Many Indians still live in joint families. The idea behind the entire scheme of things is to ensure responsibility in caring for those who cared for you. While the whole project sounds all nice and fragrant, it fails to account for the alien in the house. And she, is the daughter-in-law.
For eons, we have been following rules laid down by the ancients that the bride has to live and thrive in her husband’s house. Of course, this rule conveniently evades the larger, uncomfortable topic of sudden movement from a comfort zone into an uncomfortable space. And obviously so because her brain has already habituated itself to the idea of a home and family.
The hazards of coping with a different family – different people, different habits, different behavior patterns – has always taken a toll on the mental health of the newcomer. It is simply because the Hindu joint family system has continuously failed to provide for the emotional well-being of the “alien” in the house.
The Clash of Egos
My friend and I, are both at logger-heads with our respective “alien” nations. While we love the husbands (and that is probably why we are still sticking around in the alien world), there is usually a heavy head-on with the “mater” of the house.
And why is this so? Our fore-fathers had coded the young brides to just shut the hell up and listen to the supposedly mature and wiser elders of the house. And in those days, the obedient, young ones did just that. So, naturally, when their turn arrived, the brides transformed into the “maters” themselves.
The brain just has to express what it has learnt, irrespective of whether it has learnt the right thing or the wrong thing. So, unless there is a conscious effort to unlearn, we will end up expressing the wrong things that we have learnt and understood. This act is called “intelligence.”
In the current world of continuous display of intelligence, a clash of the egos is only inevitable. While micro-families are definitely happier, there is also the growing number of lonely, helpless, old folks who are in dire need of…well…family. When the current generation reaches its own old-age, the enormity of mental health problems that we will suffer on account of loneliness, will reach epic proportions.
The emergence of micro-families has led to the destruction of a system that was (probably) intended to keep the human, human. As flawed as the system is, it does provide for the greater human ideals of compassion, gratitude and responsibility.
However, like most of us know through the critique of Albus Dumbeldore, greater good should never occur through a sacrifice of the spirit.
This leads us to the bigger question of “how on earth are we going to have the cake and eat it?”
The answer lies in the art of relationship management.
And how does relationship management work?
Like any process of management, relationships too can be built and sustained through the practice of a definitive structure. Like in the outside world, structures help build clear pathways, albeit within the brain.
The practice of respect begins with us. We need to respect ourselves as a highly-evolved life-form, capable of taking intelligent decisions. And respect begets trust. Once your own emotional pathway is clear, move forward to respect the humans around you. Understand that it is very OK to listen to the child; be firm with the old ones; share thoughts with the spouse; say “not today” to the friends or “I can’t” to the boss; or reach out to the sibling.
Good fences make good neighbors. In other words, draw imaginary circles inside your head for the people in your life. And follow through in reality. In-laws don’t have to be family, just like how your mother does not have to know about last night’s argument with the spouse. Although a tough one to practice, it is in your best interests to stay away from indulging anyone in your relationships, whether it is the child or the husband.
A place for every relationship
The child is yours, not your mother’s. Growing a child is just as important as growing a career, after all, your child, like your career, is also a display of your intelligence. Simply put, do not delegate any work that is yours, to anyone else. Whether it is caring for the house, child or job, stay grounded to your responsibility. A place for every relationship, and every relationship in its place is the best place to be.
Provide for your own
The greatest disappointment with the Hindu joint family system, is that it fails to provide for the bride’s parents. While the groom’s parents stay accounted for, the daughter-in-laws parents are left in the lurch. This is also one of the reasons that many Indian parents prefer sons over daughters.
The key to sustaining any relationship is to ensure that no one gets left behind. Ensure that responsibility is shared equally. Don’t ignore old relationships for new ones. And more importantly, become aware of how many people in how many relationships you can manage.
To give and to receive has always been the human-way, and this is a habit that we have learnt by observing nature at work. It takes micro life-forms to keep everything from the soil to the stomach, remain in balance. So, never undermine the importance of another, however small or large they may be. Give them their due, and in case, you don’t receive, get set to take back what you have given.
One solution to all problems
Every problem in a relationship can be traced back to one common core – an imbalance in the give and receive functionality. You will know that there is an imbalance the very moment you begin to feel the frustration seeping in. However, it helps to keep in mind that when the problem is one, so will be the solution.
The first step forward is to figure out a way to fix the imbalance. Cooperation through the exercise of non-violent communication will usually do the job. But if the person on the other end refuses to come half-way, despite your willingness to co-operate, then it is time to build yourself in a different way.
Wire your brain to emotionally and mentally take “You” out of the relationship. This could be either a temporary solution or a permanent resolution, depending on your situation. But more than anything, don’t stress over relationships – keep them right to keep them light.
The key to taking yourself back to “being you” successfully, is to remember to stay Human. For at the end of the day, we all share the same home, and she is called Earth. You and I are family too.
Here’s to creating and sustaining successful relationships by managing them!