I don’t think there’s anything new to say about this, but I don’t think that means I can’t say what’s already been said about it. When I was in school the joint family vs. the nuclear family was a favourite topic of debate. Having been born and brought up in a close-knit joint family, I always spoke in favour of it.
Back then I lived with a set of loving grandparents who instilled in me and my siblings values that have held us in good stead long after they’re gone. I lived with parents who did not crib about having to adjust with so many people. I lived with bade papa and badi ma who loved me and my sister like their own daughters. I lived with elder brothers and sisters who were my harshest critics and my most loving admirers. I lived in a happy family where any kind of friction, and there was very little of it – believe me, between the adults was never allowed to reflect in the way we kids were treated. We were eleven of us at home and there was still enough privacy for all of us. They were good times I spent in that much misunderstood institution we call the joint family. And I had no reason to doubt its efficacy in nurturing loving relationships. Till, of course, I learnt that love didn’t exist everywhere.
And that’s where the problem begins – when family members are caught in loveless relationships with each other. I’m not talking about the kind of love that you feel for somebody because he’s a blood relation, but the kind of love you feel when you respect that somebody for what he is. The disjointed family can never be happy, it can never keep its family members happy because there’s no respect, a whole lot of resentment.
And then there is the whole rationale for living in an unhappy joint family: the son cannot leave his parents in the lurch when they’re growing old, that if he wants to set up his own home, he would be abandoning them. The children who move out are the villains and the parents, victims.
The Indian Homemaker expressed my angst so well in this post. As a daughter of parents who do not have any sons who’ll get married and bring home wives whose duty would be to take care of their aging in-laws, I do not understand how people cannot see the lopsided-ness of this rationale. Is it that only the boys’ parents in our country need to be taken care of and that the girls’ parents can take care of themselves? If it has to be a joint family, why are all the girls’ parents excluded from it?
My parents are very happy living by themselves: they say they’re happy with the space they have and the freedom that comes when you’re 50+ and have taken care of your social obligations and responsibilities. They don’t have to adjust with a bahu who comes from another family, has a different kind of upbringing and may want to live her life differently. Because the adjustments have to be made from all sides and it’s not always comfortable. Like the girl has to adjust with a whole new family, the whole family also has to adjust with her. To put it mildly, it’s not easy. And there’s no guarantee that the two parties are going to be making equal efforts and if that is the case, one side is always going to be resentful.
In the city I live in and in the society I’m part of, living away from your parents in the same city is considered, well, not so nice. Yet my friend’s mother made sure her son moved out when he married. Her reasons were simple: at 55 years, she didn’t want to be changing her lifestyle and didn’t expect her daughter-in-law to change hers at 25. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Also, perhaps this whole joint family system did work better two decades ago when they were fewer working women. When a woman comes back home after hours of gruelling office work, she isn’t exactly in the mood to live up to others’ expectations of her? Is that selfishness or self preservation?
And why do people forget that adage about distance making the heart grow fonder and familiarity breeding contempt? It’s true, you know.
Disclaimer: The photograph is used only for representational purpose and is a stock picture from the internet.