How many of you are accustomed to the joint family system in India? The new generation will hardly identify with it. Every coin has two sides and so does the joint family way of living, especially when it comes to raising children in the presence of grandparents. Sangeetha tries to make sense of it all and shares parenting tips to manage indulgent grandparents with effective boundaries.
When couples debate about the choice to live in joint families, the strongest "for" argument is - "Hey, it will help when we have kids!"
And that's how Indian families have functioned for generations. Wives grit and manage their careers along with the even more challenging arena of domestic politics involving other saas and bahus; husbands get home from work and clog their ears with cotton buds to stay sane from the naggings of the important women in their lives; parents wonder if their children could have picked better partners.
With the evolution of the modern Indian couple who are more inclined towards personal space and the desire to live by their own rules without interferences, the dynamics have changed. The "Hum Saath Saath Hain" model has declined significantly. The joint family concept has also been adapted to retain a balance between couples living apart from extended family and yet, enjoying the benefits of support in child-raising by living in the same colony or locality.
Struggles of a Modern Couple
My story is an interesting one. We had our daughter and raised her in a different country. Decisions regarding her well-being were mostly made by me, after all the googling, talking to umpteen people and then listening to my mostly-right-all-the-time gut. It was hard for us as a couple, because we stopped being able to do a lot of fun stuff like going out for drinks and dinner over the weekend or planning spontaneous weekend trips. Our lives got more segregated as only one of us could go out with our friends so the other stayed home. The truth was that there wasn't anyone we could trust for too long to supervise her and the safe options were too expensive. Of course, most of this was related to my own paranoia and trust-issues, but that's a different story.
Grandparents vs Parents
Then a couple of months ago, the universe threw a curveball at us. We moved back to India and are now living with my parents, till we sort our chaotic careers, finances and other thingamajigs out. So now we have several extra hands - my parents, my sister, domestic help. There is the luxury of going to the cinema for a midnight show or out for a fancy dinner. It has been a tremendous relief to be able to offload our child with family. "Yes," I thought, "This is why people go for this joint-family stuff. Makes so much sense!"
But everything comes with a price. Getting more hands on board means losing control. Although my parents brandished rulers and steel spatulas to whack us with when we were little, as grandparents they are completely different. Akin to putting everything in my kids’ fist. It didn't take her long to figure this out and milk it for all its worth. There are more glares, tantrums and a new reflexive behavior of turning deaf to my words.
No, this is not cool. I quickly needed some parenting tips on how to set this right.
So here's the deal, I'm super grateful to them. Grandparents contribute to invaluable experiences and it's wonderful that my daughter is benefiting from their time, wisdom and love. Until now we had always come down to India for vacations so their leniencies and indulgences were not significant.
But the story is very much different now. She is going to be seeing them a lot more and mollycoddling grandparents can often do a lot of damage to one's parenting efforts. I'm realizing the importance of setting boundaries and respectfully telling them - "Hey, I love you guys, but please - Stick to the program!"
For anyone else going through a similar situation, here's a bunch of parenting tips I've compiled:
- Identify core values that you're particular about and communicate that to your family. Whether it's nurturing a love for nature and animals or being respectful to the domestic help, make sure they know, so everyone is aligned.
- Kids will run to the softest person for comfort (in my case- my dad!). They're smart and little manipulative geniuses that way. You must train softie the hardest!
- Let the little things slide. If grandma gives the little one too many gulab jamuns at night and it's a one-off thing, it's fine. Making a big deal out of everything can also undermine their own capacities and make them feel crappy.
- Safety comes first - always. Often, we'll hear our parents saying, "We didn't do all this when you guys were little and you guys turned out okay." They could have a point but you know your child best. Whether you want to be a control freak about using car seats or carrying boiled water everywhere, do it and make them do it.
- Adopt a two-way approach by listening to your parents and seeing what you can learn and apply from their experiences. Their fair share of mistakes can be your asset. Personally, I have learnt quite a bit from watching my mother interact with my daughter. She has offered me useful insights about her personality and it's surprising that I never realized them before.
The key to managing this complicated problem is realizing two truths. Firstly, grandparents are doing us a massive favor by helping us out. Irrespective of the traditional Indian mindset, it is neither their duty nor obligation to do so. Secondly, helping us does not give them the power to override our authority. Mutual respect is essential, whether in agreement or not.
This is a personal narrative by Sangeetha Bhaskaran.
Do you identify with Sangeetha’s thoughts? How do you manage living with the family? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!