As a married woman, ever been caught in the dilemma of splitting vacation time between your parents and in your in-laws? You are not alone…
My shopping is almost done. The packing remains. Around me, are packets of assorted chocolates, fluffy throws, tea towels and some very British tea.
I am going to India. We moved to the UK a little more than two years ago – my husband decided to take up a new profile at Reading, a city that is teeming with IT professionals like him. This will be my first trip back home but without my husband.
And as I shared the news with my friends, there was something that they wanted to know. Would I be staying with my mother-in-law or my mother? Would I be splitting vacation time between the two households?
I wasn’t offended by the questions at all. In fact, on the two Facebook groups for Indian women (abroad) that I am a part of, this comes up as a point of discussion every other week. It is often posted as a plea for help or suggestions by one of the members, and within minutes, the answers, or rather the sharing of experiences, pour in – sometimes, there are almost over a hundred comments!
Women turn to other women to seek help, or to vent. And this remains a problem or a point of contention – whom do you stay with when you are visiting or vacationing back home? It is a problem that even those who are in India face; that is couples who live and work outside of their hometowns. It is understood or rather expected out of the women that they should live with their in-laws while on a holiday, and visit their parents for a couple of days. Of course, that is not the norm, but from the debates and discussions, it is obvious that it something that the women have to do.
Let me answer the question myself to begin with. I am going to stay with my mother. She is 75, blind and lives by herself. That is, with the help of two maids. We lost my dad a couple of years ago and I have no siblings. I will be honest when I say that I am going to India so that I can spend time with her, help her with errands, take her for a comprehensive medical check-up if the need be.
I am going to be living with her for most of the time I am there. Of course, I will spend a couple of days with my in-laws as well. They live about 20 minutes away and I am looking forward to taking them out for dinners as well as helping my sister-in-law with her weekend café. I want to see them as well, but the fact remains that I miss my mother and she needs me.
Like all relationships, my relationship with my in-laws is a work in progress. And I have to say that, whatever the reservations my mother-in-law may have about the way I spend my time in India, she has not brought that up. As with this trip and with many others in the past (when we were in India), she has been graceful about the fact that I spent my vacations with my mother.
But what if it was an issue? How would have I dealt with it? And why does it have to be a good or a bad thing that a married woman would want to spend time with her side of the family?
None of us should be made to feel guilty about wanting to spend time with our parents. And this applies to all of us, irrespective of gender. However, in the Indian set-up, and traditionally so, the married woman is placed in a very difficult situation. Her desire to spend time with her family is seen as something negative as opposed to something that is completely natural!
As one of my friends put it so succinctly: “My trips to India are fraught with stress and fights. Even after dividing those three weeks equally between my parents-in-law and my parents, I am made to feel guilty. I am called back at my in-laws for dinners at the pretext of some guest coming over and in doing so, I have to constantly shuttle back and forth between the two homes.” She adds, “The husband gets to stay with his parents and a day or two spent at the in-laws is all that is expected out of him, and in fact, he can skip staying over for dinners and lunches!”
Again, as one query on the women’s group read: “Can you pour in your suggestions about how can I spend time with my parents? I don’t want to disappoint my in-laws but when I go to Pune, I want to catch up with my cousins, as well as spend a few care-free days with my family. My in-laws don’t like (sic)”
Sometimes, the husband may also be in an awkward position. Not discounting that at all. He may have to face on one hand, his parents who may be irate and angry at the prospect of their bahu not staying with them, and on the other hand, his wife, who clearly wants her time with her parents.
What does one do? Sometimes, you take the middle path. And that may be mean different things for different couples. But the husband’s understanding and support makes a lot of difference. He has the means to convey, sometimes in private, what it means for the woman in his life to be able to take a vacation with her side of the family and friends. It is not easy, but doable. Of course, a daughter-in-law can make her choices be known without having the husband to act as a mediator or the go-between.
In the end, it is about workable solutions. It is about recognising the fact that all of us need time with our family and friends that is unfettered by guilt or stress. The need of the hour is to have the great, Indian family accept and celebrate the needs of the daughter-in-law with grace and goodwill.
As for me? I am looking forward to doing a variety of things with both sets of families and hoping that I accumulate good times and not guilt.
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