Today I want to return to writing down some things for international couples that consist of a western women and an Indian man. These are thoughts for those who are in the process of deciding on a life together, to give their love a chance even though they come from two so very different cultures. It is not always fully easy but with a mature way of thinking and acting, you can make yourself and the other one happy. Before that, however, you need to do your homework and prepare yourself by getting to know the culture of the other one. By thinking and also talking about the future. Today, I want to start writing about the issues that you need to consider if you both decide to live in India – in his joint family!
It may always have been your dream, as a woman from a western country, to move to India. You have heard so much about it and now that you have found the man you feel is your soulmate, you are about to actually make this dream reality. Now I just would like to make you aware of a few facts that may look different in your dream than in your reality and one of these facts has to do a lot with the woman who was, before you, the most important one in your partner’s life: your mother-in-law.
I don’t want to be negative, don’t want to scare anybody and don’t want to advise against this path. I just would like you to be aware of how things usually work in India. There is a certain hierarchy within a traditional family which goes according to age of the family’s men. Among the women, this means that your mother-in-law is the head, then the eldest brother’s wife, then the second-eldest brother’s wife and so on. This is the sequence of commando of household, kitchen and education of children.
How much influence do you want other women to have on your life? Especially your mother-in-law?
Chances are that the family you are marrying into is not very traditional, otherwise it would usually be difficult to accept you, a foreigner, non-Hindu woman who cannot be of their caste into the family. How much importance they really give to traditions however, is a matter that fully depends on the family itself.
It is clear and understood that your husband will want you to respect his mother – and I believe you normally wish to do exactly this. How far however does he expect you to follow his mother’s wishes and orders? How much will you be included in the hierarchy? Will you be a part of the process to make meals for the complete family or are you planning to have a separate kitchen from the rest of the family, as many people do nowadays?
If your mother-in-law asks you only to wear a Sari, even at home, because this is what is decent, will you comply? Will your partner accept your decision not to, even if this causes disharmony with his parents and maybe other family members such as aunts or elder brothers as well?
You can talk a little bit about the basics before you dive into this experience of joint family living. Many things have to be explored on the way. One thing however should be always clear: you will go as far as you feel comfortable in adjusting. If there is anything which crosses your limits, tell your partner about it, as calmly as possible. Keep in mind that you may not completely understand the cultural background for what is going on – but also explain your partner why certain things are not okay for you.
This is especially true for certain superstitious actions – but that is a separate topic that I would like to write about tomorrow.