Thursday, June 23, 2011

Joint families - a few case studies.

I read with interest R’s mom’s post on joint families. The concept of joint families is dying a natural death. I would not know if it is good or bad but I see it happening. Like fashions that follow a cycle may be a few years from now the joint family concept may spring back in a different form. I may or may not live to see it but I can somehow sense it bouncing right back. Having said that I am not starting a new debate on whether the joint family of yesteryears was better or not. I am giving a few references and leaving it to my readers to arrive at an inference based on them.

Padmini (name changed) was not a newcomer in the Bhushan family. She had married the eldest son and was a great hit as a daughter in law. Her visits were eagerly anticipated and a whole lot of cousins in the joint family simply adored her. She was able to please grandmothers and grandfathers by abiding by rules laid down by them and would play ludo with school going youngsters, discuss romantic movies with the teen aged cousins and tease eligible brothers/sisters in law about their marriage prospects. She would fit into every group and her mother in law was proud of her. All went well till the grandparents were alive and uncles lived in the same house. Her parents in law were never free to visit her and all she had to do was to adjust for month in a whole year. However, after her grandparents in law’s death the family split and her own parents in law planned to move in with her since the ancestral house had been sold. Adjusting with them was not easy and differences cropped up. Both sides felt that the other was not adjusting well enough.

Rekha was given to understand that her husband being an only son would continue to live with them and she was the one who would have to adjust and she did. However, with time she began to resent their interference even those that were well meant. She hated to be pushed around as if she were a schoolgirl and urged her husband to accept a foreign assignment just to be allowed some freedom – so what if she had to wait for ten long years to obtain it. Parents tried everything in their means to stop them from going giving very valid reasons like children’s education and their own health issues. The assignment was for just a year and they relented agreeing to look after their school going grandchildren. When Rekha returned she was no longer the same person. She had tasted freedom and was not going to give it up at any cost.

Praveen had seen his parents caring for his grandparents. He told his girl friend that if and when they got married his parents would move in with them. His girl friend had seen her parents being pushed around by her dominating grandparents and thought otherwise. Parents could stay nearby but not with them she said. They broke up on the issue. Neither was wrong but they weren’t right either. Their view was heavily influenced by their personal experiences. However my own opinion is slightly tilted in the girl’s favor. There was nothing wrong in sharing an amicable relationship from a close enough distance and being there for each other when required.

Tricky situations isn’t it? In the present scenario it seems advisable for parents to live at a distance that allows regular interaction and for both groups to be available for each other when required without giving up their individual space.

I end with the example of a cousin of mine nearly 75 years old. He has two daughters. The older one stays in Chennai some 15 kilometers from where he stays. She visits them on alternate weekends and goes over to spend the interim weekends with her parents in law. Their second daughter lives in London and her husband is an only son. His mother is a widow. They’ve bought two adjacent flats in a locality that is close to local temples and offers good medical facility. The two sets of parents live in adjacent flats and are there for one another. When my cousin and his wife visit their daughter her mother in law takes care of the house, pays telephone bills receives mails etc. They do the same when she goes visiting. I am yet to see a happier set of parents. The second daughter checks on her sister’s MIL when her own parents are away. This speaks highly of the lady in question. Adjustment is the key. The message is clear. One needs to be happy with an arrangement that suits all concerned rather than settle for one that is suffocating in whatever manner.


hillgrandmom said...

Very true HHG. I have seen many joint families in this small town where I live, where sometimes there is so much bitterness arising from not being tolerant of each other, that when the old parents really need their son & daughter-in-law to look after them, they feel upset at doing it. But there are some families, where they seem to manage. From my observations, it is much easier when the son of the house protects his wife, without quite interfering between his wife & mother, and when he gives her the opportunity to grow.

R's Mom said...

I do agree HHG! I think upbringing has some role to play definitely...I have seen my parents adjust and may be that has influenced my behaviour..but at the end of it all, it depends on the individual and the family

Anonymous said...

I can't agree more, HHG!

Cocktail party said...

Oh yeah! I can't agree with u on this more. Iam an unmarried girl and living with the inlaws seem to be one of my biggest fears concerning marriage. I grew up in a home where individual space is respected. I really don't want to give that up for anything in the world. But in some cases, we are helpless. Esply when the inlaws are dependent or widows.

Hip Grandma said...

hillg'mom:i have sometimes heard children misunderstanding well meant advise given by experienced elders and putting them down in the presence of their own children totally forgetting that they are being judged by the next generation. They feel bad when history repeats itself.As you say the son/husband's stand matters a lot.

R's Mom:Upbringing does not necessarily influence people. I've seen children learning to put their foot down against having in laws because their own parents suffered due to dominating granparents. If the relationship between parents and g'parents is good it definitely has a positive effect on a child's mind.

Jay:Glad you see my point.

cocktail party:Not all parents in law are interfering. But then interference is a relative term. What I call advise may be called interfeence by my children.

Anonymous said...

HHG - As long as people live and let others live, any kind of family structure works. But when some are constantly trampling on others feet, then cracks appear.

Birds and bees let their young ones out of their nest, so that they can thrive and survive. But humans with all their so-called superior intelligence find it hard to let go.

dr.antony said...

Joint families had its advantages at a time when life itself was different.Now,even the elderly can take care of themselves and if not,there are agencies to do that.

Freedom and space are important in present day life.Also young people have to learn to live independantly.

Dotm said...

It reminds me of a saying my father once said-"In my family they marry off not on", meaning once married,they are expected to get their own place and run their own lives and care for their own children. ( Him and my mother loved the grandchildren and great grandchildren and loved it when they came visiting- even babysat when their help was needed). That saying happened the time one sister and her husband had moved into my parents home while they were away on vacation and they came home to find them living with them. We knew that my dad would be there to help whenever he was needed, but that he would never interfere in our marriages, but at the same time all we had to do was ask for advice and he was happy to suggest, but never order, leaving the final decission up to us. He never took sides, just gave his thoughts when asked, saying his thoughts were what he thought would be best if he had the problem, but he would add that didn`t mean it would work for everyone else. It was our choice to accept his advice, or do something different, he accepted whatever we chose. A short time after we lost my father, the one unmarried brother moved home to help our mother, doing the heavier and harder tasks for her that she had depended on my father to do. Mother lived another 20 years alone without my father, with my brother living home with her. He ended up spending his last ten years in that home alone until the last two when he was the one needing the help. I believe sometimes family can get along under the same roof if they remember to sometimes give each other space and private time. hugs, Dot

Srijith Unni said...

HHG'ma, It is an important issue definitely and a fine balance has to be maintained. As far as I can tell, every situation becomes a different one, according to the parties involved. Some parents are aware that the children need to be given space, but at the same time wish that they can see their children often and a joint family is possible.

Some parents expect their children to always be their 'children'.

Many children cannot manage the fine balance that needs to be maintained between parents and spouses and those relationships.

On the lighter side, In a way one major reason we have such trouble is also because it is difficult to find such big houses nowadays which can accommodate joint families in a way all family members get some space. There is so much disparity between T.V. serials and real life.

Happy Blogging!
Have Fun, Take Care and God Bless!
With Best Regards,

parijata said...

I agree with you totally.
I live with my in-laws (really cool people, no problems adjusting). I would not have it any other way, because husband is an only child, and I feel that it is my duty to take care of them.

But I do hope that when my son gets married, we (my husband and I) stay near enough to help each other, but far enough to be not interfering.

Hip Grandma said...

the Brown Vagabond:Letting go is the most difficult proposition and the root of all conflicts. Emotions need to be checked and individual space respected both within marriage and with peripheral relationships. Only then can an arrangement survive the test of time.

dr.antony:Life is no different now. It is our approach to it that has changed. How many of us would willingly adjust in an alien set up? Our children's hoe is increasingly becoming alien and we are unable to cope with the spped with which the change seems to happen.

Dotm:It was great on your parent's part to be available when required while respecting individual preferences at other times. there is a lesson that all of us could learn from them.

srijith:That is the trick. To maintain a fine balance. This cannot be one sided though. Parents cannot expect their adult children to be the same as they were as teenagers. But i am afraid that me included, we tend to forget where the line needs to be drawn.

parijatha: Lucky you. and lucky your in laws. Adjusting with good people also requires an effort and believe me it is more difficult than adjusting with the mean ones! Just joking. I meant to say that even the seemingly mild mannered people find it difficult to adjust particularly when they are mild and stubborn. The combination is deadly.

muse said...

I'm a first time commenter on your blog although i read it pretty often.

My two cents - what I don't like about joint families is the assumption that only the parents of the son (husband) can stay in such families. My mother is a widow and she has just us - 2 daughters. If the joint family system were more strongly prevalent, my in laws would stay with us and my mother would be unwelcome. Read IHM's blog and her many wonderful posts to see what kind of problems the joint family brings into our societies.

Hip Grandma said...

muse:The arrangement of letting the boys support their parents in their old age was well meant and it ought not to be interpreted as the exclusion of the wife's parents from a family set up. In practice however we see that happening everywhere which is unfortunate. the court rules that girl's too have to take care of aging parents even if they do not have an income of their own. sometimes girls too behave selfishly and refuse to take care of parents even for a short while to enable their brothers to enjoy a vacation or simply relax.