at an early age.
In Pacific Island families money earned by children is more likely to be treated as household income, and adult children living away from home may also contribute money to their parents. This seldom occurs in Pākehā families, but adult children living at home in full-time work are usually expected to contribute to household expenses in all cultural groups.
New Zealand law has increasingly treated families in similar ways regardless of the marital status of parents, their gender or their ethnicity. In the 21st century the focus was less on who is in the family and more on what happens in families – especially the importance of care and safety within families.