Sunday, August 19, 2012

Joint Family Living - Some Pointers for Pardesi's

This post is a tribute to my granny. I lived with her in a joint family system during my formative years. It's a time I remember very well in my life. I learned many things and have many fond memories of that time. She lived her whole life in a joint family system and she taught me a lot about life, love and living during those years.

At this time granny's jaundice is still pretty bad but she is at home recovering. The prospect on her cancer is not good but they have not given us a timeline.  Here's a picture of my granny taken in 1942. She was a beautiful young woman.

Find your own space. This is where you go when you need a moment to yourself and can be any part of the house or somewhere outside of the house. It's complicated living in a joint family and there will be times you just need a break from it all. Maybe this is your terrace in India or maybe it's your closet. It just needs to be somewhere you can feel like you're not stuck in the middle of the family business.

Plan for and expect to be interrupted. This means you never change clothes without locking the door. I've had people walk in on me while changing both in the US and India. The worst part - in India my door was locked but the latch slid when they pushed on the door and it came open anyway lol. Be prepared. This kind of thing happens to just about everyone.

Don't leave valuables/breakables within reach of careless people. This includes children who don't yet know how to care for the items or handle them. Also, in joint families if something goes missing it's a lot harder to find out who took it, moved it, borrowed it, etc.

Talk out problems whenever possible. This isn't always possible. People naturally have attitudes and their own personality and may not want to talk. But it's best not to let issues go unresolved. You may have to discuss them more than once before a resolution is reached. In any case, wait until you calm down or ask someone to talk to the person on your behalf. I know from experience it is very difficult to live with someone you can't get along with. It brings unnecessary tension to the whole home.

Take a break. Just because you live in a joint family (whether in your culture or your spouses culture) and even if society dictates what you can/can't do, find a way to take a break from being in the joint family home. Get out and do something that has nothing to do with the family. Find something that is just about you and that brings you some kind of pleasure. That could be exercise, movies, going out with friends, etc. Schedule these breaks for before you get upset.

Plan and schedule intimate time with your spouse. This is one of the biggest challenges in living in a joint family. It only gets harder after having children. That doesn't mean it's impossible. Hotels are cheap in India and you can use them as a last resort. In your home, send the kids to grandma's room, lock your door and turn on some music or turn the TV up so no one can reach you and it won't feel suspicious. This also covers up any noise you would make.

Schedule usage of shared rooms/utilities. This one was a tough one for me particularly in India. MIL would yield the kitchen to me whenever I wanted but I felt guilty because I didn't want to dominate anything. There were however times when the kitchen was exclusively mine. Like lunch time. She ate lunch at a different time. But, during breakfast or dinner I always felt a clash, which I'm certain was unnecessary, and that frustrated me. The shower was another obstacle. Still I managed to find times to go down there without feeling obstructed. Scheduling these times reduces any tension.

Listen more than you speak. You don't have to agree or even care but if you listen the other person won't feel upset/hurt/rejected, etc. It won't kill you to listen, answer respectfully as needed and then be done with the conversation. You can vent your frustration or disagreement in private. Of course, listening doesn't apply if someone is asking you to do something illegal, dangerous or detrimental to your health or safety. Basically, don't get offended when elders in the home think they know how to live your life better than you do.

Keep your attitude in check. It's fine that you get upset, blow up, pitch a fit, etc. once in a while. That's normal. You just can't walk around being the source of doom and gloom all the time. At least fake a smile in passing or say something nice to others. You will be amazed how therapeutic this is.

Appreciate the relationships. You don't have to be close to or even love everyone in the house. But what you should be thankful for is what you have there. Learn to recognize and appreciate it. Having a cousin in the home that can go to the store for you when you're tired or don't feel well is a blessing, even if you don't love him or rarely talk to him. You might even be surprised that when you need someone, the very person you're not that close to could be the one to come to your rescue.

Be giving of your time. Just like you might need them to help you out a little here, a little there or be a shoulder to lean on, they need you too. Give them a few minutes here and there. If you're going to the store, ask them if they need anything. If you see they're not feeling well, offer to help with their chores. Little things like this build strong relationships over the long run and this is what joint family living is all about.

Include everyone - especially the ones you don't like. It's really not going to kill you even if it feels like it. But, you must include all the members of the household in your activities. If you're going to celebrate, invite them. If you're going somewhere unusual, give them the opportunity to go - within reason. Obviously you wouldn't invited 20 relatives on your honeymoon but if you're going to the hospital to have your baby, tell them and let them come sit in the waiting room whether you like them or not. This is good for you an them.

Share. In the US we're all taught to share from a very young age. It's a BIG deal when you're young to learn how to share. For some reason as we get older we lose sight of this. Objects of our obsession get more expensive and the liability also increases and we are reluctant to share things. Most of the time in the US we can't afford replace something so we are even more reluctant to share. Take a chance, hand someone you trust the car keys or give them your camera to take on vacation. Obviously you don't want to hand off your keys to the 15 year old who just learned to drive but isn't legal yet, but it's okay to give them to your 40+ year old uncle who's more responsible.

Define boundaries. This includes bills, living space, etc. You MUST have boundaries. If your room is your safe/quiet place, then make it known that you don't want anyone in your room while you're not there. Split the bills reasonably. Just because you live in the house doesn't mean you should be responsible for everyone's bills. Unless you choose to. Whatever it is, make sure you all agree to it before you start living together (if possible). Think about all of your boundaries. If you don't want to be asked to leave the house after dark or early in the morning for errands/chores, make it known.

Honor your word. Nothing is worse than saying you will do something and then not following through. I understand in India this such thing occurs a lot. Don't believe me - just ask your local dukhan owner to go find you something that you know he doesn't have. He will tell you he can have it tomorrow but he won't, nor will he have it the next day or the next lol. But, inside the family home this should not occur with anything important. If you tell someone you'll go to the store after lunch, then get up and go to the store after lunch.

The little things always matter. Big things don't happen that often. You do little things every day that hurt, hinder or help your daily life with the family. Be careful with what you do and don't be spiteful or mean. These little things add up and make for a tumultuous home.

What are your tips for living in a joint family? What did I miss?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this post. So far I have been lucky enough not to be living in a joint family situation but am now for several months since we've moved to Texas, and there is no point looking for our own place until after my and my sons four month trip to India this winter. I found your post very helpful thank you for your wonderful tips.