This politically incorrect post is in response to Jottings and Musings's comment and question in response to my post on Uttam Dave's article - "I find the entire concept of a joint family strange and artificial and would never like to live in one. I think of marriage as two adults coming together to form a new home and family of their own, rather than a convenient arrangement for guys where the girl moves in and marries his entire family, so to speak!
As an older and wiser woman, I want to know your opinion IHM, is it strange or wrong to think like this?"
This will require a lot of tact jottingsnmusings...let me take a deep breath. Okay, in it's traditional form??? I think the Joint Family System, in its traditional form, is extremely convenient for boys'/sons' parents and grand parents. In India when we talk about taking care of aging parents it is assumed that it's the boys' parents.
Most young wives do not like it, because they are the ones with a lot of thankless (or conditional deification) responsibilities (including family honor) and not much authority!
For a young bride joint family means many eyes scrutinizing how she cooks her dal; is it time for her to provide the family with a grand son; the in-laws decide if they should find out whether the unborn is a girl or a much valued son, and what to do with it. And so on. What she eats, how she dresses, what time she wakes up (staying late in bed is frowned upon). Her children's diet, education, values are all discussed by the elders in the in-laws family. They also decide whether or not she works. And even if she is 'allowed' to work she must come home and help her MIL in the kitchen. Do they need a domestic help? Ask the MIL. A new dish washer? MIL decides. It does mean a loss of personal space and nearly no freedom for the DIL.
What about the DIL's husband? This system gets him the comfort of living with his 'biological parents' all his life! He can sleep till late, he never needs to enter the kitchen, he can come home and sprawl in front of the TV after a hard day's work, and be served hot tea and snacks by her. DIL generally cannot watch TV if MIL is working in the kitchen. The days menu is nearly always the in laws' decision.
His aging parents are cared for by the daughter in law, he has no worries. Her parents??? What about this girl's parents? Do our Indian family values include the care of a girl's parents in their old age?
No they don't. To the limit that even today, many DILs' parents do not even drink a glass of water at their daughter's married home (or her in laws' home). Or if they do eat there , they pay for it. Unbelievable but true. Most Indian parents can rightfully demand that their son looks after them, but if a daughter volunteers to do the same typical, traditional parents have inhibitions even today. But where does the girl even dream of volunteering for something so selfish. Her duties lie with her in-laws. I have heard women say, "I am good to my in laws, I am sure God will make my brother's wife nice to my parents."
They cannot even imagine that they can demand that they be 'allowed' to care for their own parents also. (Unless they are in Nuclear Families). It is not appreciated if she wants to think of, talk and or wish to maintain too much contact with her biological family. The biggest disadvantage of this is that she is not able to draw support from them in case of abuse. And there is a lot of abuse. Often leading to bride burning. Why is it accepted by the girl's parents? It is accepted because they believe their daughter's marriage is more important than her life. Most Indian parents do believe that a girl's honor and her marital status are very important. Divorce in such families is a dirty word, a dead or unhappy daughter is more acceptable.
Who made such a system?
Why aren't we changing it fast?
Aren't our skewed family values pushing us towards killing unborn baby girls?
Does it sound fair and good to you? Yes? Then why do so many young wives take their own lives? (Many times they are not living with the in laws but the pressure is there all the same.)
The boy faces no such harsh realities. He has a wife to take care of his parents, and his home and his children. He does not have to move in with strangers, and love them and obey them and be devoted to them. The best way jottingsandmusings to see if it is fair or not is to ask a boy's mother if she would be prepared to send her son to a girl's house and train him to live with the same honor and dignity as a girl does, will she teach him to consider them his own family, and put them before his biological parents. Will she teach him that he must take their permission before visiting her.
Now for some good, practical, Counsel for IN LAWS in joint families. Read it, it makes great sense.
Added on Oct 23 2008 : Here's some more counsel for Mothers in law, by a Mother in law.