Sunday, July 28, 2013

"My daughter can marry a Western man; but my son can't marry a Western woman"

I was recently in an Indian restaurant, when I overheard two elder Indian ladies talking (my favorite thing to do is eavesdrop!):

Elder aunty #1 was saying that she had a Western son-in-law who was a great husband to her daughter, always helping her out in the kitchen. Elder aunty #2 said her friend had a Western daughter-in-law and was having an awful time because she when she would visit, there would be no respect to her and was horrified that her precious son had to help wash the dishes (god forbid, how awful!). Both the elder aunty's then agreed that if any of their children HAD to marry a foreigner, they would prefer them to marry a Western man, instead of a Western woman.

I found this to be very interesting. Normally, conservative Indians are gung-ho (or should I say "jai ho"!) about "no foreigners allowed whatsoever in our Indians-only family", but it seems the trends are changing. More and more there is a presence of Whindian couples and in recent years, and I have noticed a huge surge. Indians are still leaving India to go abroad, but it seems that they are getting ballsier about their choice for a spouse - even if it is an intercultural relationship. Sometimes elders have no choice but to accept it, for fear of losing their children altogether. And that includes adopting more modern attitudes about marriage and parenting.

So, what are the conservative Indian elders favoring now? A Western son-in-law instead of a Western daughter-in-law!!! Mind you, this is not the first time I have heard about this particular viewpoint. This is the FOURTH time!!! If it happens twice, it could be a coincidence, but if it happens more than 3 times, there is probably a trend emerging...

In Indian families, the son is favored, as they will be the ones responsible to financially provide for the family. In very conservative families, the son can basically do whatever he wants. The son's only responsibility is to study and get a good job so that he can financially support the family. He is not expected to cook or do any housework of any kind. And when a son-in-law joins the family, he is treated the same way. He can ask for anything - of any monetary value (iPad, iPhone, gold) and the inlaws will feel ashamed to say no. In terms of parenting, a conservative Indian father will only be expected to either play with, or discipline the child, maybe help with homework occasionally, and never be required to participate in the baby care such as diaper changes, bath, etc. But THAT was in the elder aunty's generation. Now, there are tons of modern Indian men who take an active role in co-parenting and equal partnership.

It is interesting that these elder aunty's are pleased by a Western son-in-law. After all, many Western sons of my generation are raised to not only be the provider, but to help out around the house, be very affectionate to their wife, and play an active role as a co-parent (and even baby-wearing!). One time when we went to the Superstore, my back was hurting so husband-ji offered to carry our baby in the baby carrier. An elder Indian aunty walked by us and whispered, "Look at this good Indian boy, his gori (white) wife is making him carry the baby and she only is walking around carrying nothing!  How awful!" But I think if the tables were turned - if I was the Indian, and my husband was the Gora - they would praise him for helping out with the baby.

(My husband carrying the baby AND the stroller while I shop! Thanks hubby! I really appreciate it!!!)

In Western families, co-parenting was present in my parents' generation, but not in my grandparents' generation in 1940's North America. In my generation, I would say 3/4 of our Western friend-couples (2nd generation Canadians and longer) participate in equal partnership. Our prenatal classes and hospital tours were filled with engaging soon-to-be fathers; and it is customary for men to be present for childbirth. So these elder aunty's are probably basing their opinions on what they witnessed of men in their generation ONLY.

(My dad played a very active role as a co-parent - this is typical in many Western families)

For many traditional Indians, expecting an Indian son (or son-in-law) to help out around the house is considered to be offensive and outrageous. Thus is the inequality in many conservative Indian families...sons are favored over daughters.

These beliefs that I have mentioned are present in very conservative traditional Indian families, mostly from my husband's parents generation - the elder aunty's generation. My MIL said that she noticed trends started changing in India when women started working and getting good jobs, and breaking away from living as joint families. But even today, in many modern families, sons are still favored over daughters. I myself, have noticed trends changing in our generation - as we and many of our Indian cousins participate in the concept of equal co-parenting. I would say that about half of our (Indian) generation would still favour sons over daughters, but many would be absolutely thrilled to have a daughter.

A while ago, my friend in Philadelphia, came across the same thing. She was talking to an elder Indian lady about how her friend (me!) had married an Indian. The elder aunty asked if her friend was a boy or a girl. When she said I was a girl (and that I married an Indian boy), the lady shook her head. "Poor girl," she said. "I would never allow my son to marry a foreign wife. But I would be ok with my daughter marrying a foreign husband."

Every couple, whether it is Indian or Western is different. In the end, it depends more on personality, although there are many cultural influences.

Very interesting! What about you, dear readers? Have you come across this particular viewpoint in your communities?



  1. I so wish all these Indian aunties were in my family. I dont want to say I wish they were my mother. My mom is the best and I dont want to think about replacing her even in the dream.

    On a more serious note, it all depends on who you ask. I totally agree with your argument, about Indian mom's complaints of western DIL not taking good care of their sons.I think in this day there is lot less expectation from Indian DIL than a western DIL. For some reason It feels like these MIL's expect Western DIL's to follow old traditions. The traditions probably my mom did not even follow. The other reason being Indian attitudes are really diverse.I don't know if I can explain it to you effectively but let me try. According to Indian culture daughter is no longer a part of the family after marriage, and DIL becomes a part of the family after marriage. DIL is coming into your house so she needs to follow the rules, traditions, customs of the family. It only makes sense that DIL work in co-operation with all other women in the house to keep peace in the joint family. More than anything I think its a way to preserve the family structure. So everyone in the family can peacefully coexist. That is the reason why MIL think that DIL's should follow family traditions. I dont say its right thing to do, but it is what it is for generations. Now in the modern days with nuclear families these traditions have decreased but did not vanish.
    I think Indian mom's take this to whole another level if its western DIL. Probably because they feel they are sacrificing for their son.

    I think in India today (Indian american household) co-parenting and sharing house work is very common. Western DIL's if your MIL makes a big deal of it just remember its nothing personal, she still might not be at terms with you relation.

    Indian parents dream about their child's marriage since the day they are born. Their whole life is dedicated to their kids education and getting a perfect bride/ groom. So, when their kids go to them with a request to marry someone they love, their whole world collapses. It takes patience on your part because you are not dealing with your hubby's parents but with a person whose dreams came crushing down because of you. I think its like the western bride (bridezilla) who doesn't get what she wants on her wedding day. It's momzilla/dadzilla.

    Good luck people.

    PS- I am an Indian girl in a relationship with western guy. No, my mom is not one of those aunties.:(. you can check my blog here to know the struggles of an Indian daughter

    1. Hi R,
      You have a wonderful blog, "Vaisudhaiva Kutumbakam" - are you Tamil?
      Thanks so much for adding to this discussion. I really appreciate your detailed response, especially from an Indian girl's perspective. I have also noticed that seems that Western DIL's have to totally overcompensate sometimes and are thrust upon these old traditions that even Indian girls don't have to do. Maybe it's just the Indian MIL's get super-conservative, "Our family might lose our culture" sort of thing. After we got married one of our Indian relatives said to me, "Now that you're a Tamil wife, you have to do pooja every morning at 5am wearing a 9 yard saree"...even though none of our Indian girl cousins have to do any of that. Sometimes it seems that just the adjustment of having a Western DIL makes the Indian MIL go backwardly conservative in their traditions. Like they're trying to hold on to it or something. I think it's hard on any girl (Indian or foreign) to be in an Indian family dynasty.
      Totally can relate 100% about what you said about love marriage, and the expectations and dreams that Indian parents have for their children. It can be very rigid and unrealistic.
      Thanks for adding to this conversation and your perspective is very valuable to me.
      Good Luck with your BF and just follow your heart!

  2. Hi Alexandra,
    Thank you for your kind words.I hope you understand I am not yet comfortable revealing which south Indian state I am from. My parents and brother are the only people that know about my relationship with D.I dont want my extended family to know this via internet (even though its a very little probability). So, I just want to remain anonymous for now.

    You are absolutely correct with the Indian MIL's becoming super conservative. My mom does that a lot to me.Since the start of our relation she is becoming super traditional.She thinks she has given me too much freedom and so the overcompensation.

  3. I am a white Aussie with an Indian partner from north India. We are not married but we live together and we have a baby girl on the way. I alwaysalways wanted a girl as I have 2 sisters and loved it and wanted girls too. I don't want to have to do 'male activities' like kick a football around the backyard etc but maybe that is a bit selfish of me? My partner wanted a baby boy though so I think he was a bit disappointed although he is still very happy to be having a child. We are not married as I am not interested in having a big ceremony or walking down the isle with everyone staring at me. I get social anxiety and would find this quite stressful.

    1. CONGRATS!!!! So exciting! Being a mum is the most amazing thing ever :)
      Yes, weddings can be extremely stressful - so many people! Better to be low-key.

  4. Also my Indian partner lives with my family. My mum, me, and my sister our two cats and a dog. I am pleased he is adjusting to Western culture. Although some elements of his conservative Indian upbringing come out. He expects never to be told 'no' to anything. He expects to get everything he asks for, etc.

    1. That's really sweet :) Culture comes up in interesting ways.

  5. Indian-American woman here marrying a White-Hispanic American man. My family is a liberal Indian and open to it. I have heard of this mentality where aunties are ok with Indian women marrying foreigners but not sons marrying foreigners. The reason is also because Indian women also have the responsibility of raising the children in the Indian culture and ways. Notice how Indian women wear sarees and Indian clothing but Indian men don't always. The aunties were ok with a foreign son-in-law because they think at least the Indian wife will raise the children and keep the culture going. If it was a Western wife marrying an Indian man, they think that the entire family will be westernized and the culture will be lost. Indian elders also perceive Western women to lack culture and being good wives and mothers. This is not true at all. That could be why. I wish people would change their ways.

    As a liberal Indian who grew up abroad, I like to embrace all cultures and learn the best from both worlds - Eastern and Western. I'm also marrying an American single father. He's been divorced once. And I had boyfriends in the past. So I get judged by traditionalists. I get comments about being a stepmom and questions about my finances past marriage and my stepsons mother. Indians love to gossip and push their views on others.

    More and more indians are coparenting. India is changing. My extended family has accepted my ways and my man since they tend to be liberal. I'm also glad that there are liberal Indians. I could not marry a conservative indian.

  6. I love my fiance 💍 very much. She is west Indian. I pamper and support her in everyway. I made a valeant attempt to do right by her family as well. Her father who has been married 5 times. Left his children. Is broke and owes family members money. Has turned awful on me, verbally attacking me, calling my phone and trying to intimidate me, acting as if he owns his daughter, even though he has banished both his sons from his latest family. He and many of his new family members guilt trip my fiancé and tell her she needs to leave me and take care of her father. I love my fiance and live in a completely different city from her, buy we still both love each other very much and plan to start a life. My unfortunate word of advice is for those who have not been familiarised with Indian culture. Men own their wives, daughters. In their own minds. They will almost do anything to ensure they are being served by the women around them. The honest truth is, these Indian men will lose their women, because the rest of us real men have evolved and ask nothin of our fiances/wives. We want to see them happy and we make no demands if them, unless it is unavoidable. We share the cooking, the cleaning, the working, the respect l, the everything. We are equals.

  7. The Indian double standards strike again. These aunties are a classic examples of such mindset. They want all the freedom for their daughters, when they marry a man and become someone's DILs. A western man offers them this freedom, as he and his family has little to no demands from the daughter and her family. The husband and the DIL live separately. There is no bugging into their private business by the in-laws. The husband helps her in babysitting, doing chores. Now imagine the other way round. A western woman will deny to cook food daily for the family, let alone live with the in-laws. She will ask for all the freedom of going out of town on her own, having girls night outs etc. These practices are not accepted by Indian mindset, hence Indian family will feel that their DIL is behaving really badly, which in fact is not true. This is the real reason behind such behaviour.


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