Tuesday, October 9, 2012

When Home is Not Your Resting Place

In the US our home is considered our place of refuge. A place we can go at the end of the long work day and relax. Typically, we like to come home from work (or whatever we do all day) and sit down and watch TV. We'll have our dinner and just lounge around on the couch for a couple of hours. Unfortunately no one can do that every day or housework would never get done but we try to relax this way several times a week.

The US typical work week is structured to support two full days of rest before starting the work week all over again. This is why many events are scheduled on Saturday and Sunday - most of the workforce is off of work those days.

In Amritsar, things work differently. Most people work 6 days a week and the hours are longer. Most positions are salaried and while you may have set hours, you could still wind up working a lot of overtime - especially in the IT industry or any technical field.

Now for some, they still get to come home and rest, it depends on the household set up. In our family, FIL and Uncle came home and rested. MIL and Chachi spent their evenings cooking and cleaning with a little family time over dinner. Their rest time came in the early afternoon between lunch and when the kids came home. Hubby worked all day and came home only to be worked more taking care of all the family needs and (of course) my needs.

In addition to never getting a moment to slow down, he also had to deal with all the drama going on in the house, the neighborhood, etc. While I'm not there, all this work and drama is still going on. So here lately, home has not been a place of rest for him at all. Even when he has time to sleep, he's barely sleeping.I didn't feel much different in India. Between being sick, going through culture shock and dealing with my own stress, my home in India was not a place of rest either.

Homes in India are not designed to be a resting place the same as they are in the US. A typical home has a sitting area for guest but it is still not uncommon for guests to enter your bedroom randomly and uninvited (which is a huge taboo in the US). It's not uncommon for guests to drop by unexpectedly at all. Even if it's not guests, family members will visit to your area of the house randomly throughout the day.

All of these things left me feeling edgy and as if there was never any break. There was no rest while I was at home. This is a difficult adjustment for an American. We value our personal space and "me time" and we know the health benefits of it. There's nothing like laying in your room in completely inappropriate clothing (things you would never wear in front of family or guests) and just letting your body breathe and rest after a long day.

I haven't had much better luck in the US since coming. I'm staying with my mother so that's no surprise. I'm in the home with both parents who are involved in my life heavily and 2 foster sisters who bring a unique set of drama to life. The drama doesn't stop until the girls finally decide to go to bed and after that I have to wait for my step-father to go to bed and there's always some commotion in the house. Then of course everyone is up early.

Once again, I have to be on and ready to face family all day long. It gets tiring. I have to think about my hair and did I sleep on it wrong and now it looks a mess or whether or not I left something laying out on the shelf. In my own home with my own bedroom I wouldn't have to think about it. I could close the door to hide any unfinished projects without concern. I wouldn't have guests before I was up, dressed and had my hair brushed.

It's been a long time since I had that kind of rest. It takes a toll on the body. So even though being back home right now has its well-pronounced benefits, I think I'm getting tired of always being on this kind of alert. It's quite exhausting. Thinking about it now, I'm quite sure this is why I always felt so much better after a short excursion to Delhi or other city. I got a chance to have my own room where no one would knock on the door unless invited (room service, yay!).

I can also imagine that Indians traveling to the US feel a sense of withdrawal when they don't have this constant interaction and intrusions into their daily lives. Am I right? Have you been to the US (or any western country) and experienced this?

What are your thoughts about living in a joint family and how much rest and relaxation you got?


  1. I think it all goes with the fact that in India persoal space and boundaries aren't yet a common thing, but ti's changing in cities where more and more nuclear families come. While there are benefits of having the support of a joint family, it often comes at the cost of privacy, especially in India. I know joints families in Switzerland, and there is still a profound respect of boundaries, bedrooms are always off limit, the living room is the family room. In DH's family the living room is the formal room where you recieve aquaintances and distant relatives, close relatives and family member are to meet in one of the bedroom. And I personnaly find this though to get used to, I don't want to intrude, I don't want to disturb my MIL while she sleeps, naps, read or whatever, but they all insist it is fine to do so.
    DH and I both don't feel we could hack living in a joint family, the week we visit his parent is generally enough for both of us. We are one of these urban couple that value our independence and space way too much for that. Home is really the place we rest, chill and recharge ourselves, now of course home is my workspace too since I'm a SAHM.
    Oh and this week I picked up a copy of Good Housekeeping India where the talk about the necessity of Me time for women, with psychologists giving their imput on the matter. Me time is vital to anybody's well being and women are often the ones that get the less of it.

  2. I agree.
    If I don't get my 8 hrs sleep at night I'm dragging.
    A week of not getting 8 hrs sleep every night & I'm worthless.
    I don't think many health experts nor your average person realizes how much lack of sleep can impact your overall mental & physical well being.
    You have to take care of yourself first before you can properly help others.

  3. There are a couple of issues here.

    1) I don't think you can quite generalise. Growing up in India, we lived in a nuclear family in one of the metros. People absolutely did not just show up. They rang ahead. Unless they were neighbours needing a lemon or a chat or something. We did not have visitors all the time. Our home certainly was a place to relax.

    2) Your experience in your in-law's house is different from your in-laws' experience in their own house. The people that visit are probably close enough to them that they do not feel like intruders. Obviously you are the newest member of the family and will not feel the same way.

    I generally am not a big fan of joint families. The DILs can often feel imposed on by things that are normal for the in-laws. It's not fair to expect a grown-up to 'learn your way of living'. There cultural differences between any two homes even within the same country/state/city.

    But I do cringe when I read these generalisation here. My home was certainly our resting place.. we didn't expected any unannounced visitors and lay around looking very unpresentable all the time.

  4. This shift in attitude is what is interesting. Until the 20th century most western people had no idea about "privacy". Aristocratic women entertained their closest acquaintances in their bedrooms, hence the concept of the "boudoir". Parlors were for receiving formal guests. More humble folks had no bedrooms so everyone congregated around the only piece of furniture in the only room in the house, the kitchen table in front of the kitchen fire. Privacy and the nuclear family are very recent inventions worldwide and everybody is still adjusting to them. Sometimes successfully, often not.

  5. We had two rooms on our ground floor for receiving guests but they were rarely used. Guests typically came to MIL's room and some came up to my room. It was definitely hard to get used to. In joint families here, boundaries are respected the way they are in Switzerland.

  6. Yes ma'am that's true! I think I'm about the same as you. No sleep - no function (at least not nicely lol).

  7. I never said they weren't restful, I said they weren't designed to be restful the way homes in the US are. There are different standards of rest in both countries. The majority of the homes I've been in across Punjab are not kept or laid out in the same way a home in the US is. They are different. We regard parts of our homes in much different ways than people in India.

    Nuclear families are a fairly new concept in India. Joint families are still predominant and as such there is still communal living going on regularly. That is not restful to an American.

    This was not a random generalization. It's based off of stories and testimonies from many pardesi women. So while I'm sure that your home was restful for you, considering you grew up there you would not have the same set of guidelines an American would. You would be comfortable in your own home just as most anyone would be comfortable in their childhood home.

    I think you are being overly sensitive to the topic. The whole post is about how I have felt in the homes I lived in for the last two years and how I saw my husband life. It's not about all of India and I only made the one reference to Indian homes. I never said no home is a place of rest. I said my two homes are not a place of rest for me.

    Additionally, most homes in India do have interruptions all day long. Yours may not have but I know people in many of the states in India and they all say the same thing. Milk man, trash man, maid, etc. there are people coming and going at random times all day and it interrupts life. You may be used to it, but not everyone is.

  8. Well, I don't come from a family with boudoir roots lol. At least I don't think so. I was fortunate in being able to grow up with my great-grandparents alive and they did not entertain in their bedrooms.They both had living rooms. Beyond those families I can't be sure because I come from "hill people" - those people that live way out in the middle of nowhere and own enough land to lose people on if trespassers need to be buried (and it happened once). No one came unannounced I'm quite sure.

    So in my life I've not been exposed to anything but living rooms, even after my family moved into the city. I know you mentioned the lack of privacy was before the 20th century and well, I suck at history lol. I appreciate the input. I had no idea. It's not been that way in my family for at least 150 years - they all had sitting or living rooms.

  9. I was trying to present a different experience to yours, not being sensitive. I also don't think joint families are the predominant way of living in India.. maybe in Amritsar but that's another generalisation. Nuclear families are by far the more common model in cities, so I think it was valid for me to present an alternative experience.

    I already agreed in point 2 of my comment that people obviously feel comfortable in their own homes but a newcomer might not.

  10. Then I'm sorry, I misunderstood your comment. Another point of view is good. Joint families are still predominant in Amritsar. I know only a couple of nuclear families and a few displaced people who moved there for work and rent rooms in someones home (which I don't consider nuclear).

  11. If I may share an experience, one of my landladies was the matriarch of a joint family in Delhi. In her home were her and her husband, her son and daughter-in law, and her unmarried daughter.

    They lived in a three-bedroom flat in Delhi, with a beautifully decorated sitting room (hall), kitchen, dining area, and I believe two restrooms. I can't remember now. The first time I visited, we all sat in the hall. On subsequent times, we would first meet in the hall, have some tea, then move to the table for dinner, and after-dinner socializing would take place at the table or in one of the bedrooms (mother's or sister's - not the son's!). Bedrooms are nice if you want to stretch out and relax after eating. Some sitting rooms have divans for this purpose too, but not everyone has one so the bedrooms are the next best thing. And there's not any weirdness about sitting on or even sharing a bed with someone of the same gender, as long as it isn't a total stranger.

    India has three times the population of the US in one-third of the space. People are constantly around and that's something to factor in. It's just the cadence of life there; I am sure that Indians coming to the US, where no one knocks on the door or cries out for you to buy fresh vegetables, feel isolated in all the silence. I've heard people from cities say that country living is eerie; they can't sleep unless they hear traffic on the roads outside. That, to them, is comforting and home. So it's just a different sort of normal.

    And I know this is going to sound horrible and backwards, but I think that it should be someone's job to MAKE home into a place of rest for those who live there, regardless of where it is. It doesn't have to be the matriarch of the family, but it often is. Someone in the home should be able to take the needs of the family into account and make the place into somewhere everyone can come to get away from the world. From decor to cooking to cleanliness to how the place smells to where you eat your dinner, it should be a place everyone feels comfortable, and if the person who's taken charge of that isn't taking you into account, they're doing a terrible job.

  12. I agree with you. Someone needs to make people comfortable in the home. In India it's my understanding this is the job of the women in the household. In the US it would typically be the head of the household, even if that is both a husband and wife (or mom and dad).

    I think a lot of my issues in India revolved around my in-laws not knowing about the problems I was having. Hubby didn't want to tell them I was unhappy because they were doing a lot to make me happy (he perceived) and was worried about telling them of the issues I was having. He wasn't able to fix it all by himself though. I know some things he tried to tell them and he didn't convey the message well and then nothing ever got done. Communication issues were the root cause of my ongoing frustration over these issues.

    In my homes in the US I have always been the one to make people comfortable. Even in my mother's home I was trying to help make her comfortable. I wouldn't want anyone to feel unrest in their own home. It's very difficult to live when you're not at peace.

  13. Yes, joint families are still the predominant way of life in India. Unless you are upper middle to upper class and urban, this is the way it is. I have spent extensive amount of time in Rajasthan, in both larger cities and villages, and the joint family predominates. Living in Delhi, there are more nuclear families to be sure, but there are still quite a number of joint families. I worked with an NRI woman, and she lived with her husband, his parents, his two brothers, both of their wives, and the child of one of them. Nine people, all living in the same building (2 connected apartments), in Delhi.

  14. I see it in upper class families in Amritsar. One of my closest friends there was from the UK living with her NRI husband, his parents and brother. They owned multiple properties but still all lived in one house.