>The DisJOINTed Family

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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.

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13 responses »

  1. >Ahhh…….just my thoughts. & u know what , i have moved on from a nuclear to a joint family. That has another set of adjustments & Yes, being a working woman does not help at all!!!

  2. >Hi! My first time here, nice blog!I loved your take on this, agree with you a 100%. I wish we could openly discuss these things with everyone in the family though. I am curious – do you? I’ve only done so with the husband and my parents, and they were not exactly happy with my ideas though they could not fault the logic. 😉

  3. >It is very difficult to talk frankly about such issues without making the family feel you are rejecting them. Anybody can see the system is lopsided, in fact the system is directly responsible for our preference for sons today. I have hardly seen one woman who is staying in a joint family by choice…only one, she is happy her mom-in-law stays with her, because her husband is away a lot, and she is working full time and kids are small. Mom in law is happy to be with her grand children, and dil is happy they are in loving care. Although they are both happy, I wonder if it is totally fair to the MIL, because she should have a life and interests of her own too…

  4. >@Monika: I can quite imagine. Adjustments are never easy, especially when they are not necessary.@Jottingsnmusings: Welcome here!I wish too I could discuss my point of view with my family. If a D-I-L discusses this with the in-laws, she would be considered to big for her boots. And you’re right, no Indian boy likes to hear about how the joint family thing isn’t working out. So is the case with me.@IndianHomemaker: I agree. Most people I know live with their parents and parents-in-law. Most of them at least, would like to change that.

  5. >Its beautifully written summing up both the +ives and -ives of joint family. I feel joint family can live more happily today coz now ppl are more understanding and had less expectations. For our own freedom we are devoiding children from the grandparents love..how they will know what that love means when they are not living close to each other. –distance making the heart grow If that is so true then Why don’t husband and wife also live at distance their love will grow stronger ???Only thing is that everybody has to sacrifice little to get more and that exactly we do thru out lifeSorry I have been carried away. And its gone little longer.

  6. >@Nitin: I don’t agree it’s easier to live in joint families now. And no, the expectations might be lesser, but they are still plenty of them to make adjustments difficult. As for a husband and wife living together, the fact remains that their proximity does breed a certain amount of contempt. And distance does makes the heart grow fonder even in their case.

  7. >my first time here..Nice blog.. :-)Even I agree with you a 100%..As far as a woman in concerned and someone whose working,joint families are pretty difficult things to get used to..Its the same way for them too.they just cant adjust to a daughter in law who comes home after a tired days work and they do expect her to be doin stuff wich i believe is being harsh on her.and this leads to the DISJOINTEDNESS..and the current indian scenario in india doesn help it either.u can’t be talkin abt the problems to ur inlaws..I mean,there are very few ppl who are progressive wen it cums to des matters..and bein orthodox wud definitely make maters worse..I wonder if u cud do away with the word verification thing…

  8. >very thoughtful, balanced post, this..the thing is, our generation has become much more forthright and expressive about the things we like and dislike. this was not the case in the time of our grandparents, and also our parents. these were the people who had the patience to gulp down many a adjustments will calm and poise. Today, most don’t see the reason to do so, or are less inclined to adjust given that lifestyles and definitions of personal space has also changed drastically. each woman’s story as a daughter-in-law is different and should be tackled differently. there can’t be a staple yardstick to debate the joint-nuclear issue…

  9. >@Avaran: I had to add it after you assumed I was one in the pic.@Gauri: You’re right, there can be no single yardstick to say the joint family works or doesn’t.

  10. >The more i read here,the more i am becoming your fan..I prefer to live independently,if i ahd a chocie..There need to be personal spaces and i prefer to love people staying at a distance as then,minute problems won’t become villian..Joint family is good if eveybody knows how to respect each toher..Mostly in joint families,people are taken for granted..And yes,i am aware that i too will grow old one day:)

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