Friday, May 27, 2016

Ask Firangi Bahu: "I have doubts about raising my kids in India..."

(Img via Giu Vicente)

Sharing a letter from a reader...

"Hi Alexandra,

I just recently found your blog, it's been so wonderful to ready your story and all those of your readers. I'm glad I'm not alone in some of the challenges we firangi bahus face.

I'm writing to you because I don't think I've ever seen this direct question addressed anywhere else. My North Indian husband and I currently live in the USA, but his family has been really pushing us to move to India for the past few years (Delhi specifically). I've never been opposed to the idea because I enjoy being in India and I would never want to disallow my husband from being away from his large extended family. However, I've been having some second thoughts lately...

We're getting serious about having kids in the next couple of years, but I honestly don't know if I would want to raise them in an environment where girls are less valued than boys. While I can't predict the future, I really want a daughter and would want her to have the most equal opportunity life she can have. Being in India would certainly allow for lots of family members to be in her life, but my husband's family is very traditional and biased towards boys (the current generation of around 15 cousin-brothers are all boys, I don't know if this is a coincidence or not). My own MIL doesn't understand why I'd want a daughter over a son and all the women in the family abide by very traditional gender rules. It's the one aspect of being in India that makes me very uncomfortable - I'm a very independent woman and would not want to instill ideas that I "serve" my husband or must dress modestly to my kids. I just worry about what the aspect of the culture would teach them.

Have any of your readers raised children in India? I would love to know and hear their experiences..."

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Dear readers, what advice can you give to this bahu?
Would you raise your kids in India?
Does your spouse's family have traditional ideas about gender roles? If so, how do you deal with it?
Can you raise feminist children in a patriarchal family environment?
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17 comments

  1. I would worry about any future daughters AND sons that you might have and might bring up in India. The culture is strongly patriarchal as is your husband's family and this double whammy might be a bit much. Your daughter might grow up being subtly told she isn't as important (as I was, by my own family and society) but your son might grow up with the typical Indian male's sense of entitlement. Of course, ALL Indian men aren't entitled.

    However, going by what I've read in your letter, based on my own experiences and the experiences of my many female and male friends, I would not go. This is why there are visitor visas- have his family come annually. Hopefully they can't come en masse.

    I come from a family of 13 cousins, 11 of whom are boys. I know for a fact of at least one abortion.

    I am a feminist and I wasn't raised one and I come from a very patriarchal milieu. I would also not raise my daughter in India.

    However, I am also really biased and nowhere close to objective when it comes to this topic.

    Raina.

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  2. I believe you are putting the cart before the horse. It is too early to worry about your kids upbringing in India when you don't know if you will adjust to India, your husband's what appears to be conservative family, and living in Delhi. Unless your husband is from upper socio-economic family in Delhi, don't assume you are going to have easy time adjusting to living in Delhi. I wouldn't recommend having kids until you yourself have adjusted to living in Delhi. The writer of Cyn's blog might be in a better position to advise you on living and raising mixed kids in India.

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    Replies
    1. Hi, LW here!

      I've spent a lot of time in Delhi "living" with my in-laws (out of various trips, a little over a year total). They are definitely not upper-class but I was totally fine adjusting for the most part. They do live in a very conservative neighborhood though, which was hard - even though I know my way around I've never been allowed to even walk between houses on the same block by myself. I don't think that would change significantly if we moved there permanently, and that is part of the dilemma that's been bothering me.

      It may seem like I'm jumping ahead of myself but I'm really just trying to think through the major consequences of making such a big life decision! My in-law' begging for us to move back has reached a fever pitch recently.

      Delete
  3. I'd like to point out that this isn't just a problem of raising kids in INDIA. Again what u have assumed is a massive generalization error. Your problem seems to be solely about your family. The points you highlighted about your MIL speaks volumes about her personality. Sadly not EVERY ONE in India has this kind of mentality. Me and my sister were born and raised in Hyderabad and this was still in the late 1980's. We were truly celebrated, and many of my friends were treated this way this way with no gender discrimination. All of us are leading very happy lives with parents supporting both our career and love choices and there are many many families who are this way in India. In my extended family NOBODY values girls less than boys. Same goes for both my parents friends circle. So yes I think its your family problem.

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    Replies
    1. LW again! I totally agree with you and apologize if it came off like I was making generalizations. It's definitely a specific issue with my family.

      Delete
    2. Dear Anonymous,
      It was a pleasure to read your comment. I come from a family where having a son was important but daughters were given the same food, clothing, education and opportunities as the sons. Same was with my maternal and paternal families also. But it is the opposite in my husband's family. In his generation most of his relatives dont have a daughter. According to my mil women are useless except - of course she and her daughter. Her married daughter is a part of family but her sil is not coz "she is married into another family" (all women are including my sil), it is not my family coz i come from another family (all women are) and my daughter who is all of 5 is also not a part of this family coz she will go to another family (where exactly is her home btw).
      These are just convenient excuses to get her way. All rules have a common thread. Here as you can see there is none.

      Delete
  4. Just another thought, aside from the gender aspect: would you want to carry and raise an infant amidst Delhi's pollution, increasing their chance of temporary and permanent health issues?

    ReplyDelete
  5. If your spouse's family is having this gender issue then raising kids in India or the U.S wouldn't be any different, if you're gonna live close to them. The only reason I'd move to India from U..S. is to be with my family with whom I share a very close bond and absolutely can't consider living miles away from them for a long term. Given the attitude of your spouse's family I do not think its a good idea to move especially when you might not only face environmental and hygiene issues in a city like Delhi, having to deal with such patriarchal in-laws is going be extremely difficult for your well being. I agree with the above commenter, not all families in India are patriarchal but your family is, so think very carefully about it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi! There are multiple issues relocating to india the way i think:
    1. Indians work long hours and in many sectors on weekends as well. Very few companies have structured working hours.
    2. An average person in delhi has a long commute with unpredictable traffic.
    3. Buying a house is expensive.
    4. Pollution.
    5. Getting your child admitted to a good school is a difficult task.
    6. Academic competition for kids.
    7. Delhi weather is bad. Too cold and smoggy in winters and blistering hot in summers. Would both of you be able to adjust to the weather? And houses in Delhi - the middle class ones cannot be compared to the ones in US. There is no central heating or cooling and kitchens are boiling hot.
    8. Your in laws may be happy, but i am sure a lot of your extended family will wonder why you came back.
    9. Patriarchy is not just bad for girls but also for boys. Even boys are stuck and stifled in gender roles.
    10. Visiting someone gives you an excerpt from a book, but living with them is like reading the entire one. What kind of lifestyle changes would you be expected to make when you start living there permanently?
    I am not discouraging you from relocating, but at the same time you should be realistic of the entire setup. Just take your time and discuss with your husband extensively before making your decision. All the best and god bless :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 11. If your husband is of upper hindu caste then please dont come here .the indian govt is extremely discriminating against upper caste. Your child will not be provided with any govt help just because his father is an upper caste hindu.Upper caste hindus are treated like jews in nazi germany.
      If you dont believe me then just google caste reservstion.
      It is the single reason that most upper caste people are trying to leave india so that his or her children does not have to suffer the same kind of discrimination that he had to .

      Delete
  7. Author of "Cyn's blog" here :-)

    I have been living in India for 12.5 years now, and I have a near 7 year old daughter. So from my perspective it is totally doable to raise a child in India. That said, My in-laws who are North Indian by the way are not into this whole boys above girls thing. In fact my MIL always wanted a girl (she had 3 sons instead). Ishita is never made to feel inferior when we go visit.

    I live in Mumbai, away from the in-laws, I would not want to be in a joint family setting, neither does my husband, but the fear of my daughter growing in a unhealthily biased environment has never been the issue.

    In Mumbai I have many like minded Indian friends who place equal value on both gender, and there are a few neighbours who raise kids in a patriarchal pattern. I just pay no heed to the advice coming from traditional people, after all, I am the mom, and what I say goes.

    If you plan to ever live in India, I agree that you first need to find your footing as an individual, before bring kids in the equation. And if your in-laws are the traditional type who care about boys more than girl, rest assured they will drive you crazy even if you don't live in India.
    This is something you need to talk about with your husband as the kids plan comes on the table. You guys need to be on the same page when it comes to raising kids and dealing with hostile family members. You can't control those patriarchal relatives, but you can certainly agree with your partner on how to respond to them.

    ReplyDelete
  8. First of all, I don't understand how the family can PRESSURE you in such important aspect. They may express their wish, but they must accept your and yours husband decision whatever it was. I am afraid, later you would need to deal with more "pressures" every single day.

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  9. My personal experience is, it depends on parents , how do they raise their children , if parents are gender biased then you know the result of such upbringing.I am 53 years old Indian woman ,my parents raised me and my sister exactly the way they raised my brother. Me and my husband raised our son and daughter without any discrimination, they both are confident and highly educated adults, and yes we are upper cast Hindu .So it depends on how strong are you and your husband to inculcate values in your kids.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I totally agree with the comment above that the normal working hours are crazy! I come from small Scandinavian country where the work time is tightly restricted. Many people would work all year round and take holidays only every now and then for a few days to attend weddings but mostly work (here we have paid 4 weeks holiday from work every year, so I wasn't used to this!).
    They might be conservative and not let you out by your own, but it might also be because you are new and they don't think you could handle it alone, this happened to me for so long, even if I was just going to buy milk from the shop (literally) next to our house. Eventually this got better but I rarely go out completely alone.
    Another thing to consider is work. It can be very tricky to find work as a foreigner. I don't know if you want to work or not, but it's a nice way to meet people of your own, have something to do outside the house and to have your own money. I volunteered at first before I got a part-time work because I thought even volunteering looks better in CV than just sitting at home. When I got pregnant it was quite tough, because in India maternity leave is short/non-existant (officially it's three months) whereas in my home country it's nine months. I had to leave my work but luckily I found a new one after staying at home for a year.
    When I was at home I started looking for a good kindergarten. Turned out it was difficult task, because most were for older kids and only for 4-5 hours a day which of course wasn't enough in my case. My in-laws lived nearby, but we all moved to new apartments next to each other (same floor), so that they can watch over our child more. It's actually very convenient, we just keep the doors open whenever we are at home and go to each others sides all the time, eat our meals together etc. They aren't that traditional and had nothing against me working (but I only work a few days a week).
    You should really discuss with your husband and tell about your fears and doubts. He can comfort you and you can understand each others views better. All the best for your future :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Dear LW, I understand your hesitations. We have a baby girl and I often wonder how it would be for her to grow up in India. We have plans of relocating to India within the next 5 years.

    I have noticed Indians are very affectionate with small children. In my husband's family, it looks like they're all Montessori professionals, but no, they are just traditional middle-class hindus. And of course as a foreigner, people expect you to be different in some aspects. For me the core issues would be personal safety, and school (fortunately in my inlaws' town there is an international school, so then the problem is tuition fees). It is also the core issues for my husband. He is very critical of Indian public schools, and so is his brother.

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  12. I would suggest you not to move to India especially if it is Delhi. It is the rape capital of the country and culture is very patriarchal. Your in-laws' attitude towards girl child are enough to explain this. Once you move there you will be harassed by all of them. Indians can also be racist calling you rude remarks based on your skin color. You will have very hard time adjusting to life in India. It is easy for an Indian person to adjust to Western lifestyle because he is climbing in the hierarchy of society but it difficult for Westerner to adjust in India because it requires stepping down. I am not judgemental or racist. I am just trying to bring the reality to light.

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  13. I agree with other commenters, you should not move. Besides the overwhelming patriarchal attitudes and racism/colorism, you have to think about what values you want to raise your children with. The US is for better or worse very individualist. People in US are raised to have choice in many aspects of their lives. In India the very opposite is true.
    Indian children also tend to be babied/spoiled (at least in middle class)...you can sort of control that with your own children, but only so much if you are living with large extended family...something to consider.
    For their sake I would raise your kids in North America and go to India on holiday when you can.

    ReplyDelete

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