Monday, January 29, 2018

15 Tips on living in a Joint Family

We have been living in a joint family for the past 18+ months since my in-law's moved in with us, making our house a multi-generational home. Many people are shocked when I say that my in-law's live with us, and even nowadays in the motherland (India) people aren't doing it that much. When desi wives opt out of it, you can bet there are even less Firangi Bahu's that do it too. It definitely shifts the dynamic in the home because you're basically welcoming in two foreign elderly roommates who have their moods! As much as you think you know your in-law's, living together is a completely different experience. There's not much you can do to prepare for it, but there is a way you can minimize problems.

Here are my top tips that I've learned from living in a joint family:

1) Mind your own damn business
The best way to cohabitate peacefully is to mind your own business happily. Don't get involved in family drama that does not require your participation. Carry on with your own work. Don't nit-pick or criticize your in-law's every move. Stay out of arguments that don't concern you.

2) Be Forgiving
The ONLY way you are going to survive in a joint family is if you learn how to be forgiving and let things go. There will be fights over big thing and little things. You have to give people the benefit of the doubt - that maybe a simple remark came off in the wrong way but they had no intention to hurt you. If you keep holding on to resentment, you will end up being miserable and effect the mood of the entire house with your bad attitude. You have to learn how to resolve conflict if you're going to live with people long-term or else it's not going to last.

3) Be considerate
Be mindful of other people's sleeping times and quiet times. Don't pester them if they're trying to unwind and relax. Be considerate with your noise level during said times. Even in-law's need their privacy, and don't forget to give them some time alone at home too.

4) Don't let small annoyances get the best of you
Your in-law's are part of a different generation and culture so they are going run their household in an old-school type of way. Things that bother us are: the way my father-in-law loads the dishwasher; how my mother-in-law washes the counter-tops with water and the kitchen gets soaked; and my mother-in-law often forgets to use the cooking exhaust and our whole house smells like an explosion of onion chutney. All of these are small little annoyances that are common when you live together. They are petty things so don't waste your time by getting into a huge argument about it. And remember, if you want something done a certain way, it's best to do it yourself! (Eg. I often wipe the water off the counter-tops).

5) Go out for walks, often
If you feel like your in-law's are driving you nuts, go out for a walk and get some fresh air. If you want some privacy to vent, take your husband out for a walk. If your in-law's have not had any privacy for a while, take the kids out for a walk. The goal is to get some fresh air and walk off any tension. Plus, it's good for your health!

6) Be there for each other
Help out your in-law's when needed. Pick up their medication and take them to the doctor. Be there for each other when someone's sick, upset, or just lonely and needs a friend. Watch a movie together. Make an effort to celebrate birthdays. Be kind. Pick up what your in-law's like to eat at the grocery store, or if you notice that they're out of toothpaste, buy it for them.

7) Keep a master family calendar
In a multi-generational family, there is a lot of coordinating different schedules. I keep a master family calendar that is centrally located in the kitchen so that all the family members can reference it. Everyone writes down their appointments, classes, social get-together's, and travel dates so that we know who's doing what and we avoid miscommunication.

8) If you work from home, create your own work space
Since my in-law's moved in with us I had to give up my old office room that I used to retreat to write in. It has been really hard to concentrate and get any work done with the hustle and bustle of the house. Sometimes I work at the dining table, after the kids go to bed, but I am often distracted by my in-law's. Lately, I have been bringing my laptop into the bedroom when the baby naps in the afternoon. If you do work from home, make sure to retreat somewhere that there are less distractions. Overall, living in a joint family has made the household run smoothly, but it has made my work productivity go down.

9) Use headphones
If you want to listen to music, be mindful of other people and use your headphones. If you want to watch a TV show that you know they don't like, use your headphones. 

10) Show appreciation
If your mother-in-law likes to cook, compliment her on her cooking. If your in-law's watch the kids so you can go out and do something, say thank you. Indian elders are not used to verbal appreciation so a little goes a long way. My mother-in-law often says "why are you thanking me for something that is my duty?" but then she appreciates my thanks anyway.

11) Escape for the weekend
Plan your own weekend getaways or vacations to get a break from home life. Whenever there is some tension in the home, it can always be solved by a little space and perspective. Whether it is going on a weekend trip solo, with friends, or with your spouse and kids, it can give you a nice break from daily routines.

12) Take your in-law's on a fun outing
Don't completely ignore your in-law's - take them out for fun, too. Whether it is to the Indian grocery store, a restaurant, bowling, a shopping mall, or a movie, it's fun to get out of the house all together sometimes.

13) Your in-law's don't care about your house rules
Indian elders do not like house rules and they don't like ultimatums. If anything, it's going to piss them off. Don't tell them how you operate your household - let them find their own way in your household. There are going to be issues with bedtimes, constant phone calls to India at night, too much TV for the kids, different discipline styles, the pooja bell ringing at dawn, and your mother-in-law complaining that you don't feed your kids enough. That is all normal.

14) Be flexible
Living with your in-law's is something many of us Western brides never thought we would do and you might feel like your life is a lot different than you had imagined it. Realize that your in-law's are not going to be alive forever. Be flexible and try to be easy to live with.

15) Embrace new ways of life
Inviting your in-law's to live with you means that you are inviting in a whole different culture, family dynamic, generation, religious practices, diet, values and parenting methods into your home. You're also inviting in new habits, TV shows, music, and movies that they bring in.


What about you guys?
What are some tips that you can share for joint families?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Things I'm Doing Differently with Baby #2

Both of my babies are so different in personality and I'm finding what works with one does not work with the other - my style of mothering is slightly tailored to each one. Maya was our first baby and I was in my twenties when I had her and I didn't have any experience with kids. I remember the first day in the hospital, after giving birth, I was so embarrassed that I did not even know how to change a diaper, so I made husband-ji do it! None of my friends had kids and none of them were even married yet. Looking back, we truly had no idea what we were doing as parents. It really was all done by trial and error - sometimes I'm surprised how well Maya has turned out...given that we were completely inexperienced! Veda is such a different baby that not everything that worked with Maya has worked with her. Parents can be very passionate about the methods they use in raising their kids, but in reality, there is no "right way". At the end of the day, it's whatever works for the specific child.

Here are a few things that we have done differently with baby #2:

More breastfeeding
The biggest difference has probably been the breastfeeding. Veda is an exclusively breastfed baby, and won't take a bottle or a pacifier [Read more about our breastfeeding journey HERE]. I got a lot of help from the nurses at the hospital before we were sent home, which really gave me a great latch from the beginning. With Maya, I did not like the nudity of breastfeeding, so I had an aversion to it from the beginning. She also got a bad latch that was not corrected, so it was very painful. Maya only breastfed for a month before I started supplementing with formula, and then I pumped for 3 months until I gave it up all together. So she was only on my breast for a very short time. She also always took a pacifier, and we used it until she was past two years old. Both methods have their pro's and con's. With Maya, I loved the freedom of having husband-ji feed her, especially at night. A con would be that there was a lot more bottle washing, and it also took a long time to get her off the pacifier. With Veda, I love breastfeeding her and it has been a wonderful bonding experience to nourish her from my own body. Cons - since she is exclusively breastfed, momma can't catch a has been very demanding! But since she has started solids, we are slowly trying to drop a few feeds so that I can go out and have some time to myself.

More intuition
I have read a lot less baby books this time. I think I only had one baby-related book on my nightstand which was Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding. I prefer to trust my intuition, and it helps to just focus on the baby and drown out all the incessant chatter. Moms worry enough, without information overload adding to it!
When I had Maya, I had a big stack of books on everything from feeding, to sleeping, to development. And don't forget the internet - Web MD, weekly Baby Centre updates - I was in a conscious anxious state of whether or not she would survive each day, despite being a wonderfully healthy baby! People also offer so much advice, which I used to take so personally. With Veda, I don't ask for advice and when I'm given unsolicited advice, I just let it roll off of me because trusting my natural intuition is what's best for her.

Less going out
I used to take Maya everywhere from the time she was a week old. Even my midwife wanted me to slow down, but it was really boring for me to be at home with the baby. I loved to take her out in the stroller - so much so, that it was the only place she would nap until she was 18 months old! Because I had to walk her to sleep, I lost all my baby weight within 11 months. Husband-ji and I used to take her out to restaurants, travel...we took her everywhere! Sometimes it was stressful because we took her out despite her readiness for it. Looking back, I really overdid it. With Veda, I have barely gone out at all - just last month I started to go out to some mom and baby activities. Not going out too much, especially in the beginning, made me recover from childbirth at a more relaxed pace. I didn't feel so much pressure to "bounce back" to pre-baby life - something which is, of course, irreversible. And also, a lot of the times it was overwhelming for me to go out with Veda, due to my PPD
Our home life was also a factor in venturing out - with Maya, it was just me and her at home while husband-ji worked 6 days a week, so I felt like we both needed the socialization. And plus, I didn't have any mom friends. With Veda, we live in a joint family household of 6 people, so there's a lot of daily hustle and bustle to entertain her. And I already have my mom friends whom I meet for play-dates, so I don't have to search desperately for moms to meet.

More therapy
This time, I started going to a female therapist in my second trimester of pregnancy with Veda. She gave me some wonderful advice and it helped that she's also a mom. I really liked how I felt like I could talk to her because she made me feel like her place was a safe, inviting space where I could express myself. Motherhood is very complex and it's helpful to have someone to talk to about it. I have been seeing her regularly since I had Veda, and it has had a really positive influence on my outlook, and it has especially helped during my PPD. When you become a mother, a lot of issues resurface about how you were raised and what you'd want to do differently, so it helps untangle those emotions.

More co-sleeping
This is something we never did with Maya! I was so against it, and I liked having my own space and my own bed. Maya was in her own room, in her own crib, by the time she was 3 months old. Veda has her own crib in our room, and half of the night she ends up in my bed because I'm nursing her all through the night and it's just easier for me. By the time 3AM rolls around, I can't get up anymore to rock her to sleep, so I just allow her into my bed and she sleeps and nurses until 8AM. I also lay down with her for most of her naps, so I can catch up on my sleep. I really love sleeping next to her and snuggling with her. I'm not sure when exactly she's going to sleep in her own bed, but I'm not going to rush it.

More self-feeding
Maya was very active and we still have to force her to sit down and eat. She rarely eats enough, and it will never even occur to her that she's hungry. She has always been this way, which is part of the reason why we needed help from the iPad to feed her - something we have since stopped. We didn't try self-feeding with her and I don't think she would have done it either. We spoon-fed her until she was 4 years old! So crazy. Then, at age 4, she started having her lunch at school, so we started asking her to feed herself at home too. With Veda, she's a big foodie. Every time she sees anyone with a plate, she comes over and wants what they are having. She also loves more textures, so I just give her small pieces of things and she feeds herself. Then, after she does that for a bit, I spoon-feed her just to top her up a little bit.

Less fighting
Husband-ji and I fought so much when we had Maya! Over absolutely everything. He had his own way, and I had my way, and we used to criticise each other about which way was best or how it should be done. I realized later on, after many, many fights and marital counselling, that we each have our own way as parents and that it's ok to have different styles of child-rearing. With Veda, I've let a lot of things go and I'm open to try anything - or "whatever works". For example, sleep training & night weaning are planning to do in the next few months - I'm open to try several different methods.

More present
Having two kids that are 4.5 years apart in age, I am so much more conscious of how fast children grow up. Seeing how big Maya is compared to Veda, I am cherishing every moment with both of them. Motherhood can be such a blur of routines that you forget to stop and smell the roses.

More asking for help
When I had Maya, I wanted to be the perfect mom and I wanted to do everything myself with no help from anyone. What the heck was I thinking?!? Jesus. I don't know where I got this ridiculous idea from, and it really led to several mental breakdowns as I began to understand how hard motherhood was - physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually - especially when you're doing it on your own. Nobody can do it alone and people shouldn't have to. Asking for help with the kids is an act of self-care, and I wish I had done it sooner rather than later. I think I wanted to prove to myself that I could be a good mother by taking full responsibility. The result was Maya being extremely clingy to me, even to this day!
Going in to having another child, I knew I would have to ask for help and I was ok with it. I let my mother-in-law help a lot more with her, which is convenient because she lives with us. I have also hired a babysitter to come twice a week to look after Veda, so that she has some exposure to a caregiver outside of our family.

Less screen time
This is something we implemented in our home last year which I'm so proud of. We used to get help from our handy iPad to help feed Maya from the time she was 10 months old. It was so wrong, and she got so addicted to it. I have completely refused to do this with Veda, and if she gets restless while having her meals, I hand her one of her beloved books. Our screen time rules in the household now is that Maya gets to watch one 30 minute episode of a kids' show on TV after school, which Veda also wanders over to watch with her. On the weekends, we always watch a movie all together. Nowadays, the screen time is more about togetherness. I also keep down my own screen-time habits by using the "Moments" app which keeps track of how much time you spend on your phone and reminds you to get off it!

Less buying useless crap
Baby gear is a huge business and there are products for anything baby related and even whole aisles dedicated to babies....not to mention rows upon rows of toys! With Maya, I didn't know what I would need so I just bought everything. Then I realized how little we used all the stuff and it just accumulated into a big stressful clutter! I kept the really useful items for our second baby, and especially the clothes. But this time, I find that I'm not using that much. All you need is a few good quality clothes, really. Clutter can be really stressful for kids, so I've been trying to keep everything to a minimum. Besides, Veda is much more entertained by grandma's pots and pans from the kitchen!

That's all so far, but I'm sure we will have lots more as Veda transitions into toddlerhood!


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Best books about Pregnancy & Childbirth

Pregnancy is a complicated time for women as our bodies (and souls) are changing to accommodate a new, powerful life force. It is also a naturally anxious time for a woman - Will my baby be okay? Will I be okay? How will I manage? How much will my life change? Most women get overloaded by all the wrong kinds of advice - like all the things that can go wrong. While most of it is well-meaning, I truly believe that the most important gift you can give the pregnant woman is confidence and the belief that yes, she can give birth, and yes, she will make a great mother.

For both my pregnancies, I read a lot of books to increase my confidence about giving birth and explored many different options. It helped me narrow down a birth plan, educate me about my body, and get me mentally prepared to give birth.

It is also very important for a woman to BE INFORMED and educate herself about the different stages of pregnancy, childbirth, and even early infant care. You need to coach yourself - and your partner - about the different stages of labour. You need to research different positions for birthing and explore Plan A, B, and C.

Here are some of my favorite books about pregnancy & childbirth:

The first prenatal class we took in preparation for Maya's birth was a Birthing From Within class and their confidence-building methods transformed me from a scared girl to a brave woman, ready to surrender to my birth. Funnily enough, I didn't read this actual book until I was pregnant with Veda and found a lot more useful tips. One thing I really adore about the Birthing From Within approach is that it concentrates on childbirth as a couples event and it gets the dad involved as an equal partner, which really sets the tone for your journey as parents. This approach fully involves dad in the labour, rather than treating him like a useless sidekick. It not only addresses the woman's fears about childbirth, but also the man's. It is truly a partnership childbirth book, as all books should be in this genre. It also has a lot of great creative projects you can utilize to face your fears and express yourself.
This is an excellent book that gives a comprehensive guide of all possible options for birth. It covers the pros and cons of different prenatal providers, places of birth, interventions, and more. Definitely a must read for anyone who is pregnant and researching options for their delivery. I loved the woman-centered and birth-centered tone of this book and it respects the fact that every woman is different and it's not a "one size fits all" approach. It also features real birth stories.
Also check out: Ricki Lake's groundbreaking documentary The Business of Being Born.
Ina May is the leading midwife in the United States with over 30 years of experience. She encourages women to have unnecessary medical interventions during birth. Ina May is slightly old school and she uses a lot of ancient wisdom. This is a good book for women to read if they have some fears of childbirth because Ina truly believes that childbirth is beautiful and it's nothing to be scared of. The book shares a lot of tips, including alternative pain relief, positioning that you can do during childbirth, and how to create a safe and soothing environment for childbirth.
This is a great guide if you're interested in breastfeeding. I would read this before giving birth, and have it handy for on a bedside table for late night nursing. It's not just about breastfeeding, it has chapters on weaning, nursing challenges, sleep, and creating "nursing manners" with your baby (like not letting the baby slap you!).

Active Birth: The New Approach to Giving Birth Naturally
This is an excellent book with great advice about labour, but also the importance of movement during pregnancy, labour, and beyond. The book contains a lot of yoga-type stretches that you can do during pregnancy and there is a broad section of childbirth positions for each stage of labour. This book has a large section on water births, and also good postpartum exercises.

What to Expect When You're Expecting
What to Expect is a comprehensive guidebook that informs you of all the different stages of pregnancy in great detail. All pregnant ladies own this book...for a reason! It is so informative and it is invaluable. It's a week by week encyclopedia and a great starter book for a first pregnancy.

From the Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, and Becoming a Parent
I read this book during my pregnancy with Maya, and I found it to be a good alternative to What to Expect. It is a neutral guide, with a lot of different options. It's not preachy, which I loved.


Dear readers, what are your favorite books about pregnancy & childbirth?


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2017 in Review: The year of "patience"!

(Veda: 11 months old)

I wanted to write this entry a few weeks ago, before the start of 2018, but we were in the midst of Winter break from school which means both kids at home...which means no break for mommy! Husband-ji was off work, and I was enjoying spending time with Maya, and all of us together as a family. It was fun, but exhausting, and I'm glad to be back to my routine now!

Welcoming the new year is always refreshing, like starting a new chapter. But it also has me reflecting on the past year. If I could describe 2017 in one word, I would say "Patience". It was a trying year in many ways, and it unfolded slowly.

The best part of it, of course, was welcoming Veda! I love that she was born in January, because as the year progressed, she grew. By the end of the year, she was walking. I started the year pregnant, and I ended the year with a toddler! Veda made 2017 go by quickly for me. As always, I was engulfed by becoming a mother again, albeit with a demanding baby who loves to breastfeed and doesn't sleep very well. That might explain my lack of regular blog posts last year, in case you were wondering! Even though I'm not a first time mom, I had never experienced that level of sleep deprivation before - there were months where I was functioning on 1-2 hours of sleep per day, until my doctor warned me that nobody can survive like that. In the beginning, I was so grateful to have another baby and I thought that if I just concentrated on being grateful that everything would be fine. In those early months, I was just functioning on that rush of adrenaline that you get after you give birth, but then the exhaustion creeps in. Severe sleep deprivation + no time for myself = a late onset of postpartum depression. Which somehow, I still feel shitty about, because I love Veda so very much. However, it was a blessing in disguise because now I'm trying to re-gain my identity and balance out my life a bit more. And most importantly, I'm getting help. Slowly, my life is getting a lot better, and I'm just taking it one day at a time. And being a seasoned mother, I know this "no sleep" thing is only temporary. That Veda will, eventually, sleep through the night. Sometimes it's hard with small kids!

Our building construction was supposed to be done in January or Spring of 2017. We still have yet to move in because the damn thing is still being built. It was delay, after delay, after delay! We are all frustrated and annoyed. Our current living arrangements were only supposed to be temporary - with my in-law's sleeping on my living room floor - but now it has gone on longer than expected due to this construction. Now that the hard-wood flooring has been done, I can confidently say that we will definitely be moving in sometime this year. God knows when! 

I had a very difficult year with my parents. My parents are both facing heath crisis's and I felt helpless because I was so tied up with the baby that I couldn't offer any help to them. I worry a lot about them and their decision making is not the greatest right now, but I've had to let go of a lot of things and trust that if they really need help then they will just ask. They are very independent which has it's own set of challenges. We fought a lot this year because of that. It's hard for me to see them because I have to face their suffering and health deterioration. It is excruciating but there's no way around it - I still need to see them, but I can't not feel anything, either.

I really didn't blog as much as I wanted to in 2017. Any extra free time I had, I spent catching up on my sleep. I had so many creative ideas but no time or energy to complete them, and then when my depression set in, I felt zapped of any passion for life. Welcoming the new year, I'm feeling a lot more energized and now my creative juices are revving up again. I'm doing a lot of reading again, which makes me feel a bit more like my true self! I'm looking forward to a lot of things this year, but mostly I'm proud that I survived the struggles of last year. For that, I feel brave. And I guess that's a good way to start a new year - with a brave, confident step.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Our Christmas celebrations

(Our Christmas card - by Artifact Uprising)

We had a really lovely Christmas this year. It was sweet and simple, just the way Christmas should be. To be honest, we are going to be moving to our new place soon and I wanted to keep the gifts minimal because I'm stressed out already thinking about all the packing that we're going to have to do! We also had a very busy Indian festival season in the Fall, which seemed to go on...and on...and on.

(Maya setting up our Christmas tree)

This year, we set up our tree in mid-December, a little later than normal. Finding the time has been really hard with our very active Veda! Especially since she gets into everything that she's not supposed to! We were also stumped at what to do for a tree, since I knew Veda would tear it down in 0.00001 seconds. I saw these miniature real pine trees at Whole Foods that already had a stand, so we decided to buy one of those and put it on top of our hutch, so that Veda couldn't reach it. Maya decorated the tree, which didn't need much because it was so little. This year, we did more decorations around the house instead - high out of Veda's reach. I hung Christmas lights around our living room and Maya made a snowflake craft banner. Of course, as soon as we did this, Veda taught herself how to climb on the couch to reach the Christmas tree! So, someone had to be sitting in the corner of the couch at all times in the living room - either my mother-in-law or me! Needless to say, we were quite figuratively couch potatoes for the month of December!

Maya finished school right before Christmas, so it seemed like we didn't have time to do much. But, we did do our tradition of baking sugar cookies on Christmas Eve. It took the whole day - in two portions - before Veda's nap and after her nap! Before Veda's nap, we did the mixing, cutting and baking. After her nap, Maya did the decorating. It was a really fun activity to do together, and of course Maya left out a cookie for Santa that she made.

Christmas Day started at 4:30 in the morning! Maya was so excited for Santa to come that she was up so early, and insisted to sleep in the living room with my in-law's (under the Christmas tree) so that she wouldn't miss Santa. Maya then woke up for the day at 6am, followed by Veda, so we were opening gifts while it was still dark out! Crazy.

Veda was very entertained by her first Christmas. We gave her lots of baby books, which she was very happy with. Maya spent the day playing with her new toys. We also watched Home Alone & Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, which Maya loved. I can't believe she's old enough to watch Home Alone!

In the evening, we got all dressed up and headed to my aunt's place for Christmas dinner, which only lasted an hour because the kids were so exhausted!

Shortly after Christmas, Veda started walking! We were all shocked! It was a few days before her 11 month birthday - just like big sister Maya who started walking at 11 months. It's hard to believe that last year, at this time, I had a baby in my belly...and this year I have a baby who's walking!


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