Living with in-laws after marriage is an old tradition
In India, living with in-laws after marriage is a custom that women have to endure in many marriages even today. While it may work out well for some women, there are plenty of issues that come with this practice.
The origin of this practice dates back to the Vedas. According to the Vedas, Kanyadanam refers to the ritualistic “passing the baton” in terms of who is responsible for the well-being of the woman after marriage. She is considered to be under the care of her father before marriage and her husband takes over the responsibility after marriage.
Here is an extract of the Vedic chants made during the kanyadanam ritual:
“She standeth here, pure before the holy fire, as one blessed with boons of a good mind, a healthy body, life-long companionship, of her husband (Sumangali Bhagyam), and children with long life. She standeth as one who is avowed to stand by her husband virtuously. Be she tied with this reed-grass rope, to the sacrament of marriage!”
The father of the bride, while offering his daughter chants – “I offer ye my daughter, a maiden virtuous, good-natured, very wise, decked with ornaments to the best of my ability, that she shall guard the Dharma, Wealth and Love!”
Then the bridegroom gives assurance to the father not once, but three times that he will take care of her and will remain her companion for the rest of his life. This is the Hindu equivalent of “till death do us apart!”
According to Manu Smriti, a set of social and religious codes thought to be written in the second and first century BC, that continues to be the basis of many social practices in India even today,
“Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers. The houses on which female relations, not being duly honoured, pronounce a curse, perish completely as if destroyed by magic. Hence men who seek (their own) welfare, should always honour women on holidays and festivals with (gifts of) ornaments, clothes and (dainty) food.”
That’s not all, according to the Atharvana Veda, “When a woman is invited into the family through marriage, she enters “as a river enters the sea” and “to rule there along with her husband, as a queen over the other members of the family.”
Interestingly, the Islamic view on living with in-laws after the marriage takes a much more liberal approach. You can read more about it here.
As you can see, there is a strong historical background behind the practice of women living with husband and in-laws after marriage. However, modern aspirations have always clashed with traditions resulting in conflicts.
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Living with In-laws you hate?
Here is a hilarious incident that highlights the difficulties that women face after marriage from the in-laws.
A young woman in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, got into an arranged marriage. As expected, she moved in with her husband and in-laws.
She did not like the arrangement and stormed out of the house with her 4-year-old daughter to live with her parents. Her distraught husband comes running after her and convinces her to return. She agrees on one condition. Her husband should do all the chores and massage her feet every day!
The desperate man agrees. However, the in-laws don’t agree with the arrangement. They force their daughter-in-law to do all the work.
Daughter-in-law wants revenge.
She decides to pee on their tea and this unique practice is repeated for a year till the mother-in-law catches her squatting on top of the tea kettle!
8 Reasons why living with in-laws is a bad idea!
Here are eight practical challenges of living with in-laws.
The house has its rules: Every house has its rules. Be it where one can eat food, where the utensils can be washed, when and how the house has to be cleaned, laundry time and so on. Your in-laws have probably ‘managed’ the household for over 25 years and are set in their ways. You will have to either put up with their stated and unstated rules or risk disrupting the peace. Living with controlling in-laws looking at every move you make can be truly stressful.
Privacy matters: If you had grown up to be an independent woman, you will find that living with in-laws means there is no privacy anymore. Even your own bedroom is no longer out of bounds for your in-laws. What you keep in your cupboard can become scandalous. This lack of privacy can be quite unnerving for the newly wed bride. That’s not all, many Indian households don’t have enough space and walls are really thin!
Personal freedom: The first casualty when you start living with your in-laws is your personal freedom. Freedom to wear the dress of your choice, freedom to get up late in the mornings, freedom to skip breakfast and call in a favourite pizza, and the freedom to pile up the laundry suddenly vanish. You might as well be locked up in a high-security prison because remember that the house has its rules and you may have to necessarily fall in line.
Lifestyle choices: Lifestyle choices can also become a casualty when you start living with overbearing in-laws. The non-vegetarian food you crave, the way you drink your coffee, the newspaper you read in the morning, or even the TV programs you would love to watch and many other lifestyle choices and habits are now subject to ‘adjustment’ or outright censure. If you do things behind your in-law’s back, you may have a scandal on your hand if your “activities” are discovered.
Living space: If you have an independent living area in a joint family, you are blessed. Invariably, women find themselves living with in-laws in a two bedroom or a three bedroom house. This automatically means all common living spaces are shared and this impacts your personal freedom and privacy. Check out what women say in response to a question about intimacy after moving in with the in-laws!
Managing conversations: In any household, regular conversations between two people can easily spark unsolicited opinions or comments from the rest of the family members. In fact, innocent statements can be construed to be vicious and very soon women living with in-laws realise that every word they speak is subject to interpretation and comments.
Living with in-laws with child: The generational clash between the young parents and the “experienced” elders who had raised children before can spark tense encounters. Be ready to deal with the daily standoff with your in-laws about what is the right way to discipline a child, what is an acceptable practice or habit for the child, the extent to which rituals and religious activities should be taught to the child.
Living with elderly in-laws: You may have planned to ride into the sunset with the love of your life, but if you move into a joint family with elderly in-laws, your in-laws may be riding into the sunset and you will be the one carrying them! While caring for the elderly parents is considered to be a sacred duty in India, there is every chance that your life is hijacked by the chores you will have to do to care for your elderly in-laws at home.
But, it is not all gloom and doom. With the right approach, planning and mindset, it is possible to carve out an ‘independent’ life even when living with in-laws. The difficulties in living with in-laws can be addressed using a combination of common sense, empathy and decisive actions.
Living with in-laws after arranged marriage has always been the tradition in India. Some of these issues include lack of privacy, conflicts about how to take care of a new-born baby or raise a child, clash in values and lifestyle choices, managing the expectations of in-laws to name a few.
Living with in-laws is a good idea!
Here is a real life story that goes against the idea that living with in-laws is hell.
As a married woman, I must say I love to stay in a joint family. So far so good. I just got shifted to their place as got a job in the same city, while my husband lives alone (like a bachelor!) in another city! Touch wood for all the luck I have.
My in-laws are super understanding. I would not use the word interference as I generally discuss 95% my issues with them and seek guidance just like I do with my parents.
I would give full credits to my husband and my sister-in-law who support me even when they do not agree with my random decisions.
Advice for living with in-laws
Here are nine practical tips for living with in-laws after marriage.
Start with a positive mindset: Always assume your in-laws are there to support you and you are going to have a wonderful relationship for the rest of your life. When you start with a positive frame of mind you will have a greater capacity to overlook shortcomings. However, things can really go downhill if your in-laws don’t live up to your opinions about them. On the flip side, if you move in with your husband with the assumption that your in-laws are out to get you, you may end up blowing things out of proportion.
Find your private space: It is important to find your private living space if you can. There are many households with a private living and bedroom with a common kitchen. if you can pull this off, you will probably have a better chance of surviving! if this is not feasible, keep yourself busy during the day. If you are a career woman, that’s very easy. If not, you could always find opportunities such as enrolling in a course or volunteering.
Contribute to the family: When possible, please attempt to help your in-laws in day-to-day chores or other activities. This is a great way to score brownie points that you can encash. Your in-laws probably need help with their computer or smartphone and you can be the go-to girl on issues with gadgets they may be using or you take full responsibility for making breakfast once a week. Pick and choose areas where you are good and build goodwill.
Pick your battles: You should pick your battles so that you can win the war! When you start living with your in-laws you will find that they have a routine and have set preferences for doing even simple things like washing dishes or laundry. Don’t impose your preferences on them or expect to change their routines. In general, if you have to grin and bear with a different routine that really doesn’t harm you, let it be. Fighting pitch battles over trivial matters don’t help you.
Stay out of your in-law’s family issues: In a joint family, it is easy to get sucked into arguments between your in-laws or between your husband and your in-laws. When you see a heated argument that doesn’t involve you, it is better to stay away from it. Taking sides will unnecessarily create an imbalance in your relationship with your husband and your in-laws.
Carve out private time: You should have private time with your spouse either in the house or outside the house. This is critical to maintaining your sanity and your relationship with your husband. Weekly outings and periodic getaways out of town should be the norm. Resist the temptation of taking your in-laws with you when you go on outings! If required, proactively plan a get away for your in-laws. That will give you some alone time at home!
Remember to draw the line: You need to have well-defined red lines on what’s acceptable and what’s not. When you think you are being mistreated, you should first take it up with your husband and let him handle it for you. But if your husband is not supportive, you should fight for your rights. In any case, physical or mental abuse is abuse. Remember that and don’t tolerate it for the sake of anything.
Save more: While you may not be living with in-laws to save money, the joint family arrangement has some inherent advantages that you can benefit from. Maintaining a joint household means you keep more money in your pocket which would have otherwise gone into buying a house or a renting one for your nuclear family.
Get help in raising children: If you trust your in-laws, you will find it incredibly useful to have them around when you have children to deal with. Your father-in-law could drop your children at school while your mother-in-law will be at home to take care of them after school. That’s not all, your children will have a first-hand education on culture and family values from the doting grandparents.
Somebody said, “There should be a way to stay married to your spouse but divorce your in-laws!”. Till we figure that out, you will need a big dose of empathy and common sense to live with your in-laws!