Monday, June 07, 2010

Are we in the right frame of mind to deny ourselves a joint family?

I was completely against joint family but today i cant figure why? I professed 'girls be careful marrying a boy living with his parents'.. now I cant fathom why I thought like that.

To each, its own! Now I would say!

During one of those days feeling the blues of being out of home (away from parents) from class VI till today, when I should be taking care of my parents, something someone said startled me.

One of my friends (much younger to me) made a hardcore comment that "I want to get married to a joint family."

WHAT? I thought. She continued, "We need someone to guide us on how to run a home and how to become a successful home-maker. I just hope I get a good mother-in-law"

Till then, I was so surrounded by thoughts of today's modern women being independent, knowing how to balance personal & professional life (in Mumbai you would hardly find a husband who wont want his wife to contribute to the kitty), that I never thought this aspect of a woman's perspective to a joint family.

It was a time when I always felt guilty about seriously wanting to give the comforts of a young intelligent bahu to my aging parents. In my heart I was convinced that they deserved to relax now. My mom and dad worked, borrowed and foregone every luxury to make their 3 sons have the best of education. Today we are all migrant labourers earning very well and they are alone.

I felt that I should be with them but how do I say that to my wife who is not going through these dilemna and who cant understand my need for a joint family with her supporting me. So I felt guilt both ways...

Now armed with what my friend said, I started questionning my guilt, my guilt for thinking about a bahu for my parents... It is ultimately a mutually beneficial relationship corrupted by hyped up saas-bahu serials. Its not that bad when I see my life and my growing up years.

I started talking to many of my other friends about their concept of joint family. I clearly see a particular pschylogical profile opting for joint family. Its primarily the perceived (or real) lack of independent will in a joint family that a girl is scared of. Almost all wives of love marriages opted clearly for nuclear families.

I understand that with a culture of individual choices engulfing India, everyone wants to lead an independent life without interference. We seek independence in terms of our actions - what we wear, what time we sleep, what do we eat, drink etc. That is understandably not possible in a joint family. A tinge of conventionalism do creep in a joint family, the degree of which, again depends on the education and awareness levels of the family. Independence of thought is however possible. I have led a very independent life from class X and today I discover that independence of thought rather than independence of action is what I should crave for.

So I started observing joint families closely.

I found that joint family has critical economic significance too. As an effective support system, joint families can resolve the problems of modern-day housing, domestic labor (how many murders in Mumbai !!), baby-sitters (I remember seeing one video where the baby sitter was slapping the baby because she was crying) and destitute homes for women and children. China, for instance, encourages joint famies to solve the problem of housing.

Quite interestingly, one of the reason why our Indian economy could survive the economic crisis was ample domestic savings. Domestic savings is led by the concept of joint family. In the west, there is no motivation to save and individualistic consumerism has lead to national debt like that of what the US is facing today.

On a personal level, my quest took me to my childhood. I used to love going to my mama's house. A joint family with 3 mamas, mamis, kids and koka-aita (grandfather-mother). It was so much fun with the VCD player, story sessions, games, food, hide & seek and so much more... Kids surely love joint families and learn so much.

I remembered my grandfather and grandmother getting sicker by the day and the way the joint family tackled those times. My grand father and mother were a lucky couple. I miss them a lot.

What a support system! It supports everyone. No one's lonely and no one's overworked. I have heard of wives being loaded with work (unfairly) but I have not seen unreasonable expectations. Saas is older and so may get to relax a bit more. I have seen my grandmother going hand-in-hand with my mamis, and my mami used to tell her to take some rest.

When a couple can fight, how do you expect a saas & bahu not to... But i realised that all the fights stay in check in a joint family. First of all there is an authority, secondly there are enough distractions for a fighting pair - be it a couple or saas-bahu. And there are kids that bring the best out of everyone.

There was privacy too. I remember having this unsaid rule (don't remember who gave it to my head) that we were not supposed to get into any of the bedrooms (Ya, we had the luxury of quite a few bedrooms) while playing hide & seek.

Joint family is also a very potent bed of learning your roots. You get to know the relations and culturally you are given a good foundation. I would have hated to have a situation to learn only from my parents. Perspectives are many and strengths are multiple. You just absorb all. I am sure, weaknesses will also be many. Luckily I was, and am always a positive child, boy and man. It is anyway not a good thing to think bad about elders - again a learning from being with all of us.

Joint family as a concept has been our tradition and is the reason of our Indian-ness. It is the symbol of 'unity in diversity' and acts as a classroom for team spirit.

Today as I understand more about life, I am getting converted. Although I won't impose my thoughts, yet I wanted to lay down my thoughts for everyone to read, introspect and decide for themselves.


  1. Comment by GirlsGuideToSurvival

    ...wanting to give the comforts of a young intelligent bahu to my aging parents.

    So you think wife is a thing or her services are owned by you that you can gift to your parents. :) Is it possible your partner can gift you to her parents- helping them in their old age :) .

    ...Almost all wives of love marriages opted clearly for nuclear families.

    I was one love marriage wife who insisted we not elope but seek the so called "ashirvaad" and have them in our lives because in fast moving lives I wanted my kids to have dada dadi and a bhua (father's sister) as I have only one brother and no sister. So my kids would not have had an aunt from my side and an uncle from his side. So I wanted a joint family. His parents were still working, I thought once they retire they can come and live with us. But what happened is all over my blog. Psychological warfare, abuse (physical), torture and finally end of the relationship he filed for divorce while I was still in the hospital. The great MIL told me on the eve of my first wedding aniversary she'll make sure I leave him by next anniversary.

    If I ever visited them the mother daughter will just sit and not budge while I sweated in the kitchen even when I had a miscarriage or was burning in fever. And that God forsaken man wanted me to keep his folks happy, he refrained from helping me because they would call him JKG. They prevented me from talking to the neighbors, monitored how ate, walked or sat.

    For a functional joint family where every one can thrive it requires strong concept of boundaries. What I am telling you is from a family where FIL was a Ph.D. and MIL an M.Ed. She in doctrinated me how I should not be having sex every night. And then her husband FIL told me how I should conduct myself in the bedroom. Wao, still need more :) . My personal effects were ransacked and used in my absence. This is not just my story there are many like me going through it.

    I got married around 29. I am good cook and a very organized person. I invited MIL to help her set up the new househld. She refused to come and then she had problems that I was better oraginzed and my closet looked like one in those commercials. So there is no problem in the joint families the problem is with those who are in the joint families.

    Your whole post is based on one person's remark. But that does not mean good joint families are instinct. I know some of my own friends who are in the joint families and it works for them. My mom's best friend had four sons and a disabled daughter. All four sons, their wives and children live in that four bedroom house. Mrs. N asked the bahus who ever wanted could move out could do so. But none wants to leave because Mr. and Mrs. N are so good. They not only mind the children but help the couples to save and invest too. Each son now has a flat in Delhi but they still live in the same house with grown up children and aged father. Few years ago Mrs. N died and the eldest son's wive we call her Bhabhiji has taken her place. Now she manages the household and other bahus treat her like their mother even though there is not much age difference. The disabled sister and now very aged father Mr. N are cared for by all.

    I hope these posts will help substantiate the concern here.


    Desi Girl

  2. My response to GGTS:

    How can you perceive yourself as a thing? I didnt say that. Secondly, I would surely be proud to offer my 'services' (since you decided to call it 'services') to her parents. It is my duty. They are my parents now. And God knows I can die for them.

    I am really sorry for what you have gone through. (I am not sure if you have asked us not to repeat this line in one of your blogs about stress.) But I do feel angry for what you have gone through. I can burn that house for all you know (symbolically speaking)

    Having said that, friend, your case is a rarity and not a norm. Mr. N's household is the norm.

    That one person's remark actually gave me an understanding that a woman may also like joint family and you also seconded the same emotion. There began my quest to research and think a bit more about joint family structure.

    Today I can conclude that nuclear family should not become the norm. Its dangerous socially, economically and psychologically.

  3. Anonymous9:06 PM

    Personally speaking I would love to be in a joint family, always being guided rightfully and in a way protected by their faith, 'n belief and well wishes and ofcourse learning slowly and gradually life's fine there's no one better than our parents, in-laws etc who have seen, experienced much more than we do. Besides, I can not leave those away who have shed their sweat, blood everything to raise us for what we are & would be too insensitive to expect the same from the partner too. (Purely a personal belief)

    Having said that, it equally matters that the respect, understanding, trust is meted out both ways...(I think its a key to any successful relationship), otherwise relationships get bitter and they choke to death. In order to further rotten I guess ppl take certain decisions...which are justified to an extent.

    Also, everything has it's own advantages and disadvantages...& the challenge is to maintain a fine balance and evolve out of it without causing much hurt to anyone..around!!

  4. Joint family was never a norm in India. It is a Colonial myth about the colonized, just like Indian villages were self sufficient in all forms other than lack of salt. Thus negating the interdependence within rural communities and urban civilization of India.

    Majority of communities have extended nuclear families. Where a married son is separated after marriage, he sets up his household near his parents. But at the same time he kept working in the communally owned family enterprise be it agriculture or caste occupation. If it was a service caste the son got few households to serve. Like a potter would give few of his clients to his newly married son. The son and his wife will be responsible for serving these clients. Same is with the barbers, weavers and other castes. Unmarried children remain with parents. Each son is give this same treatment and latter aged parents live with either the youngest or the eldest son. Same is observed in the tribal communities. In the extended families nuclear units may even live in different cities but they come together to share the familial responsibilities like marrying daughters and sisters, tending the serious illnesses in the family, financial crisis or investments and caring for the aged etc.

    Our believes and thoughts evolve if we remain open to receiving new information and evaluate critically.

    I am glad you personally do not know women who are facing the psychological warfare by in-laws. But that is the reality or we wouldn't have that high a number of dowry murders and domestic violence incidents.

    Please do not feel sorry for what happened with me. I was not the first that it happened to and I wont be the last but I was just one. It was an opportunity to learn and redeem my karma in this life time. There are no victims our life teaches us if we let it teach us. I definitely needed to learn to be kind and compassionate to my self and stop judging my self. I did learn it. You cannot give someone something you do not have. I needed to be kind and compassionate to my self and not critical of my self in order to be give the same treatment to others. I nolonger need to please people to be accepted. If some one does not want to accept me for who I am it is their problem. For me the sky will nolonger fall down if someone said something evil about me because they no longer matter to me.

    Those people did their best in what they were good at, hurting. Only hurt people hurt people. If they were happy people they would have given happiness.

    About considering a person a personal property and reducing them to an object, you started it "...wanting to give the comforts of a young intelligent bahu to my aging parents."

    In your personal life you may be willing to serve your spouse's parents but how many men are wiling to do so???

    One person contributes to the change but one person is not the absolute change. So no conclusions can be derived from a smaple of one but one has to do their part to change the system. I personally feel getting out of my comfort zone and challenging my one long established ideas. Stepping into another person's shoes with kindness and compassion. If one has not seen something happen around them they can not discredit another person's experience.


    Desi Girl

  5. Thanks for your responses, especially Desi Girl. I will research on your statements on joint family, find out more and share.

    However, fact remains that the married son stayed close to parents. It looks like reaping the double benefits of nuclear and joint family.

    Are you saying that it is a myth that Indian villages were self sufficient? I dont think so, although I need to research a bit.

    For whatever I know, Assamese villages were self sufficient and the main reason for the same was lack of caste system except the king and the brahmans. There was no village of cobblers and blacksmiths like we had in North India. Assamese villages were a mixture of all the professions.

    Anyways let me do my bit on this thought about Joint family never being the norm...

  6. Research is a good idea. It will help if you seek peer reviewed academic journals and established post colonial history books. Any knowledge production is a political act. Even this post and commenting is political. Who wrote what and when should always be kept in mind to critically build one's knowledge base.

    Assam does not represent whole India. Near self sufficiency can be attributed to numerous water bodies in the village. Each family owns a pond to raise fish and salt is locally produced, unlike other land locked states with acception of Rajsthan. Women in ach family wove their own meklas and chadors. What about shoes?? Who cut men's hair? Caste system is not that prominant in Assam but there are more castes than just the King and Brahman. How will you classify Great general Lachit. Then there is the question of ritual purity and human sacrifice etc... So this keeps going no truth is absolute. It depends where you are standing. If we enumerate the positive we should be courageous to consider the negatives too. Any concept or ideal has the seeds of anti thesis within it... balance is the keyword...

    I hope this helps.


    Desi Girl

  7. Hi Dew,

    Thanks for you response. I completely agree with you. If we can create balance through patience, understanding, good faith and a liberal forgiving outlook, life in a joint family will be the happiest and contented.

  8. Hi Desi girl, I have to write a post on your blog. I have a very different view.

    This time I want to respond to each statement in your blog. Hope I get time.

    Cant sleep late always !! Ha!


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