Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How I came to the decision to live with my in-laws

Whenever I tell people - Westerners, in particular - that my in-laws are going to be living with us, it is always met with gasps of disbelief and shock. Most Westerners, even if they get along with their in-laws, like to keep them an arm's length away...for their own sanity. Indians are usually equally as shocked, that I would embrace joint-family living like a typical DIL, and that I actually do get along with my in-laws.

In India, living in a joint family is the norm. Joint family living is very common and has been done for thousands of years - clearly, this is one of those cultural aspects that I think we can really learn from! When a couple gets married, it is normal that the newlyweds move into the groom's parents' house. Our situation is a bit unique, because we plan to live on the same property with both our parents. This is a very modern example of joint family living.

For me, living in a joint family is not so far fetched. I practically grew up in my grandparents' house and it was the best childhood ever. They had this one-level ranch house in the University district with a huge yard, and my grandma was famous in the neighborhood for her garden. My great-grandmother, who lived well over 100, also stayed in "the suite" - a room by the garage. It was amazing to have 4 generations under one roof. When my parents picked me up, I never wanted to leave! Whenever I feel really sad, I always go back to that happy place in my mind, even though the ranch house is long gone.

When my grandparents got older and faced serious health problems, my parents had no choice but to place them in a home for the elderly. Everyone was working and it just seemed like the most cost-effective thing to do. I was completely against it from the start and it killed me to see them in such a place, but I was also not in a position to take care of them having just started my post-college career. It made me severely depressed for years and sometimes after visiting them I would just cry until I was numb. After that, I swore that we would never do that to our parents.

For the past 10 years of our relationship, the concept of living with my in-laws permanently has been weighing heavily on me. It is something that I have thought long and hard about. Although husband-ji says we technically don't have to live with them, it just wouldn't feel right to me to have them move all the way to Canada and stay alone, somewhere else. It is lonely enough as it is in this quiet, cold country!

About 18 months ago, I got into a massive fight with my FIL and I swore I could never live with him. I went so far as to actually change the floor plan of our apartment. However, we slowly started talking again after that, and our relationship now is even better than it was prior to our fight. 18 months later, I am really excited to have him come and live with us. And I actually quite love him, as a second dad. He is also relatively mellow because he loves the salads and smoothies that I make (unlike diva-ji husband-ji, who will not touch any uncooked vegetables!).

After we got the news about my in-laws' permanent residency, I thought long and hard about where they should stay. I carefully weighed all the pros and cons, and then came to the conclusion that they should just live with us. The positives far outweighed the negatives. I would say the three major deciding factors for us were:

1) I don't want to miss them anymore. I want us to spend time with them.
2) The cost of living in Vancouver is extremely high and it is an utter waste of money to rent another apartment (you can't find an apartment nearby for under $1500).
3) I want to give them a strong confident start in Canada by taking them under my wing. They may get some culture shock by moving here, and I want to make their transition as smooth and positive as possible.

Some other pros are:

- Maya will be learning their languages (Tamil, Telugu, Hindi) from my MIL who is a teacher by profession.
- Maya being around her grandparents' and feeling loved.
- Companionship with my MIL (I have someone to watch my favorite shows with, and a workout buddy!)
- I can learn all my MIL's secret family recipes (chef training!)
- Extra helping hands around the house.
- Husband-ji will be extremely happy to have his mum's cooking (he's going to get royally spoiled!)
- My MIL and I can have our own little book club since we love to read.
- Both my in-laws will surely get a lot healthier by living here.
- Saving money on rent/meals, since we will all stay together and share meals together.
- Husband-ji and I could probably go on a date any night of the week!
- It will be an adventure with lots of funny stories to share (the opportunity to learn from them!)

Not to say there weren't any cons, it's just that the cons weren't that bad:

- I might get fat(ter) from my MIL's delicious cooking (I have to watch what I eat!)
- No walking around naked or braless!
- My mum might get jealous (I have to make an effort to balance time with both grandparents' equally)
- the house will be louder (I will be hearing Vishnu Sahasranaman twice a day)
- Maya has to give up her room and we have to move her bed to our room (I'm sure she will love this!)

Whenever I think about living with my in-laws, my mind goes to one particular scene from the past...When I landed in India 9 years ago, we drove to Malkajgiri in the middle of the night and knocked on the door. [You can hear more about that story on World Citizen Storycast podcast!] My future MIL stood in shock, in her pajamas, on the doorstep. She was wary of me, she was scared of me, and I had never even met her in person before - by all means, I was a stranger. She didn't know me, and she didn't owe me anything. And she invited me into her home. She fed me, she washed my clothes, she was kind to me, she was sensitive to my homesickness, she made the effort to get to know me. That night, standing there on her doorstep, as a shy 20 year old girl in a foreign country in pitch-black midnight darkness, she could have easily shut me out and left me there on the road. And she didn't. She invited me in...



  1. Hi, I like reading your blog, and sincerely hope that your decision to live with your in-laws works out as well as you expect.
    If there's one thing that I really hate is generalizing and over-simplifying of so many Indian cultural aspects which you do not have a holistic idea of.
    eg. your understanding about joint family living. I agree that its been quite common , but does it really serve the purposes you think it does?
    Dig deeper and you'll realize that the culture of bride coming to live in her in-laws family is rooted in patriarchy, and all it does is force the DIL to conform to the habits and expectations of her in-laws family. The system is used as a method to control the DIL in all forms - what she wears , how much time she spends with her parents , what she does with her earnings etc. In a typical joint family setup, only the DIL is expected to adapt , to "adjust" as her in-laws life style. There is no mutual adjustment between the couple, as the husband continues to live in an environment he's used to and benefits him.
    Your situation is anyway unique, and cannot really be labeled the same as the joint family situation of Indian families where the bride comes to live with her in-laws.
    Joint family system may have its benefits , correct . The catch is that it benefits the son, and the parents of sons only.

    1. This! I wish you the very best of luck with living with your in-laws. Burning widows, child marriage etc have also been practiced in India for thousands of years. The "joint family" has been used to oppress women for generations. I encourage you to read this -

  2. Alex,

    Love this post! I also think these are very valid points on making your decision to have your in-laws live with you. Just look at it on the bright side, you can have all the fun now throwing Birthday parties, Anniversary parties or whatever celebration you want and everybody is all under the same roof! It doesn't get any better than this and little Maya will get to grow up with both sets of Grandparents and she can visit them any time she likes. We are only here on earth for a relatively short period of time, share the love with them. Hope your in-laws move to Canada is smooth. Have a glorious Spring.


  3. Wow, I really commend your decision! That's really great that you can make the leap. I've been debating this kind of a situation for a long time, but I just can't commit to this kind of living no matter how much the husband wants it. It's so hard to get past Western ideals of privacy and boundaries... I know your relationship with your MIL is really great, but I can't imagine mine constantly in the next room judging me for laying in bed and watching Netflix or wearing a skirt that doesn't cover my ankles at all times.

  4. I think it will work out for you and your family as everyone in your family is financially independent so no one is going to misuse this ideal situation. My hubby and I also tried it but didn't work out due to imbalance in incomes and responsibilities. So excited for you :)

  5. Awesome! I always wanted to live with my in-laws after first 5 years of marriage. Somehow it never materialized. We live in USA, we wanted to head back to husband's ancestral home in Bangalore after 5 years, never go around it, now after 17 years here, still not sure of going back. We lost my MIL 2 years ago, I am still trying to come to terms with that loss. She was an angel, my god mother who always took my side when I had fights with my husband. She would pamper me silly giving me facials, massages, and make my fav dishes and literally would hand feed me. I am crying as I type this. Alexandra - you have been given a wonderful opportunity by the force above, so glad you are using it. It will be a fantastic experience for you, based on your posts I feel your MIL is a wonderful, sweet and very caring person. She is also lucky to have you as her DIL.

    Best wishes

  6. See, this is what I wanted. I moved into my in-laws hoping to gain a second set of parents. Instead I got a crazy lady who treats her own son like crap and thinks she's God's blessing on the planet and a FIL so brainwashed by her he just agrees with whatever she says.

    Definitely feel like this has been stolen from me a bit. Could have been such an amazing situation.

  7. I think that's a fabulous decision! I think some of the above negative commenters don't realize you'll have your own household & live in the same building as your in laws. I'd move my MIL & FIL with me in a heartbeat!

  8. @Alexandra

    Joint families are not a norm these days in India. I think you have over romanticized this. In a typical joint family, there is lot of togetherness and expenses get divided. The trouble starts from the kitchen so in joint family set up, kitchens are separated. Kitchens are definitely the battle grounds.

    Indians have long moved away from joint families, more trouble than convenience. Though you have put list of benefits, which may materialize but beware if close proximity to your husband may trigger the maternal instincts of your MIL. That would be trouble for you. Living for few days as guest and living permanently are two different things. There may be clashes in lifestyles and attitudes.

    I suggest that you think of productive ways to keep your inlaws engaged so that they do not feel lonely.

    1. But if you read what she's done, they're all essentially living independently. Hopefully that works better? (fingers crossed of course!)

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  10. I like how you've worked out how you'll all live. I've seen other families in Chennai do this.

    Oh BTW, Judi Dench did this too:
    So it's not just in the East ;)

  11. All the best!
    I have been living in a joint family since past 3 years, and for me at least, as I moved in to their house, It hasn't been so easy.
    No one is bad...I don't hate anyone, and neither they do! But.. you still feel out of place at times.

    Am sure this won't happen to you, as from whatever I have read from you, you are a kind, generous, open minded lady. You can solve anything with communication :).

  12. Ah it's going to be so great for Maya! It's so good for kids to be surrounded by family :)

  13. Congrats on making the decision together. I envy that you, at the very least, got to have your voice heard.

  14. I think it's a fantastic decision, not because you have logically weighed the pros and cons, it's because you seem like a loving , open hearted person, and people like you will always be happy and loved, no matter what situation.

  15. Hi Alexandra,
    I have to salute you for this decision of yours. I am from an Indian background brought up in Australia, married to an Indian man who has his parents living with us. It is not easy for me probably because I love my space and I always wanted my space to be my home with my hubby and kids.. I am not against grandparents, as much as I have good memories with my grandparents, they never lived with us permanently. And to me I think it worked as family because we all had our space. i dont know how it will work for me now .. but reading your story and made me smile a bit for sure :)
    Best Wishes


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