Calgary·Filipino Bureau

Security, comfort, culture and challenges: multigenerational families under one roof

Ernie Alama has both studied and lived through the challenges and gains that Filipino families face when moving to Canada. He reflects on intergenerational living and bringing family members back together after a long time apart.

Intergenerational families under one roof and the benefits and challenges in Calgary’s Filipino community

Ernie Alama is a professor at St. Mary's University in the faculty of education. (Submitted by Ernie Alama)

When the values and expectations of older family members come up against those of the next generation, there can be tension. But there are also benefits to a tightly knit, intergenerational home.

Ernie Alama is a professor at St. Mary's University in the faculty of education. 

Filipino himself, he has studied multigenerational households, specifically, the experiences of Filipino seniors who have been sponsored and brought to live with their families here in Canada. And the support they offer.

As we continue to explore a wide variety of cultural and community experiences in our Filipino pop-up bureau, we sat down with Ernie to better understand the changes and joys of multiple generations living under one roof, and how a protracted period apart from close family can affect everyone involved. He also shared some moving personal experiences.

You can read a few of his responses below, or listen to the whole conversation in the audio file.

Both have been edited for clarity and length.

Ernie Alama has both studied and lived through the challenges and gains that Filipino families face when moving to Canada. He reflects on intergenerational living and bringing family members back together after a long time apart.

Paul Karchut: How common is it to see multigenerational families under one roof? 

Ernie Alama: It's pretty much common here, especially for new immigrants. 

You know, when a Filipino immigrant comes to Canada today, first, many people came here as foreign workers. 

I did a study, a case study of one foreign worker in Brooks. 

He came first as a foreign worker in the meat factory and eventually three years after, he brought in his wife and two children. And then they had a child after two years when the wife was here in Canada. After that, because they had a young one, they sponsored their mom to come to Canada. 

PK: What challenges can multigenerational families face?

EA: So you have a situation, for instance, where the mother comes to the household from the Philippines to look after a young child that's just been born by a couple who were here; who came first as a foreign worker. So in that situation, you basically have a world view of a mom who basically doesn't have an understanding of what Canadian culture is all about. And so, of course, the mother brings in her culture and her worldviews and practices and so on. 

And so it's a lonely life in here. I don't know my neighbour, unlike in the Philippines, I know my neighbours. I know people. And being here I'm stuck in a winter in my own home and my children are out there at work and my grandchildren are working. So now I'm alone. 

That's where the challenge comes in terms of social connections, social isolation happening. And therefore the need for social connection is very important. And so for that, the first generation, he or she is contained within the worldview of her own or his own that's not necessarily being shared by the rest of the members of their family. 

Then you have the children who came first as immigrants, also part of the first generation. Who would be so busy with work and who would have probably no time to engage with issues at home because many of them are working multiple jobs at the same time. So I can do more work and support my family back home in the Philippines. 

But because they're so busy, the mom is left alone as the young couples are engaged in a lot of activities outside the home. 

Now, what about the second generation? 

A worldview about that is that when they are integrated in the community, the second generation … would seem to have a disconnect with the Filipino culture in a lot of ways because now they are integrated into the Canadian mainstream and connected with their peers. 

So then there seems to be a disconnect with that Filipino culture, even if they're living in a Filipino Canadian family. 

There is a sense of so-called, I use the word familial vibes, that the second generation would argue that it's my parents' concerns and not necessarily mine. So some simply ignore any invitation at all to communicate with kin back home. They do not necessarily talk about family issues and how to solve them.

PK: How would you describe the benefits of having a multigenerational household? I'm thinking about when it comes to, say, raising children or that sense of support, even when it comes to growing old. What are the benefits?

EA: For Filipino families, regardless of the age of children, regardless of who you are, there is this idea that no matter what, they will be there for their children and they will provide a harbour for their children to stay housed for as long as they like. 

They get their support from parents, from the first generation, or from their grandparents who want them to stay in our houses for as much as we can. 

The whole idea of children moving out from our homes is not necessarily a value that we share back home. And that kind of model of family is still being resonated with many Filipino families here. 

But at the same time, it also provides some financial benefits, definitely, for both generations. 

First generation did not necessarily have all the means. Second generations are already working and actually support their parents. And I've seen that in many Filipino Canadian families here. Their children are working. They're supporting their parents to pay the bills in the house. 

So there is that sense of belonging, financial benefits, psycho-emotional support, and, of course, a sense of benefits in terms of sustaining the culture in one way or the other. 

Of course, when you talk about social isolation, which is basically happening in a lot of ways during this pandemic, and mental health being challenged in a lot of ways. But when families come together in one household, it actually provides that sense of comfort and sense of support for each other. 


Paul Karchut

CBC Calgary

Paul is the host of Daybreak Alberta, heard across the province every weekend. He's been with CBC since 2005, twelve years of which were spent as the director of the Calgary Eyeopener. You've also heard his national car column, Karchut on Cars, on morning shows across the country for years. Join Paul weekend mornings across Alberta from 6-9.