Many moons ago, I tried to convince my husband (in a conversation on Whatsapp) that we needed to live with his family, when I returned to India. Finances were tight, we needed more clients and we weren’t getting them, and as much discomfort as it caused me to follow certain traditions and formalities, it was less lonely than living in Delhi. I was looking forward to more than one set of hands, helping me with Baby N, to say the least. Nonetheless, he wasn’t thrilled about it – even if I felt it was the best option for us.
He changed his mind again and again, until a few months before I returned to India. When it was set in stone, his family began construction on a first floor – an apartment – in which we would live. We would still share community chores and responsibilities, we would still eat dinner together… But at least we would have our own space.
Fast forward to now. Our apartment on the first floor is nearly finished. Life here has been challenging – and that’s okay. I knew it would be. I still believe it’s the best thing for us, however, I want to share some of my challenges with you, as well as some things I appreciate about living with my husband’s family.
My Challenges (So Far)
The first few days were an adjustment period, and we were treated like guests. After that, my mother-in-law wasn’t shy to lay down her expectations of me. I was expected to wake up early (waking up later than 7 AM initially caused some unnecessary tension). I was expected to clean our room – meaning sweep and “wipe” the floor (pounchha in Hindi). I was expected to take a bath as soon as the bathroom and a bucket were free, and wash my clothes and the baby’s clothes as well – you may remember that we wash clothes by hand. When I am not doing these or taking care of the baby, it’s a clear sign that I am free to help in the kitchen. Even then, if the baby is not eating or sleeping, and someone else is free to take care of her – that means I am free to help out.Don’t get me wrong, this routine isn’t too far from my former routine in Delhi. However, in my own space, I am not criticized for sleeping in with the baby after a long night of no sleep, for example.
And to ease your mind, DN and I have come to an understanding about meeting my needs as a mother and an earning member of our family. I now sleep until about 8 AM, and though I do most of the other work just the same, I am not expected to spend my free time in the kitchen. I do help, and I love helping, when I can.
When family or a guest comes, it’s up to me or the eldest bahu (daughter-in-law) to make chai, welcome them, and eagerly entertain them. Not that I mind, I love guests, but it can also be rather exhausting.
You may remember my Ghoonghat Chronicles post? As time passed, I really started to hate having to cover my face in front of my husband’s elder male relatives. Covering my head was something I was willing to do, but over time, covering my face made me resentful and bitter. It made me feel even more isolated. And how could I treat his family like my own, if I had to hide my face? When I came back to India, I intended not to cover my head at all. (Supposedly this was my choice to begin with.) However, DN’s mother put the fear in me, and I decided to only cover my head, not my face. Maybe one day I won’t be covering my head.
- Criticism (Hindi)
Though I can read, understand, and speak more Hindi now than I ever could, I am still treated like I don’t know Hindi at all, when I don’t know what someone is saying. There are plenty of words I still don’t know, so it’s irritating to hear on a daily basis. I do study every day (Memrise app is fantastic).
- Language Barrier
Because there is so much Hindi I still don’t know, I am left out of the loop (especially with unwilling translators and my husband’s special ability to tune me out) during family conversations, which can make any occasion an especially isolating one.
Though intentions may not be malicious, I am laughed at and talked about, when I don’t know how to do something (like wrap a saree) or won’t do (like using a sickle to slice leafy vegetables, or smash my wet laundry against the floor while washing clothes). I’m sure I appear quite stupid sometimes, but I am out of my element. There are plenty of things I can do.
- No One Cares About My Culture
I know I married an Indian and decided to live in his joint-family home, but no one seems to appreciate how I do things (other than my husband), and no one seems to even care about how things are done in my culture. That one time my sister-in-law asked me about American marriage culture was sort of a first and last. I would love to share more about my culture and beliefs.
Things I Appreciate About Living in a Joint Family
- Baby N Gets Lots of Love
Baby N has lots of playtime with her grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. Everyone is eager to play with her and come visit her. She eats with us (usually baby cereal – sometimes a carrot or apple wedge) as she is already of the age that she is observant of (and hungry for) our food. We are experimenting with Baby-Led Weaning.
Because Baby N is often entertained, I can get a lot more done than I could in the early months of motherhood. Not to mention she is learning Hindi, English, and Bundelkhandi.
I am challenged to learn Hindi, I get to hear it all the time, and practice speaking it with the children.
- Large Family Setting
I do enjoy a large family setting, even if it is in small doses at a time. Sharing a meal with a big family, talking, laughing and sharing stories – that’s important to me. Helping each other get things done is another great benefit, and if you have a problem, everyone is there to help you figure it out.
My list may be a bit unbalanced at the moment, but it doesn’t mean I am completely suffering over here. I certainly appreciate all that my husband’s family has done for us. Good things happen every day, and most happy experiences vary day by day.
I hope to get back into recording videos, one of the first being an average day in my life (joint-family edition).
Featured Image was found using Pixabay, and will be replaced with a picture from our home soon.
Until next time, be well.