I grew up in a nuclear family set-up with my parents and my sister, as did most of my friends. Living in Mumbai, this was the only family set-up we knew. In modern India, especially in urban cities, joint families are as good as extinct. The only exposure I had to a joint family was the over-the-top portrayal in Hindi cinema – the rose tinted view of large families living in grandiose havelis, women perpetually dressed up in sarees and family jewels, men doing business together, children running about and playing together and everyone getting along splendidly, so much so that they would often break into song and dance together.
Getting married into a joint family, I was faced with the reality of living in this set-up, that as wonderful it is to have a large family, there are innate complexities involved as well. It requires adjustment and compromise to maintain a fond relationship with every member of the family.
As I soon as I had adjusted to living with my husband’s family, it was time for me to embrace motherhood. And raising a child in a joint family, especially in modern India, comes with it own pros and cons.
What I love about raising my child in a joint family:
They say it takes a village to raise a child. The biggest advantage has been having a strong support system around, both in terms of having ready and eager babysitters, as well as getting emotional support when the going gets tough. When my son got high fever in the middle of the night, when the house help doesn’t turn up on the day I have to rush for an important meeting, I know I have trustworthy support to reply on.
Bond with Relatives
It is heartening to see my son forge close ties with his grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles. He has a unique special relationship with each of them. He is probably closer to his grandparents than I was to mine and this is a bond that I am sure he will cherish for life.
Impact on Social Intelligence
Having so many family members around of all ages has had a positive impact on my child’s social skills. Very early on he learnt the importance of sharing and respect for elders. He has always been social and is not uncomfortable in new surroundings or among large gatherings
Cousins are First Friends
They say cousins are our first playmates and friends for life. Though my son is still the first of the children in his generation, I look forward to him having many cousins around to play with.
Keep the Traditions and Languages Alive
Having elders around has been an enriching experience for my son. He is exposed to and values age-old traditions, something I would not have been able to impart to him. More importantly, I am happy that he is picking up our mother-tongue Sindhi which is sadly a dying language and one I am not speak myself.
However there is always a flip side to every coin.
Balance of Different Schools of Thought and Parenting Ideologies
Having multiple people means multiple ideologies and parenting styles. Sometimes our way of thinking is seen as too modern. Few religious customs we chose not to follow caused tension in the family. It is always a fine balance maintaining relations without hurting someone’s sentiments and yet being able to raise our child the way we want to.
Losing Control Over Discipline
We all know how grandparents pamper their grandchildren. It is beautiful to see my son getting so much love and affection, yet it becomes difficult when I need to lay down the rules. When he is not getting another cookie from me, he knows his tears will work with his grandparents.
I even had to relax my rules on no screen time before 2 years because I could not expect my in-laws to switch off the TV every time my son was around. So how do I deal with this loss of control? Sometimes I just accept that this is going to happen and the pampering it is part of their special bond. But at times my husband and I need to stand our ground, especially when health is concerned. At such times, it is best to openly communicate our concerns and try to get everyone on the same page.
It is all about choosing which battles are worth fighting over and which ones are best to let go.
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