Monday, September 01, 2008

Joint families and daughters-in-law

I came across this post by Indian Homemaker just a short while ago. It's interesting to read. But, wanting to read the original post to which the current one refers, I clicked back to this. Let me take deep breath. I have so much to say, but I don't know where to start. In the post on joint families, IHM says that joint families are extremely convenient for the boy's parents/grandparents. I agree. She also says that when a bride steps into her marital home, every action is scrutinised and she ends up being loaded with plenty of responsibility without the authority needed to carry them out. I agree with that too. I also agree when she says that the boy's parents tend to take the new daughter-in-law for granted. One such case is that of the anonymous daughter-in-law who commented.

However, I think it is important to nuance the arguments a bit. While it is unfair to expect the bride to take on all that responsibility without the authority required, we must also realise that sometimes, the Indian joint family can be a huge safety net. It starts with mundane things like housework. Two daughters-in-law in the same house means that the work is shared. Sometimes the mother-in-law is also nice enough to help. Granted, most of them behave exactly as IHM points out. But, there are exceptions who deserve to be acknowledged. This safety net extends to caring for the children when the mother goes to work. I know many women who feel that their mother-in-law takes better care of the kids than a paid nanny or servant. The kid is their grandchild after all. Also, in cases where the couple goes through a though time financially, the joint family can step in to provide the much-needed solace and support. I understand that this is declining but in case of a problem, the parents' (of both spouses) step in to help. I would give anything for a safety net like that.

That said, I fully sympathise with the anonymous daughter-in-law. She is unfortunate enough to have in-laws who neither care nor empathise with her as a human being. Such parents deserve no respect. In this context, I would not spare the husband either. A man who is capable of censoring the blog of his wife, one he is supposed to trust and support, deserves a talking to. The bride/wife/daughter-in-law, is a human being and an individual first. She reserves the right to say anything she pleases on any forum. Nobody, especially not the husband, has any power to stop her in that. If he treated his wife well, and made sure his parents did the same, she would find no reason to complain. I read so many blogs that talk about husband and family, that make one envy the family they have. If you are happy, it shows, on your blog and elsewhere. But, if are being abused, dominated or suppressed, that will show too. In the lack of ease with which a suffering blogger writes, and in the melancholy surrounding the blog. As IHM puts it, an adult requires no permission to go shopping, meet friends and family or watch a movie. She is an adult and an individual. It's time parents-in-law realise that. On that note, check out this post. It contains advice to the in-laws. Good job!


Imp's Mom said...

come on over

got a surprise for u!

Ms Cris said...

Mm yet to go the other links in this entry but my pick is stand alone, or independent families. And well, its up to each person to vote for one or the other. If all parties involved in the arrangement are happy, well and good. But most times, happens the other way around where a daughter in law might prefer an independent home and the mother in law or sometimes the husband do not. Hmm. My solution is have all these elementary basic things cleared before saying I-do. For though seemingly unimportant, these things matter. I have seen the peace of a whole household shatter in a matter of days because this was not taken care of. Not one, many in fact. Hmm. Settle it first and foremost, guys and girls, before you walk down the altar.

Amrutha said...

Imp's Mom: Thank you so soooo much!! Once again!

Cris: I agree. To each one his preferences. But personally, I could even forgive the MIL but not that's so....frustrating to see that men still have so much control over their wives...

Sindhu said...

I like this entry. I agree with you that there are a LOT of positives to being included in a joint family... but not everyone is lucky enough to get by without the typical problems. I feel like common problems will plague all joint families, unfortunately.

Btw, I really enjoy your blog. You write very well! Do you mind if I link you? I definitely want to come back for more. :)

Indian Home Maker said...

Hi Amrutha, I do agree with what you have written about the safety net, and no doubt grand parents are great- maybe the best people, to leave the kids with, for most working mothers.
The financial support that parents can provide is also a blessing and I am sure there are loving families where the daughter in law is quite satisfied with this arrangement. I JUST WISH SHE ALSO HAD A SAY IN ALL THIS. THIS SHOULD NOT BE FORCED ON HER.
I have heard girls say they would sacrifice anything, if they could just live in peace alone with their husbands...what makes them so desperate?
Also many mothers in laws do not agree to take care of the grandchildren to let the daughters in law work. I have met a lot of resentful DILs complaining about how nobody supported them when they had young kids, and either they could not work or they got their (the girl's) parents to help with the kids.
The root of all the problems lies in our assumption that duty and sacrifice are a daughter in laws dharm...

Amrutha said...

Sindhu: Of course you can link me. Thank you very much.

IHM & Sindhu: All women are not lucky enough to get nice in-laws. And of course, the woman MUST have a say in pretty much everything that's got to do with the family. There is no doubt about that. I just wanted to nuance the argument a bit. The in-laws are responsible too.

Imp's Mom said...

i come from a joint family, and I can tell you from experience that the negatives out weight the positives... my mum has suffered so much at my Grandma's hands, it has scarred her for life. and there are many more like her.

Whn the financial condition is weak, there are taunts of the other family members, those who's financial condition is better. AS for the shared house work, its not like they all decide to work together. Work is divided according to the days of the week, or depending on the number of DIL's. And god forbid is you land up having a guest! Because not always are all willing to help out.

There is no privacy, for any body, not just the DIL; everybody has a dream of setting up their own place and a joint family sys does not allow that. I also know of a family where all the 5 brothers live under one roof, only because the fil saw the future and gave his DIL's the freedom to live as they want. They all have a separate kitchen, a separate and a common entrance and all live together happily.

TO em the only positive thing of JF, is that children of all age grow up together and hence their social skills are enhanced. One does not need to depend on a play school for that.

सुजाता said...

Two daughters-in-law in the same house means that the work is shared. Sometimes the mother-in-law is also nice enough to help.

very smart! So ultimately you too are a feudal,according to you responsibilities can only be shared by a female member and NOT THE HUSBAND !
then what will you pay for a safty net ? as you said in your post -
"I would give anything for a safety net like that"

सुजाता said...


Indian Home Maker said...

One point Amrutha - do the daughters in law have a choice in this matter?
If a girl, without any pressures (cultural, emotional, moral pressure)happily chooses to live with the in laws,
if she is treated as an equal member -
if she can sit and watch TV, when her in laws are standing or working in the kitchen,
if she can sleep while her mother in law (or other elders) are not, finding it bruises their egos,
if she can joke with them,
if she can wear the kind of clothes she likes to,
if she can watch television while her husband and/or cooks in the kitchen maybe with mother in law - with no guilt,
if she can call her parents to stay with her
if she can meet her parents/friends whenever she wants to
if she can joke with her husband, and sit and read the newspaper with him, and maybe disagree with him,
if she does not need permission to go shopping/for movies/ partying etc

We are so used to the concept that we don't see it as unfair, we do not want to CHANGE.
I have never met a girl who likes, truly like to live with her in laws. Most in laws expect 'respect' without giving equal respect back. It is considered their right to check the DIL or to even tell her parents how wrong she is.
Amrutha we must question set norms, just think how many in laws will happily allow their son to do exactly what they expect from a girl? And why not.

Amrutha said...

IHM: Point taken. There are many if's in the issue.

Sujatha: Please read my comment policy. You may criticise. But you MAY NOT call me names. I am willing to concede that I am reluctant to include male members in the list. That's because most men DO NOT help. But to label me as fuedal and slander is not on. One more such comment and I will be forced to delete it. Got it?

सुजाता said...

dear Amurtha , I m SUJATA and nt sujatha .
it s your space you can delete my comment whenever you want without even letting me know ,its well within your rights,thats nt a matter fr me.
that was my instant reaction and i stand by it.
sorry for hurting you ,it was not intended ,but I can nt appreciate anybody who encourages and supports gendered division of labour.
You can delete and not publish this comment,if you feel so.I may nt come here again.