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You are here : home > Raising Children > Parental Dilemmas > Parenting in Joint Families

Parenting in Joint Families

People now prefer to liver in a nuclear family. A joint family has its share of problems. But there are several advantages too. It is important to remember that compromise is essential. Here are some guidelines,follow them to enjoy family time with grandparents.

Is a joint family a happy family?

Commercial Hindi cinema has painted a saccharine sweet picture of families in the mind of the public. The audience is familiar with images of benevolent parents, brothers and sisters and their spouses that display cloying affection towards each other and who are willing to sacrifice their happiness for the sake of the family. Even if there is a black sheep in the fold, at the end of three hours he has realized the error of his ways and all is forgiven. But one only has to read the papers to shatter this illusion. Dowry deaths, property disputes, domestic violence, sexual and mental abuse - While this would be an extreme view, as these are family problems, not necessarily joint family problems, the fact is that the joint family is definitely not all joy and laughter. It would be unrealistic to expect it to be so. 

According to Dr. Sushma Mehrotra, "Not every family is a happy family. What is most important is the atmosphere in a joint family. If there is a congenial atmosphere in a joint family, it can be a virtue. However, if there is tension and conflict between the members of a joint family and if they are constantly playing games and trying to score over each other, all the advantages of a joint family are lost." 

Rohit Roy's experience is a case in point. He says, "Growing up in a joint family was definitely not a pleasant experience for me. My father's elder brother controlled the finances and my father had to ask his permission before he could buy anything. My aunt completely dominated my mother and treated her like a servant. She would tell my uncle that she was buying toys for my sister and me and then send the toys to her relatives." 

Sharing and caring?

Dr. Mehrotra feels that if there are several children in the joint family, there is a tendency for parents to make comparisons. Also, if one child is given something and the other isn't, it could lead to the development of unhealthy competition and feelings of envy. Most 'unhealthy' children come from joint families because they live together out of compulsion and not out of choice. 

Dr. Mehrotra has found that in spite of living in a joint family, children don't know how to share. "It is always assumed that children from joint families are more likely to share their things as they interact on a daily basis with so many people. However, if the family atmosphere is hostile, it can have an adverse affect on children. Especially in families where there is a lack of transparency, where many things are left unsaid, and where there is a lack of free expression."

Who's the boss?

Another problem is that there are too many authority figures in joint families. Sometimes, grandparents undermine the mother's authority because they feel that they have more experience in raising children. They pass adverse remarks to the mother in front of the children like, "You don't know how to handle children" - As a result, the mother feels suppressed, depressed and frustrated. She, in turn, takes her frustration out on her children, which affects the overall development of the child. In Dr. Mehrotra's opinion, "Children become very manipulative. They become the master players of the game. They learn how to get exactly what they want by playing the elders off against each other."

What is most important is that there should be agreement between the authority figures on disciplining the child. For instance, even if the grandparents do not agree with the mother on certain issues, they should not discuss these things in front of the children. Very often, grandparents pull up a mother for reprimanding her child. What they should do is back her up so that the child is aware that he has done something wrong. Otherwise, the child will always be in the right according to someone's standards. They should sort out their differences in the absence of the child. 

Generation gap is another important factor to be taken into consideration. The needs and expectations of the younger generation are constantly changing. The fact remains that there are no standards and rules written in stone as far as parenting is concerned. Now, in joint families, members of the older generation, tend to lay down the law in an autocratic fashion. The authority figures need to operate in a democratic fashion and make an attempt to bridge the generation gap. They must try to update their knowledge about the lifestyle of the younger generation and not constantly pass judgement on their activities. They must realize that times change and the way things were done in their time may not work any more. Everything cannot be seen in black and white. If they insist on being rigid, they will just distance themselves from their children and grandchildren. There will be a breakdown in communication and the elders will find that they are slowly becoming marginalized in the family. There should be respect and concern for each other's feelings rather than a constant battle for supremacy and authority. 

There are benefits 

A harmonious joint family set-up can be a boon. It can provide a wonderful support system emotionally and financially. In the ideal sense, one can share both one's triumphs and failures. The joint family is ideal for the woman who wants to work as well as have a family. Working women have someone to leave their children with when they are away at work, rather than leaving their children in a creche or with servants. They can be assured that their children are being looked after by people who care for them almost as much as they do themselves. After all, as they say, "blood is thicker than water."

Mrs. Usha Mehta highlighted a few of the benefits of a joint family. She said, "While we had our share of fights and arguments, I did find that being part of a joint family had its advantages. There were people with whom you could share family responsibilities and social duties. My sister-in-law and I take turns cooking, dropping the children to school and baby-sitting. Despite our differences, there is a bond that grows from sharing common family experiences. Also, my children did not have to go out of the home to seek companionship. They always had their cousins to play with."

Everyone knows how difficult family relations are in general. Nuclear families sometimes find it hard to maintain cordial relations. One would probably think that in joint families with so many people and so many vested interests, maintaining family harmony must be an uphill task. Dr. Mehrotra feels that as far as problems are concerned she would definitely not say that there are more problems in joint families and less in nuclear families. Some people have difficulty dealing with other people and such people will face problems wherever they go. For a joint family system to work, the members will have to learn to adjust, to overcome their petty jealousies, to develop mutual respect between the generations, and to learn to give each other space.

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Vijaya Iyer.9 years ago
i am a working mother. it is only because of my mother in law that i can work. i used to think that being kids in a joint family was great, but now i think that even being a parent in a joint family is great.
zina gadgil.9 years ago
i am a working mother and work long hours. i have two kids aged 3 (daughter) and 5 months (son). i am all in favou of a joint family. my mother in law is very good. she takes very good care of my children, which my mother would never want to do. initially, i was very apprehensive to move into a joint family being the only child to my parents, but no regrets !!
renu.9 years ago
i have two children aged son is 9years and daughter is 6 year. i want to live in joint family because of my children's care
Namrata.9 years ago
i am a housewife living in a joint family and have 2 sons aged 4 years and 6 months. my mother-in-law helps me a lot. but my father-in-law due to his ego against me has spoiled the environment of our home, which is effecting adversely on my child personality. i want to live in a nuclear family setup.
Lalita Chugh.9 years ago
we are living in a joint family having two sons aged 7 years and 2 years.
in our family, my three brother-in-laws, two sister-in-laws and their three children
with my mother-in-law and father-in-law. i think, in
joint family, children cann't get healthy environment as they get in a single family.
ccc.9 years ago
it's give and take. if your mil takes care of ur
kids, u spend the whole weekend doing household
chores out of guilt or gratitude or sense of duty.most of ur evenings are
spent cooking dinner or making
preparations for breakfast or lunch next day.
hence, u spend less time with ur own kids. others
spend more time with them.
just my 2 cents.
marriedgal.9 years ago
i am living in a joint family, and there are pros and cons as with everything else in the world! one thing i dont like is the lack of privacy, less time with my own husband. more time goes in doing the housework for so many people , and one cant just relax and not cook dinner because your "father in law has to eat indian food" kind of thing instead of maybe calling for pizza!
also narrow mindedness of in laws is an issue sometimes.
another thing is that there is lack of freedom in spending, doing things etc, everything is visible to everyone!
pros include support whenever you need it, good advice, help in household duties, and of course no lack of company to go places.
viswanathan.9 years ago
joint family is like a tree;the branches, leaves , flowers and fruits all together make the tree worthy to look at. the tree loses strength even by chipping one branch. the leaves bring the necessary enzimes for the growth of the tree. but there are some tress where chipping off branches and plucking of laves and flowers and fruits do help the growth of the tree. environment makes the tree worthy or not.

viswanathan nj usa
FRUSTRATED.9 years ago
i am 35 year old indian born in usa and have been married for 12 years. i have two boys (8 & 4). i was set up in an arranged marriage at age 23. i live in a joint family. i have never seen india and now have no desire to see it. i have lot of resentment due to many ignorant indian(gossipy) people i have come across. i am a very educated woman. my family over the years have destroyed me mentally. i strongly do not believe in joint families. i think people in general become highly dependent on each other, as a mother i need privacy with my child and am deprived of that special bond. in the long run the marriage is not healthy. due to different generation lifestyle and higher stressful society, divorce rates are higher than before. to save the next generation todays parents need to become independent. we need to stop this repeating lifestyle. our women are brighter and much smarter and can accomplish lot of things in life - i think joint families pull even the strongest achievers down.
happy go lucky.9 years ago
i think there r pros and cons of everything.i got married and came into a joint family.i have a loving mil and a caring hubby but my elder sis-in-law was mean and,she gave me tensions.but we moved out at the rt. time and now i have a good relation with everyone.
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