Friday, April 7, 2017

Ask Firangi Bahu: "My husband's parents and sister are taking advantage of us financially..."

(Img via Wil Stewart)

Sharing a letter from a reader....

"I have a question. I married my Indian husband in a U.S. wedding, but we had a wedding party in India. Our in-laws arranged the party to "introduce" us to the rest of the family. It was a large dinner, and in the end my husband paid for it as he did not want to burden his parents. Most of the guests said about 7 words to me, ate dinner, and left. A number of guests gave me gifts and/or envelopes (which I assumed contained money). I put the envelopes and gifts on a chair, unsure of whether it was polite to open in front of guests. At some point my mother-in-law moved the gifts and put the envelopes in her purse. After the guests were gone, she opened them and appeared to be counting whatever was in them. I never saw them again. 

We've since returned to the U.S., but I found it very strange that the party they hosted for us was paid by us and that gifts given to us and handed to me were taken. I wanted to thank those who gave gifts, but feel weird thanking them for giving gifts to my mother-in-law, and I don't even know what was gifted in the cases of the money. Ultimately, only two gifts were passed to me - a set of sheets and a plate. The rest disappeared. 

I asked my husband about it, and he brushed it off, saying the total given was only 4,000 rupees (about $60 U.S. dollars). I found that odd because that would mean that most guests (almost all doctors) gave only $10 USD or less. The whole thing makes me uncomfortable and suspicious of my mother-in-law. I would never dream of taking anything that someone gifted to her or my sister-in-laws, etc. Had the gifts been for her, should they have not handed them directly to her? Was I wrong to accept them in the first place? I feel like she should have at least explained what was happening - and now I am not sure I trust her. My father-in-law even said during the party that now I had some money to spend on my trip, I'm not sure if he knows his wife took whatever was given. It's not worth ruining our relationship, but it bothers me. I'd never take anything that belonged to anyone else, nor would anyone in my family. We paid for the party, so it's not like she needed compensation. 

My husband is very generous to his parents and sisters and they keep expecting more - I find it very creepy. He paid $10,000 USD for the down payment on his sister's second house even though they earn $3,500 USD per month (and live in India in a house they inherited so no payments). She is married, in her 50's, and has grown kids of her own. She is married and her and her husband are both professors. He also paid $5,000 USD for his niece's crazy expensive wedding, $10,000 USD for the same niece's tuition to graduate school (even though her parents are well off in Indian terms, live in a large 5-bedroom 5 bathroom house inherited from father in law; and she has two working parents; and she is also married). 

Each time he goes to India his parents expect him to wire $6,000 USD, $2,000 USD of which the father keeps and then the father withdraws $1,000 USD in rupees to pass as gifts to daughters and nieces. And now they've called saying the father needs a new car and expecting us to pay for it, although the parents live in a 4 bedroom 4 bath home and have a good income. They say it is because we earn in U.S. dollars, but we also pay our bills in US dollars and we have a mortgage which none of them have to pay. It's all new and bizarre to me - I think they think we are just rolling in money and can give it away like it was candy. We want to pay off our home and put money away for our retirement and we are still paying our kid's tuition in college, etc. I don't understand why they ask so much of him, or why she would take the wedding gifts. Is this some kind of dowry or what?

I just don't get why his family thinks he is still responsible for his sisters and even his niece when they are all adults, married, working, earning good salaries, and living in paid off houses. One sister has two houses paid off and we have zero houses paid off. Both sisters and niece live in houses inherited from deceased father-in-laws. And his parents home is paid off and my husband paid to add a level to their home which they rent out and collect the income from that, in addition to large pensions and the money my husband sends. I feel like we have our own kids to pay college and weddings for and we need a home and retirement security etc - which his parents and sisters already have - yet they keep taking-taking-taking. He loaned one sister $5,000 USD and she never paid him back. When he wanted to confront her his father told him not to, so he didn't. We just can't afford to give his family $10,000 - $20,000 a year, and they don't need it. And personally if a gift is meant for the mother in law, I'd rather the giver hand it straight to her and not to me, because then I have the obligation to the giver to return the favor, thank them, etc. and it's awkward. What if they ask me what I bought with the money? What do I say?"

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Dear readers, what would you do if you were in her shoes?
Have you ever been in a similar situation?
Do you find that when you live abroad, relatives think you're rolling in money?
What boundaries need to be set going forward? 
When does one draw the line between generosity to one's family, and taking care of yourself financially first?

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23 comments

  1. If I were you, I'd first start with having a heart to heart with my husband. Sure, your in laws sound unreasonable in their expectations, but it is your husband who ultimately bows down to them. I'd question him and try to find out why he feels so obligated to give them so much, what his views are, does he not think he is being unfair to you and his own family by taking away what should rightfully be yours?

    Your inlaws can continue to expect and you don't have to care or cater to their expectations if your husband stops giving in. A lot can be resolved if you fix that.

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  2. Although extreme, I feel like this is pretty common and honestly only your husband can change the situation.

    I understand how you feel about the wedding gifts and it's too bad no one explained, but it's also cultural. The guests give gifts and you thank them as they give to you--even if you don't know what is inside. They don't want formal thank-you's and would actually probably be offended if you sent them one. Most won't even write their names on or with their gifts.

    I also never saw money from our wedding, which my husband and I paid for, I have no idea what happened to it--and no need to worry. No one will ever ask what you spent it on or anything of the sort.

    Your situation sounds A LOT like mine--right down to the car thing! The most you can do is to talk to your husband about your feelings in a frank conversation. If you get directly involved it will only negatively affect your husband and will probably cause tensions in your marriage. It's hard because we aren't raised this way--but for your husband, it's expected.


    I also recommended asking your husband or another close Indian friend to explain these cultural differences--if your husband doesn't offer much help in teaching you about the culture, educate yourself.

    I felt like you the first few years of my marriage and it was miserable. Once I educated myself and surrendered to the fact that we also will support another family aside from our own I felt better and my marriage was better too.

    all the best! (And seriously, I know it bothers you...but forget about the wedding gifts. I promise it wasn't as much as you are thinking and it's really just causing unnecessary stress.)

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    1. It's really sad that women married to Indians feel they have to 'surrender'. I've read/heard this many times, that the marriages gets better after the first few years of hell...because the wife has basically given up!

      To the LW, unfortunately the wedding gifts thing is the norm, don't question it, pick your battles, this isn't one worth fighting over. How long have you been married? How long ago was this? You mentioned a college fund for your child so I wasn't sure. Anyways as others have mentioned, thank you notes would be weird in the culture and absolutely no one is going to ask what you did with the money so don't sweat over it. Even if someone did, how hard is it to come up with a white lie like we put it in savings for our future or something along those lines.

      In my opinion you have much bigger problems to worry about than what to say to people. Your in-laws are definitely taking advantage of the fact that you earn in USD. The only person who can put their foot down is your husband. I'm sure you can as well but if you do it without having your husband on your side you risk putting your marriage in a precarious position. You've got to discuss finance with your husband. I've heard of supporting unmarried sisters but definitely not married ones, married nieces, etc. There's a limit to how much you should 'surrender' to for the sake of tradition. If it were me, the most I would do is supporting elderly parents. No other able, working, individuals. Flip the situation and ask your husband if he would support your siblings, nieces, etc. to this degree. It's absurd, unnecessary, and needs to stop.

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  3. +1 to what shari said.
    Its cultural- dont do thank you notes thats considered super strange and overly formal (creating formality is frowned on- means you dont see others as family/familial)

    Indian families are raised with the idea that the boy will be taking care of his extended family forever. To do anything less whould be a huge lapse of duty/respect on his part. There is no such thing as 'your family' ie your husand and you as a unit, his family thinks YOU have joined thiers and are now part of thier big family unit. To pull your husband away (in something that would be totally normal otherwise) would be considered very strange and as if you were breaking up the family (THEMAIN family)
    Your husband and you shouldntalk- his assumptions and yours need to be shared so u can better understand where he and his family are coming from.
    Dont worry about the money- it wasnt meant for you per se anyways- and alot of whats done is saving face - big wedding/inviting people you dont know/ its so your inlaws can show their face in their society. It actually has very little to do with you -sorry.
    Shari has summarized things really well. You need an indian friend or cool indian coisin-in-law who can explain these ins and outs to you...

    While your financial goals are laudable and practical- the fact u will be supporting an extended family needs to be factored in.

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  4. I've been dating/married to an Indian man for 20 years now and I think a lot of this boils down to cultural differences. I think in Indian families, money is seen as much more shared, especially when it comes from eldest sons, or sons who are doing well abroad. It's hard but you have to try and see things from his point of view, especially when it comes to his culture and his family. After all, from what you describe he seems fine giving this money to his family. If you truly think things are out of control the only person you can talk to is your husband. You make a lot of good points about how you need to take care of your own mortgages first, explain them to him and see what he says in response. Good luck.


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  5. I think this is unacceptable!! It is about time your husband asserted himself! As the adage goes, money doesn't fall from trees! Both of you are working hard for it. I am an Indian woman and I believe this 'cultural' excuse has to stop! These fossilized traditions make me sick! My son is married to a German and we have never ever made any kind of demands on him. We have a very good relationship with his wife and daughter. Gift-giving should not be one sided. There is a word for that. It is being parasitic.

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    1. This is why I detest this facet of the Indian culture. When people say it is a cultural thing, it takes away all effort to bring in reason and logic. Genital mutilation is also a cultural thing. Should we put up with it? These money vampires must not be tolerated.

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  6. My MIL also took all of the money gifted to me at me reception. I asked and hubby told me why but I've long since forgotten the details. Money was also thrown out for our hired help. I never got bothered by it. I just took in the experience and enjoyed the time and learning opportunity.

    Though I feel like my situation is unique, my in-laws still financially support my husband. He has a job but is still very much a spoiled Indian male. I refuse to cater to his whims and so his parents do. I'm not sure what he tells them but they dont seem to have any negative view of me because of it.

    Perhaps you should set son boundaries with your own money so you don't feel like you are also paying for them. Culturally it is not your obligation and you need your peace.

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  7. My father-in-law kept the money from our reception, and I was only told about it after the fact by my husband. At that point, I had no idea that was a cultural thing, and I made it clear to my husband I didn't think it was ok.

    There does seem to be an expectation that sons send money back to their families. My mother-in-law and father-in-law give conflicting reasons why they want money from us, all while sending gifts of gold to our daughter and buying new things for themselves.

    Ultimately, it's up to you and your husband to decide how to deal with the financial requests from his family. Do you have an option to keep some of your finances separate?

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  8. There are two things here,

    First the wedding gifts, rest assured it's common, in India gifts are not meant to be enjoyed by the person they are gifted to, it's a social obligation that makes the gifted looks good. Thank you cards are not done either in India, so don't worry, you just thank the person for the social gesture and move on. When you open the gifts in private, normally someone in the family, in most case your MIL will take out a notebook and write down the monetary worth of every single items gifted along with the name of who gave it. Why? Because should they every find themselves in a situation where they have to give those people a gift, they will gift something that match the amount of the gift they gave at the wedding.
    By any Western standards it is rude, tacky, and insensitive, but that is because gifts in Western cultures have a whole different meaning. So my advice is to really not sweat it. Forget about it altogether.

    The second issue is the fact his family seems to demand money from you guys simply because you earn in Dollars. Sadly, this is something your husband will have to put an end to. But I also understand where it comes from. Kids are raised from an early age to be made to feel their parents are sacrificing their whole life and expect something in return in their old age. This mindset comes from older time when pension plans, and life insurances policies didn't exist, and I think it will take another generation or two for things to really change. People of our In-laws generation had kids as a "life insurance". Naturally they expect good return on that investment, this is what plays a role in what career the kid is supposed to follow and who they should marry.

    Things are changing in India though, and with life becoming more expensive for our generation of family, the old generation find themselves facing the fact that no, their sons will not be supporting them financially as much as previous generations did.

    In your case I wonder if his parents have ever visited you guys in the US. If not, maybe a trip would be a good idea, they probably have a distorted view of what life in the US is like, and they would not be the first Indians To think that everybody has it easy, and roll in money. A couple of weeks spent with you guys and made to see what daily expenses are like could give them a reality check.

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    1. Very well written!

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    2. @Cyn

      Please do not genralize and demonize Indian parents. Most parents who have brought up their children with their sweat and toil, do not need freebies from their children. They are capable to look after themselves financially. There are sufficient number of Indian parents who can take care of themselves. This is not about life insurance as you put it. It comes from the cultural respect for elders.

      Parents want respect and support in the twilight of their lives. If it includes financial help so be it, provided that the children are capable enough to provide it.

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    3. @anonymous above, nope she is not trying to demonize Indian parents, just stating facts. Maybe you or your family may not be like that, but most of them are. I agree 100% what Cynthia Haller wrote. A lot of parents do not have Insurance policies that can support their current lifestyles and need support from their kids, especially sons. But there is a limit to how much help the son can provide, and a car is a luxury in India where the public transport is so cheap and now there are many other options like uber, etc. They probably want to show off amongst their relatives as to how their son is keeping them in complete luxury. Like Cynthia said, maybe they should make a trip to the states and understand the situation.

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  9. Unfortunately this is a very Indian thing. I had the same problems with my in-laws regarding money. I put my foot down and told them we didn't have the means. My mortgage is not paid off. Money does not grow on trees. I pointed out to my husband that my mil had no mortgage but has a maid. I work. No maid. Lots of bills.
    Stop pussy - footing around these people. Stop making it a cultural excuse. Enough is enough.

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    1. Totally agree! I'm a British born Indian. Would not be marrying my Indian born fiancé without confirming his position on money related issues. I'm sick of explanations like "you need to understand Indian culture.. you're joining HIS family.." if you're not in India, you're actually creating your OWN family, presumably in a Western country.

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  10. I also got married to my Indian husband in India, and after my wedding my husband gave all the money given to us to his younger siblings, which shocked me, but my husband explained it to me that it's our duty as elder siblings to take care of them, and that's traditionally what they do with wedding money. However, there were some gifts given to me like sari's, bindi's, etc., that my husband told me I should keep. I definitely felt like Indian weddings are more about the family and community than the bride and groom, which was upsetting to me at first coming from the US, where it's all about us, but I understand it now and am not bothered by it at all.

    As for the rest of your situation, it seems like way too much to me, and it seems like your husband should be communicating better about things. We also send money back to my husband's family, but not so much. My husband is the second eldest son though, so he's not expected to do as much as his oldest brother. His oldest brother does try to make tricks though, acting like he doesn't have any money, because he thinks that we make so much more (which we actually don't) and should send more than him. My husband always asks me before sending money to his family though, and he always explains why he's sending it, and in our case, it always feels justified and never extravagant. His family is not as rich as your in laws though, and they are pretty simple people and don't expect very much. I can see how a more wealthy Indian family would expect a lot more. I don't think you should feel mistrust for your in laws, because they probably think it's justified to expect money from your husband, but I agree with others who say that your husband should be the one to put his foot down and communicate with both you and your family about things, and not be so extravagant.

    When a westerner, especially a woman, marries into an Indian family, you have to find balance. It's easy to say that things should be done your way, or to go to the other extreme and just let them walk all over you, but either extreme will not make for a happy marriage. You husband will never be a westerner deep down, and you will never be Indian, but that doesn't have to be a problem. It's about asserting your needs, compromising where it's possible to do so, and trying to understand his needs and the pressures he gets from society. It's really hard for someone from an individualistic society to marry someone from a collectivist one, because you married a whole community, not an individual. That being said, he has his own individuality as well, and he doesn't have to succumb to all the pressures of his family, nor does he have to feel like he needs to impress everyone over there.

    All this is much easier said and done, and some days it will be easier, and others harder, but balance and communication really is key. Your husband will have to meet you half-way though.

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  11. It is quite normal for Indian in law keep the wedding gift (money) because they will invite mostly their friends and family. A per Indian culture they need to give back the same amount of money when their friend children get married in future.
    However demanding huge amount money is not fair for you and his own children. I dont mind to give some allowance to his parents as taking care of old aged parents in not only Indian culture it is Asian culture but nor for his sister and for luxuries things. Indian mans are very sentimental when it comes their own daughter. I usually tell him we need save money for our daughter's WEDDING and Education rather giving money for luxuries thing for sister and niece...

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  12. I think it is the nature of your in-laws to claim everything that you have as theirs. It is quite common in Indian community. I see this as scaming and would suggest you to have a dialogue with your husband and then your in-laws, else this may go out of hand. Your in-laws may think that because their son lives in US and is married to an American, they will have acceess to a lot of money.

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  13. My mother in law also took all the money which was given to us. I asked my mom about it and she said that money is "shagun" and the guy's parents keep that money because they have gone to other people's kid's weddings and given "shagun" so this is like their way of getting it all back from those people. I know its weird but thats how older indian ladies think. My husband paid for the wedding too but we didnt get any of the money which was given to us by guests. Thats kind of a cultural thing.
    The thing is which is you can control is how much money your husband gives to them now. I believe the husband's family will keep asking for money as long as you keep giving in. They won't stop. I told my husband that whatever amount he gives to his family, I will also give the same amount to my family. So if his mother asks for $1000, I also give $1000 to my mom as gift. This has made him stop giving any extra money because he knows I will also give the same to my mom. As far as giving gifts to sister, we never did that. His sister's husband gives his sisters brand new cars and diamond jewlery as gifts so she kind of expects us to do the same but because we never gave in to her demands from day 1 she doesn't ask anymore. So talk to your husband, explain to him that you need to save for yourself and if he is going to give to his family then you will also do the same since your money is shared as husband and wife. Its okay to give to his parents once in a while for medical expenses, house expenses etc but never give them money to buy stuff they don't need and never give to any siblings. I have seen sisters take money from brothers all their life and then one time when they say no, the sisters stop talking to brothers. Also if you keep giving they think you have a lot of money. Never tell your relatives in india your salary. We always tell them we have so many loans and don't have any savings. This way they never feel like they can ask you for money whenever they want.

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    1. I did the exact same thing! :). Every time I saw my husband send some money, I would write a check for the exact same amount to my parents. My SIL is a good for nothing woman who just wastes away lazing around. She is a divorcee too. She loves to spend all the money that my husband sends to her father. My FIL too acts very innocent every time he gets a check, he says "Why did you send, why did you send?", yet within 24 hours of receiving the check, he deposits it in his daughter's account.

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  14. About the wedding gifts, I am not surprised. Many in-laws do that and take away the nice gifts meant for the couple. It happens even when you are Indian. Not to say that this is excusable. As this issue is water under the bridge, I would let it go.

    For the rest of the situation, sons/brothers are seen as a cash cows to be milked to the maximum by Indian parents and sisters. Also, people assume that you are swimming in money if you live abroad but I have seen it happen for sons living in India as well. One, there is a social obligation that sons support their families throughout life. Two, the sons are obliging them.

    You need to talk to your husband when he is in a good mood and explain in a neutral way on how his family is ripping him off. His family is doing this because they can. Your husband needs to put a stop to this and not fall for emotional blackmail that will follow.

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  15. I'm an indian man born in london. My father came to this country in the 60's from india. He too used to send money back home to his father and brothers, but they were not well off. Immigrants have this romantic vision that everybody back home misses and loves them as much as they do. In the end my father's brothers conned him of his inheritance, and now he realises he had his eyes closed to the scenario. Your husband will learn in time. He will not listen to you. By confronting him you will be seen as the enemy and cause friction in your marriage. If it's his money he's giving away, let him. An event will occur which will make him realise where his priorities should be.

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  16. I'm an Indian woman, and I think this is a ridiculous state of affairs, and quite often, it can be reversed. Even though my father (who lives in India) has retired, he sends vast sums of money to his slightly younger brother in the USA. It was my dad who funded his nephew's medical school, because he wasn't smart enough to get a scholarship, was too coddled to take on a loan and work, and didn't even want to shift to a cheaper school. All this has to stop. People need to learn to stand on their own two feet, and make smarter choices.

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