It’s hard to know if she’s posturing for her mom, who’s sitting in the same room, but 12-year-old Aamna Siddiqui says with a straight face she has already called dibs on living with her parents when she and her two sisters are adults.
“When one of us says, ‘Okay, mom and daddy, when we grow up, you’re living with us,’ that automatically sets off a bomb between the other two,” Aamna explains. “They say, ‘No, you’re coming to our house and living with us.’ It ends up as a fight.”
The idea of not being part of a multi-generational household seems weird and awkward to Aamna, who’s been living with her grandmother since 2008.
When her sisters get home from school, it’s their Pakistani grandmother who cheerfully greets them in Urdu and takes their lunch kits out of their backpacks.
At one point there were nine people living at their house in Mississauga: Aamna and her sisters, her parents, her grandparents and two aunts.
The Siddiqui home is one of a growing number of multiple-family households in Canada. Particularly in many cities surrounding Toronto, there’s been an uptick in this style of living, largely fuelled by an influx of immigrants to these communities. According to the latest batch of census data released this week, they’ve gone from 1.8 per cent of households in the country in 2001 to 2 per cent in 2011.
They constituted 10.5 per cent of households in Brampton and 5 per cent of households in Mississauga – two cities with large South Asian populations. In Markham and Richmond Hill, which have seen a lot of Chinese settlement in the past decade, they made up 8.1 per cent and 5.4 per cent of the population, respectively. In B.C., the trend was seen in Surrey (7.6 per cent) and Abbostford (6.1 per cent) which also have large South Asian populations.
Farina Siddiqui, Aamna’s mother, has come to see it is as the ideal model for living.
“It sends your own children a very strong message of tolerance, responsibility and obligation toward your parents. It’s kind of sad, but it’s fading away from Canadian society,” Ms. Siddiqui says.
Her daughters learned Urdu so they could communicate better with their relatives. And judging by what Aamna says, that sense of filial piety has rubbed off on her.
But Ms. Siddiqui admits after her parents and two of her sisters moved in, going from a house of five to nine spread among three generations tested her relationship with her husband.
“We had constant discussions, sometimes arguments,” she said.
To escape the chaos, they occasionally spend a few nights away in a hotel. The annual family vacation in December is just for their immediate clan of five.
While it’s an old model imported from her home country of Pakistan, Ms. Siddiqui sees having a multiple-family household as progressive: it’s allowed her to volunteer, work and have a life in the community. “I was not worried about who’s going to feed my kids, who’s going to take them out of the bus when they arrive home. That was very helpful,” she says.