Life with the lot, except privacy

For an unmarried young woman, sharing the family home has its benefits and its drawbacks.

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One of the benefits of coming from a big Arab family is having many members in the extended family who will take away your privacy and independence.

Yes, I mean take it away. Parents will give it to you, they pretend it matters, but in reality, everything always goes their way in the end. Any decision-making process entails grandparents, uncles, aunts and possibly older siblings giving their opinions. In most cases, you are obliged to accept their opinions and do as they say, because they are “older and wiser”.

This is not unusual in Emirati or other Arab households. Recently, a friend of mine was to be married. A young man, who suited her requirements for a life partner, proposed to her. Her family members were against such a marriage for some personal reasons that we will not get into. Not only did they not hear her side of the story, they made the decision for her and rejected the bachelor’s proposal.

Being an Arab girl and still living with my parents, I go through the joy of answering the same questions everyday at the same time. “When will you get home from work today?”is my mother’s favourite. She also likes to look at the little make-up I have on and claim that I can do better. On certain days, she will oppose the idea of make-up altogether.

Mothers always tend to judge their daughters. They look at them as a reflection of themselves, which is expected I suppose. Growing up, my mother was not allowed to wear jeans or trousers, and she would always have a shayla on, even at home.

While I was growing up, my sisters and I were forced to wear similar dresses as her, but she had no luck with the shayla. As stubborn as I was, I couldn’t keep up the fight, so I did as I was told. I rebelled in high school, and began wearing the trousers that I found most comfortable and threw away the dresses.

To this day, I hear my mother say: “Girls are not meant to wear trousers, those are for men. Dresses make you a feminine woman, and shows you are respectable.” It doesn’t matter how many times my mother objects to my attire, I still feel that it is a part of my personality.

Living in the family house that I share with my siblings, uncles and cousins, there is little time for myself. Shopping sprees or coffee trips mean someone will have to come with me, not as a chaperone, but to keep me safe, according to my mother. Cooking in the kitchen, which I very much enjoy, means I will have two or three children helping with the whisking, mixing, chopping and egg-breaking.

But that’s not all, picture this: you arrive home one late afternoon, and you find out Mommy made your favourite dish for lunch. You rush for a plate, scoop all the glorious food on it and start to dig in. A few seconds later, another fork pops on your plate out of nowhere.

Now, I don’t mind sharing my things, especially with my family, but when it comes to food, that is not acceptable.

The thing is, I have a big family, and in such families, the “domino effect” take action almost immediately.

That uninvited fork would feed almost all the members in my family, including the children, leaving me with a few spoonfuls myself.

Having many family members has its perks; you are always surrounded by people you can talk to and laugh with. But sometimes their constant presence has its pressures. I only hope when I am old enough to have my own home filled with children, I’ll teach them the idea of having privacy and more importantly, the ability to trust.