Post marriage it is the choice of the married life partners to live in a nuclear or a joint family. Though the husband’s parents may or may not influence the decision, there are certain pros and cons associated with both the family types. The following four women have a very clear understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the position they are in as far as their family-type is concerned.
Both Nidhi Vashisht, fulltime PhD research student with Delhi University jointly with IIT Delhi and Neha Bahl, Media Relation Executive with a Delhi-based Image Management Company, belong to a nuclear family. On the other hand, Rashmi Mittal, Pro-Chancellor, Lovely Professional University and Reha Gandhi were married into a joint family. Reha was working as a Senior Consultant in an imports firm (family business). She adds, “However, after my baby, who is 13 months old now, work has taken a back seat and now I mainly work from home.”
Nuclear Family: Advantages: Neha enumerates the advantages of Nuclear Families, “We are only answerable to our parents and no one else for our actions. We are quite independent to take all decisions. We have full freedom to do whatever we want to. We can relax and party whenever we want to.”
Disadvantages: Neha also lists the disadvantages: “We’ve got so many responsibilities to do on our own-be it domestic assistance or anything else. We have to do even small things on our own. When it comes to responsibility, it is entirely ours, whereas in a joint family, there are at least some people to share the responsibility. If we are going through any rough time, not many people are there to help you out. If all members are working, then family time with each other is hardly there.”
Joint Family: Advantages: Rashmi says that being a part of a Joint Family is savouring plenty of advantages. She says, “The first and the foremost being the imbibing of rich traditional values of our abounding culture that helps an individual to wear a healthy and righteous attitude towards life – which I feel goes to one’s own advantage, first and foremost. Secondly, synergy effect is more visible in case of joint families than anywhere else. The world is replete with examples when concerted effort, on a joint basis, by all the members of a family has reaped rich dividends in comparison to the same inputs put in isolation or in fragmented way. Thirdly, in time of crisis, the one belonging to a joint family has a resort or a warm shoulder to bank upon. This acts a cushion in pressing hours and an energy house to bounce back again; something which is missing grossly in solely nuclear families. Last, but not the least, there is division of responsibilities – which translates into increased leisure and free time for all in the family.”
Reha adds, “If the eldest members of a joint family set some rules and principles of equality in the family, then there is nothing better than it, as just a little management can unveil its countless advantages: firstly, the children are always in a protected environment. They automatically learn the values of sharing and caring, living with their cousins. Secondly, the elders in the family are also taken good care of. And they have their whole family in front of their eyes, when they need it the most. The essence of our culture, celebrated through festivals and pujas is always found in joint families and hence directly passed from generations to generations. And if done properly, the burden of work also gets divided among the members, giving adequate time for leisure and recreation.”
Disadvantages: Reha insists, “However, if there is no management or rules in the family, it just become a bunch of people forcefully tied together under one roof, with its following disadvantages: For a family to exist, the most important thing is financial management as inequality in this sphere gives the ultimate shock to a family’s foundation and this is where the problems begin, mostly if any partiality towards the needs of one are shown on the account of ignoring those of the other. Gradually, living under one roof becomes impossible. Also, misunderstandings as well as difference of opinion that come forward with the growing family leads to arguments and fights, which when witnessed by the children, have an adverse effect on their minds as well. Sometimes, the situation becomes so worse, that neither the individuals are taken good care of; nor they are allowed to go out and become independent. This ultimately leads them to become rebellious, again adding to the negativity. Further, when in a joint family, nobody undertakes their responsibility and duty; the health of elders gets ignored as well as the house becomes a mess. Here, the blame game starts, which again leads to never ending arguments. All this negativity ultimately leads to the breaking up of the family with a lot of bitterness, wherein the interest of the eldest and the youngest is most compromised. Talking in the context of disadvantages of joint families, I would strongly say that it is not the ‘joint family’ which gets wrong, but the “individualism” of its members that reflect in discords associated with joint families. When self-seeking and egoistic attitude creeps in members of joint families, it causes trouble. Hence, I would say that there is no disadvantage associated with the concept of joint family, but only in the greed and selfish approach of the members, therein.”
Hard Facts: Rashmi highlights certain hard facts about the institution, “Indian society has always been identified with togetherness and unison, as far as inter-relations are concerned; and a joint family has been the most elementary unit of the same. Not long ago, the word ‘family’ meant only ‘joint family’ and the concept of ‘nuclear family’ was something alien to the Indian society. Its presence was confined to the Metro cities only and was seen with a substantial number of raised eyebrows. But in the last two decades, things have undergone a sea change and nuclear families have become more of a norm rather than an exception. Individualism and profession propelled mobility, rising ambitions, influence of western culture and inclination towards smaller family are some of the prominent reasons in the advent and spread of nuclear families. Though nuclear families are identified with better life styles, yet they have their own set of problems. Joint families, also are not aloof of their set of woes, nevertheless the gains are on the higher side. Even those who have switched to nuclear ways, tend to get nostalgic about the days spent in joint families and referring them as ‘Good, old, golden days’”.
Reha regrets that the joint family system is diminishing, “The institution of Joint family when compared to a nuclear one, is struggling hard for its survival under present circumstances. Joint family in its true sense, is where a family that eats together, prays together and stays together has become a rare thing. However, when looking at its benefits, it can be said that, elders in the family can always look after the children of the working parents, whereas in nuclear families such children have to be left in day care centres or crèches. Morals and principles can be passed down by the elders in the family to the younger generations and hence the family traditions and values are found to be more intact in joint families than the nuclear ones. Also, festivals, birthdays, etc. have their own importance and are celebrated with great vigor and passion in joint families whereas, just dining out is the most preferred option on such occasions in nuclear families. Feelings of love, compassion, sharing and caring for each other are some of the natural feelings that are common in the members of a joint family living under one roof, however, people living in a nuclear family might have these feelings but have a very limited scope to show them.”
Is the grass greener on the other side? Rashmi says, “Never ever. Though I was born and brought up in a nuclear family; but getting married in a joint family has been more than just a pleasant experience. Yes, it was quite a ‘change’ for me in the beginning; but I feel that becoming a part of joint family (my in-laws) has helped me to realize my potential to the optimum in whatever I have done. Being the youngest ‘bahu’ (bride) in my family, I was fortunate to have the blessings and guidance of my MIL and my two elder sisters-in-law. Their experience has been instrumental in shaping my potential and personality as a woman and as a professional. There were gains, gains and more gains of being a part of a joint family, and I never felt that I should have a nuclear family. My family, which is joint in nature, is my strength and I cannot think of seeing myself, my husband and my kids in isolation from the rest of the family. In my case, certainly the grass is greener on my side only.”
Neha says, “Sometimes yes, you can say that the grass is greener on the other side, as till my 5th class, I lived in a joint family. But now I don’t wish to live in a joint family as lots of restrictions are there.”
Nidhi says, “I don’t know that it would have been better. It is still good to be in a nuclear family. In a joint family you have certain kind of restrictions, like clothing, food, coming home on time, etc. At times I don’t feel like cooking, we go out. But yes, when my husband is out of town, I do feel that it would have been more convenient and comfortable in a joint family. Let’s face it you are missing something if you are staying in a nuclear family and vice versa.”
Reha had a bad experience, which she relates, “I was born and brought up in a nuclear family and hence when getting married into a joint family, I was very excited as it appeared to me a daily party at home. However, as the time passed, the other feelings like those of jealousy, selfishness, etc. started raising their head. Mine was a joint family of 12 members, where every couple had their personal interests and priorities and hence, the common interest of the family as a whole was never taken care of, which led to daily arguments, the house being ignored, and gradually breaking up of the family, with a lot of bitterness. Therefore, no matter what side you are, the grass is always greener on the other side!! And since I have tasted the worst and the best of both the worlds, I can say that nuclear families are much better as not only, the distance among the extended family members maintains love but also allows the individuals to take control of their lives and become independent.”
This article was first published in Eve’s Times magazine and has been reproduced here with the permission of the editor, Swati Amar.