The more things change, the more they stay the same

Three women, three generations of family life in Australia

Katholiki Zaffiris – Great-grandmother Katholiki Zaffiris, born in Sianna, Rhodes, is mother to three, grandmother to eight, and great-grandmother to four. Like so many migrants from Greece, she faced separation from everything she knew to migrate to an unknown country filled with unfamiliar faces. Small in stature and clothed in black (out of respect for her husband’s recent passing), Katholiki is alert and speaks so quickly that it is difficult to keep up with her.

Her voice is tinged with sadness, and her speech is punctuated with sighs, but overall she is hopeful and thankful for how things have turned out for her family. Circumstances brought her to Australia, with three small children in tow – Ian, 5, George, 8, and Mary, 12. Today, she is 87 years-old, and with her children and grandchildren fully grown, she is willing to share with Neos Kosmos her personal journey.

“Everyone told us how great Australia was, how much better than where we were,” Katholiki relates. “People were leaving one at a time. The economic situation was not good in Greece, so we left our homeland.” The first years proved to be very challenging. “We were foreigners in this land. No one respected us here. It was tough, but we got through it,” she says.

Religion was her link to the life she had left behind, and was the most valuable lesson she could impart it to her children. As she elaborates, “To go to church, to say their prayers, to stay close to God. Religion is very important.” Her tone then takes an optimistic turn, revealing the strong spirituality that guides her.

“Luckily, we had so much happiness later, the children getting married, Bless God.” “My husband always dreamt of returning to Greece to live, and he fretted over it. One at a time, our children got married here, so there was no way of turning back. With the help of God, and with patience, you can get past anything.

Life has its good and its bad, you have to accept all of it.’ To this day, Katholiki’s family is a tight web, not only sharing special occasions, but part and parcel of each other’s everyday lives. And as with so many migrants who dreamt of a better life for their children, she swells with pride when she speaks of her family.

“I’m proud that some of them learned a trade, many went to university. I feel like my family is stronger than ever. There is a lot of love in our family and we’re very close. I hope that’s something I’ve passed down to them.”

This tight-knit family will continue their annual tradition of Mothers Day brunch together – grandmother, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Mary Marazakis – Grandmother Mary Marazakis is Katholiki’s daughter, and mother to three, grandmother to 4. At only 12 years-old, she migrated with her mother and two younger siblings, George and Ian, to distant Australia.

Vivacious and dynamic, Mary can’t hide that she’s had a busy life. The way she speaks, her mannerisms, the way she walks – this is a woman quite accustomed to juggling all of her responsibilities, but never letting the ball drop. She shares this telling story from when she first arrived. “In those days, we were migrants and considered wogs. It was scary going to school, I took it very hard.

I used to get together with George and Ian in the playground under the tree…we would hold hands together and bawl our eyes out!” That was likely a familiar scene for so many migrants who arrived here in the 1960s. Without many options, and no choice of turning back, discrimination was something they faced every day but couldn’t do much to combat.

“Deep down, I was yearning for Greece, looking for the day when we would go back,” she divulges. While her father was the disciplinarian, her mother was the nurturer, a calm woman who always put the family’s needs first. “My mum raised us in such a close family environment. This was my mother’s biggest influence on me and how I raised my children.”

While Mary’s spiritual beliefs are strong, she has a more modern take on religion than her mother. “We tell her that religion is something you feel in your heart, but she believes you need to go to church, know all the prayers, read religious books – you have to do all those things [to be truly religious].” When her children were still young, Mary worked part-time in her and her husband’s business, a deli in Dandenong.

She is strongly appreciative for her mother’s support in minding the children while she worked. Mary never missed a school drop-off or pick-up, and took the children to all activities, to minimise the impact her livelihood had on their lives.

Amongst the activities was Greek school, but it was mostly the family influence that kept the Greek culture alive in their household. As for kids today, she says “Kids are the same as kids have always been -they have their needs.

The main difference, I guess, is that today, they have more of everything, maybe too much, but what can you say? They are lucky that they can have all these things.” Kerry Klidomitis – Mother Kerry Klidomitis is Katholiki’s granddaughter and Mary’s daughter. She is mother to two young children – Mia, 6, and Alexander, 5, only 15 months apart.

She speaks with the certainty and confidence of someone with a higher level education, but with a soft edge that reflects a thoughtful and caring nature. Kerry shares some of her childhood memories. “My grandmother played a big role in our upbringing. She was at our house every day, she’d look after us when mum was at work. She taught us to cook, and make loukoumades.”

As a mother herself who now recognises how demanding it can be, Kerry speaks of her own mother with great respect. “Mum had her hands full – between running the deli and having three kids. But she always made time for us, was always there to pick us up from school and drop us off. She was amazing.

She’s always there for the grandkids as well.” Kerry worked in IT prior to the children, and then worked between pregnancies. Although she is well-educated with many career prospects, she has chosen to put her career aspirations on the back burner for now. If she does return to work, it will only be after the children are both in school, and will revolve around their schedules.

It is a trend amongst modern mothers, who are fortunate enough to have that option. “My mum would have loved to have done what I’m doing now, being around to watch the kids grow,” she says. “It’s just nice to have that opportunity.” “My mum’s greatest influence on me was family values.

Everything she did was for the family, whether it would be working, or making sure we had a home-cooked meal every night. I could only hope to be the mum that my mother is.” She elaborates on a theme that is so relevant for today’s parents: the many influences that children have outside of the home and how they grow up so quickly in today’s world.

“You can’t be there every second, so you just have to arm them with the right mental and emotional tools to deal with it. And that comes from home.” Parents are possibly better informed today than they have ever been.

Kerry gives the example of choosing a school for Mia. Whereas the previous generation simply sent their children to the nearest local school, Kerry participated in a lengthy decision-making process.

“Our decision-making seems much more complicated today. That’s probably what we do better and worse – over-analyse things! I wonder sometimes if we overdo it, if we are over-protective.”