Friday, November 20, 2015

Ask Firangi Bahu: "How do I survive a 12 hour Indian wedding when I'm newly pregnant?"

(Img via Arnold Lee)

Sharing a letter from a reader...

"I invited my Indian in laws and even sent money 6 times (over an 8 month period) for their Canadian visas so that they could attend our wedding last year. They applied once - 6 days before my wedding and got declined. I was devastated, but kept trying to get them here and sent visa money an additional 3 times so I could meet my MIL. 

As this approach was obviously not working I convinced my husband that we should go to India to meet them. I informed my SIL we were coming on our days off for two weeks during our Christmas holidays and was informed that I would not be welcome in the home as I'd be arriving at a inauspicious time. I booked time off work and got my husband to as well (he told me we shouldn't bother with this trip at this point) and booked tickets for next month. 

The first warning that things were not going to be as I had hoped (to meet the family, go to the temple for a prayer/blessing, and have a reception for everyone to celebrate our union in India) was when my SIL started saying things like we booked the hotel, and your dresses have been finalized. I struggled for a month to get any details such as when, where, how should a bride behave, and I got ignored. 

Finally, in the last 48 hours the plan has been exposed and when we arrive, they want to separate me and my husband until after the party. They will pick us up in two separate cars - one car with my MIL and one with my SIL. I am to go with my SIL, and my husband with his mother. The reason for this is that I am not married (even though I am according to the Indian government and the Canadian government). From the airport, I am being dragged off to a hotel over a hour away from my be at a party. I am not okay with any of this!

The next morning, my ceremonies start at 7AM and go to 7AM the next morning. I can't enter the family home until 3:15 AM, as any other time is inauspicious. This is a major concern for me as its 24+ hours of travel, less than a day to recover from culture shock and jet lag, separation from my husband, and a 24 hour period where I have to remain awake and cheerful. The insult being that I am not married - in my Indian family's opinion. The kicker for all of this is that yesterday I found out I was pregnant which can explain my exhaustion and emotionally drained feeling.

Most of the messages my SIL has sent me are downright bullying. I went to the nearest temple to seek advice and the priest was horrified with what they were doing and said for no reason is this treatment necessary. I fear I am about to meet these people and not be able to even like them a little bit even though my husband came from this family.

Any advice how I can get through this with as little risk to my emotional and mental sanity for my husbands sake???"


Dear readers, what would YOU do if you were in her position?
How much should her husband intervene?
How can she get through a stressful and long Indian wedding when she is newly pregnant?
How do you speak up regarding your needs when your Indian family doesn't consult you?
How should she handle a bully SIL?



  1. Hi LW- sorry you are going through this. What is your husband's take on all this? Why are you doing all this visa sending money? What in the world did they do with the money the nine times you sent it to them for their visas? And finally, why are you so worked up over this when it appears your husband is not?

    I'll give you my honest opinion and will apologize in advance for my bluntness.

    I know that you would like to be on good terms with your in laws from the beginning but is a road that goes both ways and you seem to be trying too hard to be accepted and welcomed when apparently there is no effort on their part. Again, what is your husband's take and involvement in all this? He should be the one making the introductions, making sure everybody gets to know you and he is the one, if is needed, to set ground rules with his family especially if they are very traditional and conservative. You are getting too worked up over something that should be his responsibility.

    And as simple as this may sound... if you don't like something or don't agree or want to do something, DON'T! Is not about been difficult and appearing as you don't want to follow Indian customs and traditions but Indians can be very pushy and unforgiving to the point of bullying (like you mentioned your SIL acting). Put a stop to this and don't let it fester and escalate. You don't want to be separated from your husband, DON'T although I will say this is something that he has to discuss and be clear with his family about. Again, what is his take in all this.

    I know that Indians hold to traditions to the point of been impractical and fanatical (so are Latin people - I am Latin) but if you are not going to live with them why do this 3:15am thing if health wise it may not be good for you and your baby. And don't put up with his sister's bullying. Indian SIL are famous for been a pain in the ass when it comes to their brother's wife; not all of them of course. Nip it in the butt from the beginning to avoid resentments and future conflicts.

    You asked how to get through all this for your husband's sake but you should be thinking about YOUR emotional and mental sanity. Again, what is his take and role in all this? Have you talked to him and expressed your thoughts and concerns? Has he given feedback or helped you deal with this? Has he talked and dealt with his family about you not been Indian and that you are not used to all this...

    Millie B

  2. Definitely it is bullying and be prepared for more bullying. Coz in-laws feel ownership and entitlment over their sons & DIL.

    Just make an Ally among the scores of in-laws - some SIL or cousin or younger girl. Make her stick to you. Use gifts to soften them up.

    In your condition, you need less stress. Let others do the running around.

    Even though the program has been arranged/paid, you can limit your participation and take rest in downtime. Rest of the folks and guest can celebrate, enjoy or do the hardwork.
    For example, a large portion will involve sitting down during the rituals or reception.
    All the running around for arrangements will be done by other relatives.
    Culturally - And you dont have to be cheerful all the time. Thats good.
    There will be 100s of ladies meeting you that day. And if you dont smile or chat a lot, nobody will mind. They will blame it on new bridal exhaustion and they will be busy with other relatives.
    Dont worry about that part.

  3. Husband and you spending the 24 hours away should not be an issue. Its like the custom of groom not seeing the bride till the wedding. But if you feel a security risk, then take some step.

    Otherwise too, definitely keep your husband on your side. Keep talking to him.

    And after this visit, limit giving your money away. If you setup this expectation, it will continue and will leak away your resources over the years. I learnt it the hard way.

  4. This sounds like a very frustrating situation, you have my best wishes that things will work out peacefully for you and your husband. I don't know if I have much to add for a practical approach to this, but my observations would be:
    1. It sounds like you have a fairly clear idea of how you wanted your first visit to your in-laws to go. It seems fair to say that most of us want to start out on the right foot with our in-laws and it’s something many people prepare for. As it stands now, it seems unlikely that things will go how you hoped they would. I wonder if making a list of the things which are most important to you -just so that you can be clear and honest with yourself- and then refine that into a list of what you will need to feel rested, enthusiastic and cheerful while meeting his family. Then share that second list with your husband and openly discuss why those things are important to you and allow space for him to question and understand what your needs are.
    2. I wonder how much you and your husband have spoken about your ideal first visit, his perception of what “realistic expectations” might be for that first visit, and what his family’s expectations are. I think you can (and have!) read between the lines about what his family’s expectations are from what you’ve deduced is their plan for your arrival.
    3. I’m generally not a fan of dishonesty, but in this situation it seems entirely reasonable to ask your husband to tell his family that you’ve changed flights and will actually be arriving a later time- so that you can keep your tickets, fly into India, have a day to rest and get slightly acclimated before their planned activities begin. I don’t know, that plan isn’t perfect, but it seems very important to me that you and your husband stand together in facing unreasonable demands.

    Good luck, and congratulations on your pregnancy!

  5. I'm surprised you haven't mentioned your husband's take on this. First of all, he should protect you and be with you all the time...especially in a foreign country and in your first visit to his parents.

    Alexandra, I am always shocked to read that in most stories Indian men don't stand fir their girlfriends or wives. Really sad.

  6. It seems to me you have two options.

    One - cancel the trip. You will be out a ton of money but it doesn't sound like you want to go and do what is planned.

    Two - go and comply. They don't want you for a DIL. Understand that. It is nothing personal. But they don't want you. Over time, you have the chance to change their hearts and minds, but not yet. IMHO the fact they are planning a wedding is a good sign. They are also trying to save face in front of their friends and family by pretending you are not yet married. I don't see the harm in playing along. So, they want you to be like a new DIL. Staying away from your husband for some time, having a party to get ready for the wedding, (I'm pretty sure they mean a Mehandi party or Sangeet with music.) Entering the home at an auspicious time is VERY IMPORTANT in some families (as is the need to enter with your RIGHT FOOT FIRST.) None of this is being done to insult the end of the day it is really not about you as much as it is coping with their son's decision to marry a foreigner.

    The bullying is NOT ok. You need to get your husband to intervene on your behalf with his sister ASAP before she thinks this is how your new relationship will work.

  7. what would YOU do if you were in her position?
    >I would make the husband intervene totally and completely because it is his family and he is a guy. They will listen to him. I will not agree to anything including being apart from the husband because Indian is a huge culture shock. It is noisy and disorienting and he should be with you all times to help you ease into it and he will be your oasis. He has to be around so that people do not bother you.

    How would you react if someone bullied you like this at work place? You will protest. Do the same. How well you set your boundaries now will determine how they treat you in the future. They are trying to determine how far they can push you.

    How much should her husband intervene?
    > Like for everything?! His country, his family, he knows how to deal with complicated Indian hierarchies. Also, the first thing I would do is explain to him and show all the messages from SIL.

    How can she get through a stressful and long Indian wedding when she is newly pregnant?
    > Why hold the wedding the moment you land? Who the hell came up with this dumbass idea? There is something called jet lag and if it is your first time in India, I do not think anybody would want to go attend a gather of 700 people when they do not even know their immediate family members.

    How do you speak up regarding your needs when your Indian family doesn't consult you?
    > Tell my husband. If he cannot speak up, make him call his family and just state in plain uncertain terms, I will not do this or this. I do not like this etc. What is a wedding, if you refuse to participate. I will just openly threaten them.

    How should she handle a bully SIL?
    > Not be bullied and stop listening to what they say. Put your foot down. Maybe she is jealous and wants to show who is boss. They could not control their bro/son to marry who they want, so now they want to control the only thing they can control a clueless foreigner.

    I am sorry where the hell is your husband in all this? Have you even told him how you feel? Why do you feel the need to do it all alone in such a situation.

    You need to discuss everything with your husband pronto - what size of wedding, customs, how long you want the wedding to be and make it clear. I would recommend post posing everything for a week after you land in India and you can accept of change stuff. Now, they will say okay and just tell you "it will take only 5 min" and drag things for 2 more hours.

    Maybe your husband already feels guilty and now wants to let them do the things they want so that they are not disappointed, as far as I know. As a foreigner yo have an advantage - whatever you say can be excused as "I don't know your culture".

    Many times, newly weds keep quiet because they want to make a good impression and agree to everything. But I feel this is the best time to set boundaries so that the person knows how far they can push you. Once you set their expectation that you will do everything the first time, of course they are going to be angry if you don't the second time round.

    Stop. Slow down. Discuss with your husband on what you want.Show him the messages. Refuse to be away from your husband. Tell them you are pregnant. Everyone is nicer to you :) Tell them in no uncertain terms, you will not do a 8 hour ceremony. Postpone the wedding till you find your footing. Do a small ceremony. Relax. Have fun. Go out alone with your husband. Don't let anyone bully you.

  8. Just don't go. Girl have some pride! As you said it was entirely your idea, just cancel it and show these people you don't agree with all this nonsense. Your husband's sake?! He should protect you and be strong and what does he do? Agree with all the plan like a sheep? You are pregnant. Think of yourself and the child. His family is really less important. Go after few years. It really doesn't matter if you go now and do all these circus or no. You are married, expecting a child. Live your life happily. Don't go to India now.

  9. You don't write about your husband's opinion, so I'm going on the assumption that he hasn't proved very helpful thus far:

    Sit your husband down and inform him of his responsibilities as a husband and as a father of your unborn baby. You two should be a team, and he should be your biggest ally. Surely he also knows about the increased risk in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, so for health reasons alone, he should show an interest in supporting and protecting you from your in-laws.

    Sit down with him, and calmly develop a game plan. Discuss where you are prepared to make compromises, and what is essential / non-negotiable for you. Be very specific about your needs ("I need at least 8 hours of rest/sleep between the flight and the wedding", "I will be in a foreign country, pregnant, with jet lag, and emotionally tense from meeting your in-laws, I really need you by my side" etc.) If he is not understanding, ask him what is more important to him: astrology/some arcane tradition or your health/sanity/the increased risk of miscarriage? Don't be swayed by "it's all paid for already" talk. Your and your baby's health is way more important than money. Plus, you've apparently sent them so much money for visas that the wedding expenses should be covered anyway.

    Then, once you and your husband have agreed, it is up to him to talk to his family and make the necessary arrangements. It is his responsibility to stand up to his family and tell them your (yours and his together) terms for your visit.

    If it were me, I would probably just refuse to go. I'd have no interest in putting such an emotional and physical strain on myself (let alone an early pregnancy) for people who are bullies, and don't seem to have one iota of respect for me. (Don't be fooled by talk of cultural differences, this is definitely not normal behaviour.)
    However, I understand that you want to meet your in-laws, and that that is very important to you. Just make sure that your husband is firmly in your corner, and that you can rely on him as your ally. Stand strong, and make sure he stands with you. I wish you the best of luck.


  10. Hi everyone thanks for your replies and advice many have asked what my husbands stance on the issue is. He basically is stuck between a rock and a hard place. I'm the rock as I am more willing to roll with things.

    On the issue of the wedding he was willing to cancel the whole trip to avoid stressing me out further. (This is not an option in my opinion) he has since stood up to my mil and said that he refuses to be separated from me his wife before the ceremonies as this was my number two concern. My number one concern the baby was also brought up as I felt that jet lag, and 24 hours of ceremonies combined would be too difficult on me and my baby and I am happy to say my mil has cut a couple of things. Unfortunately they won't change the date as it's very auspicious for us.

    On the issue of my SIL he called her and talked to her about everything including how he was willing to cancel the trip and that I was adamant we go. For my own sake I also developed a backbone. I sent back screen shots of what she sent me and asked her how this was supposed to encourage me to visit often? None of the family as stated made our wedding so this is obviously to save face they are pretending we are not married; but I also feel it is for good luck in our union and I need to be kind and gracious for their well wishes.

    Thanks again this has made me feel better and encouraged me to relax

  11. Oh dear...multiple red flags!

    -"I convinced my husband that we should go to India to meet them." (Your husband wasn't keen on the idea? Unusual. Why?)
    -"I...was informed that I would not be welcome in the home as I'd be arriving at a inauspicious time."
    -"my husband...told me we shouldn't bother with this trip at this point."

    These should have been the first red flags. Indians are indirect communicators: you must read between the lines to understand what they are really saying. Westerners are direct: we say what we mean. It looks like your in-laws were trying to discourage you from coming in several ways. But, being indirect communicators, they didn't want to offend you or tell you "no" outright. They dropped lots of "nos" but in their own way...which the writer misinterpreted because she isn't Indian! Some great resources on indirect vs direct communication from the fabulous website Learning India:

    More hints the writer missed:

    -"my SIL started saying things like we booked the hotel, and your dresses have been finalized."
    -"they want to separate me and my husband until after the party."

    If your inlaws don't view you as married, this behaviour makes perfect sense in Indian culture. What kind of relationship do you have with your inlaws? What about your husband with his parents? What do they think of your relationship? Based on the information given, I could hazard a guess. :)

  12. Dear LW

    I am so happy to hear that your husband is standing up for you and that his family seems to have listened (somewhat, at least)! :-) I hope that you all can find a compromise that works for you, and that the trip will go well.

    There is probably nothing you can do that will make them *like* you at this point / on this trip. So please don't be intimidated by them and be adamant that your needs and wishes be respected. They will come around eventually anyway, and insisting on your reasonable demands is not going to change that.

    I wish you much strength and that you will be able to start developing the kind of happy relationship with your in-laws that you wish for. Enjoy India!

    Best wishes for you and your family,


  13. What a dilemma!!!!!!! Life is just crazy like that, especially with surprise pregnancies!
    If you've booked your ticket already and the time off work, it's hard to get out of it.
    First I would tell the immediate family that you are pregnant because then people will be a lot nicer to you, and also more conscientious of your exhaustion. The reason why people will be nicer to a pregnant lady is that they do not want to damage the unborn child by causing the mom stress (Indian mentality). This can work in your favor. So I would just tell them, even if you feel it is premature, because they won't push you too much.
    Another thing I would not compromise on is being separated from your husband.
    Also with your SIL, let him deal with her entirely. She's HIS sister and his problem and he should intervene whenever needed. He should know how to deal with her as they grew up together.
    Also, try to get away for a few days on a babymoon just to relax and wind down - it will be exhausting. Maybe Goa or some other relaxing place? Also, treat yourself to a prenatal massage!

  14. Cancel the trip. Simple. Once you're inlaws find out that you're pregnant, they will change their position on you "apparently" not being married and start finding another way to try to exert control.


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