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Nuclear Family Vs. Joint Family

POSTED: June 22, 2011

IHM wrote a very interesting blog post on Nuclear family Vs. Joint family and the discussion in the comments section was even more interesting. Let me give you four examples from my office

Example 1: My own…I live with RD and R in Mumbai. In-laws are in Calcutta. Parents are in Goa. Both set of parents visit us whenever we need (for eg. R’s daycare closes for 15 days in May every year and either one of the set of parents are here for that time). We visit them once an year – both sets. Otherwise it’s just us and R is taken care of in a daycare without any grandparents around.

MIL and I have our disagreements (especially on the way R is being brought up) but all in all, we share a pretty decent relationship with her accomodating my faults and me accomodating her faults. We adjust, but both of us don’t interfere in each other’s matters. MIL helps me out completely in the housework including taking charge of the kitchen completely and I am totally fine with it. I help her out whenever she asks and whatever she asks me to do.

In-laws are very clear that they don’t want to shift with us and we are okie with that.

Example 2: N – She just got married a year ago. She lives with her in-laws, husband’s elder brother, wife and their 6 year old kid in a one bedroom flat. N and her husband sleep in the bedroom, the brother,wife and child sleep in the kitchen and the in-laws in the drawing room. N has tried to move the brother, wife and child to the bedroom, but they refuse. N works while her co-sister doesn’t. So N ends up doing most of the work on weekends because her co-sister claims that she ‘runs’ away to office everyday. N doesn’t have a choice but to do the work because even the MIL feels the same. On weekdays, N makes the subji for the entire family and chapatis for herself and her husband while the rest of the food is cooked by the co-sister and MIL. In the evenings, N has to go back and help the women to with the housework

So, in this case, who is right and who is wrong? Should N  be given all the housework on weekends?

Example 3:  P lives with her in laws, husband and 3 year old child. She gets up at 5 in the morning, makes roti and subji for the WHOLE family and then comes to work. The in-laws take care of the child and the child is really, really attached to her grandparents. Sometimes, P doesn’t agree with the way the grandparents are bringing up the child, but she doesn’t  have a say because she is out of the house about 10 hours and they are looking after the child. P’s MIL also helps in the cooking by setting rice etc, but P has to go home and again make rotis etc for the dinner and her husband comes in late and they don’t sleep before 12.

Now, if P doesn’t agree with the way the in laws are bringing up her child, does she have a say in it? IF she disagrees, she fears that they may leave her and the child and go somewhere and then she will need to leave her job.

Example 4: K spent the first year of her marriage with her husband in Mumbai while the in-laws were elsewhere. MIL developed a complication in the eye early this year and then K got pregnant. K is about 5 months pregnant now and has no help whatsoever from the in-laws. She gets up to cook food for all four family members (which includes roti, subji, dal, rice, salad) and then goes back home to do the same. She had a slight complication in her pregnancy in the 2nd month and hence got a cook. However, in-laws don’t like the cook’s food and they make her do all the masala etc for the food. Her MIL has got back about 50% of her sight but refuses to even keep her glass back in the kitchen. K doesn’t expect any help from MIL but the ordering around and the expectations from her is getting on to her nerves.

K wants her in-laws to go back but they are refusing and K’s husband doesn’t want to send them back. K is frustrated and I am praying to God it doesn’t affect her baby too  much. K feels that living with her in laws is the most difficult thing on earth and is ready to leave her baby with her mom in another city to avoid her in-laws’ interaction with her baby.

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Four different situations that make you think, which one is better? A nuclear family or joint family? Of course there is no politically correct answer to this. I guess it differs from individual to individual and from family to family.

There are two things that come to my mind:

1. I think the idea of parents in the same city but living separately makes a lot of sense to me. While you don’t dump your children on your parents,  you know you have someone to turn to in case of an emergency. Your parents get to enjoy their retirement, you get your privacy and both the parties know that there is someone out there to take care of each other when you really need them.

2. Don’t expect. Nothing from your children and nothing from your parents. Your children should not be burdened to think that they HAVE to take care of you. As long as they are around in case of emergencies, don’t say that I want you to take me to the loo or I want you to make rasam for me.

And from your parents – don’t expect them to take care of your children. They did their share by bringing you up, and then to expect them to take care of your children isn’t right. You don’t have children to dump them on your parents. You have children because YOU want them. They have every right to enjoy their life after retirement and of course, if their enjoyment means readily taking care of their grandchildren, then so be it. Don’t force and don’t expect.

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7 Comments


  1. I think the biggest problem is the sense of entitlement, I once heard a mother in law speak with longing of somebody’s daughter in law who placed her cupped hand under the chin of her mother in law when she vomited. She clearly expected to be taken care of the same way. It didn’t happen, she was cared for by her daughter.

    It seems the more challenging the daughters in law make their tasks, the more you give up of your own life, the better you are seen as a daughter in law.

  2. I have a comment that I hope to respond to today. The comment is about how modern joint families treat women much better.

  3. While all the incidents sited in this post might well be true, I find it hard to believe that there is not even one example to show the joint family situation in a positive light-am I just naive?

  4. Hip Grandma

    Interesting examples. In my opinion it is the amount of willingness to compromoise that made a joint family sysyem acceptable till a generation ago. My son/daughter may not have a problem with my moving in with them. But they would expect me to adjust. Earlier it was the older generation that laid the rules and youngsters abided by them or adjusted to the prevailing conditions. It is quite the other way round these days. It depends on an individual as to how much adjustment they can take. I may not have problems on 5 out of 10 conditions and I may adjust with 3 more. But there are bound to be a couple of sore points where I find it very difficult to adjust. The same would be true for my own children. I am not even talking of daughters and sons in law. When the presence of one’s inlaws for health reasons or assistance provided by them in child care becomes indispensable the best thing to do would be to grin and bear it feeling glad that one’s hectic schedule leaves little time for confrontation or interaction.

  5. Pingback: The Rise Of Helicopter Grandparents | Women's Web: Online Community For Indian Women

  6. Pingback: Do you have any double standards?

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Rs Mom

Rs Mom

R’s Mom is a working mother in Mumbai trying to balance work, home and baby. Learning the ropes of new motherhood and wanting to spend more time with baby. Running to catch up with Mumbai’s fast life and wanting to slow down to catch up with life and stand and stare.
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