Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Breakdown of the Brazilian Family

All families are different, and yet, all families are crazy. 

So I´ve decided to break down the dynamic of the Brazilian family as viewed from a wife. 

The Mother is in charge. Yes, your husband´s Mother.  There´s really nothing you can do about it.  You went to put his balls in your purse and realized they were already in someone else´s.  It happens.

Keep in mind that it will never be said out loud but it is true. They are die-hard Momma´s boys and that´s really not a bad thing. One of these days, when their Mother croaks, you will be the proud owner of a shiny new pair of... you get the picture. Of course, that will never happen. The Brazilian Mother-in-Law never dies. She outlives us all. 

Worst case scenario, you could always go and talk to her boss. Who you ask.  Her Mother. Her Mother is the boss of her... and her husband. While we´re at it, you and your husband as well.  Don´t worry, the Grandmother is the high up boss. You rarely have contact with her. Your Mother-in-law has to bear that burden. 

Do keep in mind though that the Grandmother will not help you. Your troubles are petty to her. If she was born and bred in Brazil, she has lived through things you can´t even imagine. I´m talking popping out a baby on the floor of her kitchen into the arms of a screaming maid because the maternity hospital in the tiny town was taken over by soldiers during the war and the midwife didn´t make it in time. In case you are curious, she cut her own umbilical cord and heated up a bottle for the older child who was crying because the maid couldn´t pull herself together. Yes, that is my Grandmother-in-law. My leg could get cut off and she´d just tell me to get over it. 

Now the second in command to the Grandmother is the Aunt.  Come on, you know that aunt. Every family in Brazil has one. She has never married and is still living with the Grandparents.  She is the go to guy when you want to request a certain meal at family lunches.  Of course she is, she´s the one who goes to the feira and cooks almost everything. 

So what does that make you? Depends on how many women in the family. I figure, if the Brazilian family were a pirate ship, I´d be swabbing the deck.  While that annoyed me at the beginning, I´ve found the beauty in it. There are so many characters that I´m almost living the Pirates of the Caribbean, only it´s more entertaining. 

The Sass is palpable and I have to say, I like it. I love these ladies.  For that matter, I adore the men too.  I find the laughing, bickering, uninvited advice, and gossip all quite endearing.  Strange how that happens. I guess you could call me adapted.

Above all, you must remember that these woman, although fabulously crazy in their own respect, will bend over backward for you and your family.  They would sell the family apartment if need be.  That´s the thing about the Brazilian family, they are in it for the long haul.  You are family, whether you like it or not, and that comes with certain responsibilities and definite privileges.  You can and should go to them.  Just keep in mind that everyone else in the family will know your business. What am I saying?  They already do.  It´s just the Brazilian way. They are a talkative bunch. 


  1. I laughed out loud when you said that "she out lives us all"...

    But honestly as much as I tend to complain about my in laws, you are right that they would do ANYTHING for us. And selling the apartment is not an exaggeration.

  2. I have tears in my eyes right now. You are 110% spot on. I am actually living in the boss's house at present, and her boss is staying with us for the moment, but Tia is anxiously awaiting her return :)

  3. Rachel,

    This post was hilarious, do you realize how super Italian your description of the Brazilian family sounds?
    You could be describing any Italian family in Boston, Rhode Island, New Jersey or New York or Sao Paulo for that matter...
    Great post!!

  4. Hilarious! My cheeks hurt from smiling so much ;-)

  5. Hahaha. The aunt. We have one of those. But I really must say that in terms of Momma's-boy-ness, I've got it pretty good. My Mother-in-Law was happy to pass the buck or, in this case... well, you know.

  6. Rachel,
    I want to know the truth. Did your deep affection and acceptance flow from day 1, year 1?
    I love Brazil, I love my Brazilian family but the drama no DRAMA and nuance still requires some deep breaths. Tell me, oh wise and witty one that your grace will come with time!

  7. I think it took me a good 2 years and I still have to take deep breaths sometimes.

    It helped me to remind myself that they probably feel that they got stuck with one hell of a prize. I would love to hear how long it took them to get adapted!

  8. well. you are very funny, and i think the mamma's boy thing runs through the entire country (especially when you live nextdoor...) but the brazilian family im part of is slightly mother in law lets her son completely to me, i can yell at him for trying to eat a cookie in her house and she lets me. hehe. and the rest of the family is more like a commune. maybe it's because they are dirt poor, immigrated from Bahia in the back of a truck, maybe because the grandparents died and now 6 out of the 10 brothers and sisters all live in the same house built by their father with their wives and too many children, but as much as i hate it--i am not the deck washer of the family, i am the bloody star!! and everyone is still obsessed with me over a year later. i can't seem to identify a main "leader" without the grandparents around, it's more of an everyone exists as one organic unit, like a
    "blob" creature acting as one and taking care of each other. this of course means NO ONE can do anything without everyone else present. for me, that is the hardest part--always having to have the family present in every single thing we do. if i wanted to have a small birthday party in my house with friends--impossible. there is no hierarchy in this 100+ person family, and i don't know if that's unique to us and odd for a brazilian family, but it's what i came to know as brazilian :) i love reading other experiences to compare because it shows that brazil is as diverse as the US.

  9. Oh I am not the super star in the family by far. lol

    But I will say that my husband is the proud owner of his own man parts. His mother does have a lot of pull but we make our own decisions. But when it comes to family events, I have no say at all. And i hear you about nothing being small! I had to put the stops on the entire family taking over my son´s school on his birthday. We had a small school party for him and his friends and they ALL wanted to come. The school does not allowed that for the obvious reasons.

  10. Very entertaining post. As many things are true. My question is what happens when your mother-in-law is the aunt who stayed at home and never got married? Thats my mother-in-law so to speak.

  11. Lol! Great post and I agree it's true for about 90% of Brazilian families. Which is why I thank god that my husband is the great Brazilian exception.

    In addition to being a vegetarian Carioca without a preferred soccer team, my husband has zero tolerance for family interference in his personal life. He is the oldest son in his 100% Brazilian family, yet has trained his family to refrain from offering opinions on any decision he makes. My husband left home at 14 to attend the Naval highschool in Angra and my theory is this made all the difference. He spent his teen years independent of his mother and developed a taste for privacy. So much the better for me.

  12. Omg Brynn! Way to go! My husband´s saving grace was his love for travel. Thus he left home, lived on his own with people from different cultures, and learned to cook and clean! But he is obsessed with Botafogo! OBSESSED!

    Nina, I don´t even know what to say about that. I guess I would say you have 2 bosses, the Grandmother and the mother in law. :s ;)