Newly married, I faced the challenge of moving in with my husband’s parents and wider family
Looking forward to married life, my future husband and I thought that because were educated, employed and financially independent, we would tie the knot and set up a home of our own. What we didn’t bargain on was pressure from my partner’s family to move in with them and join a family system that saw multiple generations all living under the same roof. But love, respect and obedience of elders (and particularly parents) is ingrained in Pakistani culture; so we subdued our desire for independent living and became part of a joint family system.
The family home is situated right in the heart of the hustle and bustle of Lahore city and when we moved in there were 16 inhabitants already. My husband is the youngest son and his older brothers and their families were already settled, established and comfortable. My husband’s parents and his two unwed sisters lived on the ground floor, and upstairs the two brothers had separately constructed sections where they lived with their wives and four children each. While everyone does have their separate portion of the house, a lot of the space is shared.
Needless to say, my husband and I were young and naïve, and were not really prepared to handle the complications of living in a joint family system. But just as there are a lot of challenges in living this way, there are many unexpected benefits that come with it.
First and foremost, I discovered in the early days of my marriage that there were a lot of simmering tensions that formed a background to routine life in the house. I was reluctant to get involved in unsettled business, hidden agendas, upsetting disputes and private drama but I also didn’t know how to create my own space within this entwined web of clashing preferences. Early on, I burst out crying in front of my mother-in-law and told her that I didn’t know how I was going to come to terms with all the family politics. She rightly opined that ‘if several pots are placed together in a tight slot, they are obviously going to rattle and inevitably make some noise’. As time passed, I learnt to accept this as a predestined part of routine life in a joint family.
Another obvious struggle was to maintain privacy. Despite everyone having their own place in the house, it was difficult to assess when someone would be disturbed, or even offended, by a remark, loud music, laughter or even a meaningful glance. A home is a place where we want to be off-guard and relaxed so having to stay cautious and courteous all the time can be challenging.
However, there was endless support in the times of need. Having family around came in handy when I got sick, needed company, or needed an ear to listen to my rants. Living with others brings opportunities to share love and joy and every day becomes an opportunity to make everlasting memories. Emotional, physical, psychological and financial needs can all be shared in a joint family system.
Whether you live independently or in a joint family system, you still have children and they grow up, you still earn money and spend it, you still pass time and spend years; it is upon you to decide whether you want to spend your life understanding, caring and sharing for only your spouse, or you are open to accepting the encounter of sharing the joys as well as challenges of a wider family.
By Qurat ul Ain Shahzad
I am a freelance writer, a student, a mother and a member of an extended family all living under the same roof.
You can contact me here.