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.

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

  1. I love this blog and I am glad to see that you are writing regularly again. Writing is great therapy.

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  2. Tip #5 has helped us a LOT. What I would add to this is to be ready for the opposite of your Tip #1. You should definitely try to stay out of things, but also bear in mind that south Asian families are very tight knit, and it's quite common for members of the extended family to have a say on things that you'd think are none of their business. I deal with it the way my husband does: in one ear, and out the other :-D

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  3. Don't know how you do it but a joint family is the hardest thing for me and I am South Asian!

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  4. Stumbled upon your blog by chance. These are some really great tips, not just for in laws but to maintain any relationship in good terms. I am gonna bookmbookmark and keep referencing it .

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  5. this blog is amazing! so helpful. at times i feel resentment and anger, and once i read your blog - i can see different perspective! It is so insightful and kind, your in laws are lucky to have you! my in laws are pakistani , but indian-paksitan share so much in common, so all you advices apply to me!

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