Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Indian Family Reward System

I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone else think of things this way but if you pay close attention to the Indian family system, it relies heavily off of rewards. Some look at this as bribery and sometimes I'm sure it borders on it. Others see it as emotional blackmail and yes, I know there's a lot of that going on too but there's a big part of this system that is missed when it's labeled those ways.

An Indian mother devotes her time, energy and resources to her children.
An Indian father devotes his work life to making a good life for his children.
--Both in the idea that the kids will make a good life for themselves and then take care of the parents.

An Indian child does what their parents tell them to do so that their parents will keep paying for college, things they want, giving them allowance, etc. All rewards in themselves.

When a wedding comes, everyone does their part because they know that when their turn comes, the same will be done for them.

Indian children allow arranged marriages to make their parents happy and in return expect a peaceful married life where they will eventually be in control of the home.

Indian women accept being the lowest member of the house upon marriage because their in-laws will in turn take care of them. Supposedly the more they bow in agreement to this, the better they are treated. (I'm not addressing whether that's true or not.)

Indian wives cook what their husband wants or likes in order to gain favor from him. A lot of what an Indian wife does is aimed at gaining favor in the home. This includes the annual fasts they partake in for the hopes of receiving gifts. (While some of the religions of India don't indicate gifts are given after this fast, it still happens and depends on each family.)

Yes, there are relationships that go along with these activities and I'm not discrediting those. These actions are a combination of the emotions and the rewards they expect to receive. Sometimes the family members expect gifts, sometimes it's a job (they help you get into a job and then you in turn recommend them to work in the company as well, etc.) other times it's favors. They help you with something, you help them next time.

I've seen this thing quite a bit. If you try to tell them you can't help with something they inevitably bring up how they helped you. So the system works and functions off the promise of return. Everyone helps everyone else so they can receive help in their time of need. It's a complex rewards system of sorts.

Of course there's always the exception to the rule. Occasionally some families don't engage in certain gift giving or reward aspects. Some people can't let go of their reigns and pass them down as expected. Others let go too early. Each family is unique but there is almost always some semblance of the reward system.

While I didn't actively seek them (because I wasn't raised with this understanding), I did receive several rewards. The best ones being intangible (non-material). 

Do/Did you receive any type of rewards for your behavior and deeds in your relationship?
Do you see this same system in other pardesi/desi mixed relations?
Do you think this system works well or needs improvement?
Where do you think the problems lie in this relationship?


  1. This is what is often called "transactional relationship." Some will say all relationships are like this: I give you this, you are obligated to give me that -- at least at some level.

    A lot of western culture says this relationship is inferior to a love relationship - where people give without expecting anything in return.

    But do we not all get tired of giving and giving with never getting anything in return? There has to be a certain amount of transactionality to any relationship, of what we might call give and take.

    It is interesting to me how Indian culture is high context and yet the transactionality of many relationships, including family, is quite overt, while in the seemingly low context American culture, we hide the fact that our relationships are at some level transactional.

  2. Very well stated. There does have to be give and take in any relationship. I'm sure you've heard the saying about marriage being 50/50 and I think that's the closest Americans come to admitting that both parties have to do for each other. Of course there are too many relationships where one person does all the work to maintain it and they never work out. This comes from stubborn "I'm the man" or overly feminist type attitudes.

    I definitely don't agree with the western concept of give and take being inferior to love. There is a serious advantage to having both parties give willingly to each other. The giving shows love and that's something a lot of westerner's don't seem to understand.

  3. I vaguely remember studying something about this in a philosophy class, how doing things out of desire is seen as a higher sort of concept than doing things out of obligation, but I am forgetting who said that, and of course, there are other philosophers who would disagree...