Joined by will or conjoined by tradition? – A Survival guide for staying strong through the thick and thin of joint families.

Large Indian Joint Family


1) Joint families and their structure in India

2) It’s advantages

3) It’s disadvantages

4) Relationships at a glance

     i) The Daughter-in-Law

     ii) The Mother-in-Law

     iii) The husband and son

     iv) The Father-in-Law

v) Siblings, their spouses, and the kids

5) Keep the romance alive

6) Keeping misunderstandings at bay

7) Conservative, judgemental, orthodox, easy-going-How to cope?

8) Parenting is quite a task

9) Handle blame with grace


“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

It is true in the case of every joint family member.

Yes. Today we are going to delve deeper into this complex phenomenon of interconnected relationships to try and fish out the main spots of misunderstandings and conflicts which usually drown the whole “ joint family “ship.

Let us now embark or rather I should say, set sail on the joint family tour and discuss all aspects of life-related to it, the ups and downs we may face and how to make your marriage a second heaven.

1) Joint families and their structure in India

large joint families in India

“A joint family is a group of people who generally live under one roof, who eat food cooked at one hearth, who hold property in common and who participate in common worship and are related to each other as some particular type of kindred.” —Karve

Yes, our society is quite unique in comparison to most developed countries in the world in this aspect.

Where any normal Western home will have only the parents and their children living separately from the in-laws and parents, it is not unusual to find a huge crowd greeting you with garlands at the door of any Indian home.

A full house has its share of pros and cons too but how all the members deal with each other speaks volumes about how they can all stay under the same roof.

Be it given the name “extended” or “undivided”, the flip side of the coin is that family is an aspect of life where your greatest strength can also become your greatest weakness.

It is such a complex and unpredictable phenomenon of social life that it cannot be even understood in one read of its dictionary definition!

Read this definition and you will definitely agree with what I am trying to say, “a consanguineal family unit that includes two or more generations of kindred related through either the paternal or maternal line who maintain a common residence and are subject to common social, economic, and religious regulations”

Ok, I can understand one generation, but two or more? Under the same roof and subject to common regulations?

Regulations cannot be followed or strictly enforced nowadays as there is more independence, awareness, job opportunities and shifts in a career in the lives of the family members.

Anyway, let us now focus on the main structure of the joint family system is not so complex terms and definitions. I will give a brief outline for each to not bore us all with sociology literature.

M.S. Gore, a famous Indian social scientist and Padma Bhushan awardee classified a joint family as of three types:

  1. Filial joint family
  2. Fraternal joint family (two married brothers and their children) and
  3. Filial and fraternal (combined) joint family.

A Filial joint family consists of the parents and their married sons with their offspring. It is our typical view of how a joint family is expected to be in India with three generations living together harmoniously.

A Fraternal joint family consists of two married brothers and their children living together and their parents living separately.

A Filial and fraternal is like an amalgamation of the above two types and is a combined joint family with parents, married siblings and their kids living together, very much like the family in “Hum Saath Saath Hain”!

A nuclear family has the husband, wife and unmarried children and if it has separated from the father’s or married brother’s family, then it’s called as a fissioned family.

Ok, enough of classification. Let us analyze the real advantages of staying as a joint family.

2) It’s advantages

Indian joint family having a good laugh

Let us go through a quick to the point description of the advantages.


  • Huge Families (like those described above) put the house to good use!
  • Special and intact bonding opportunity with nearest (and dearest) family members.
  • Interconnection and interdependence, everything starts with the first word “inter” and “mutual”.
  • Less burden of household chores since they get divided accordingly.
  • A common home and cooking area saves expenses and also ensures there’s always something cooking! (you are rarely hungry in such a house)
  • Property may be shared along with finances as deemed appropriate ensuring privacy and also being within shouting distance with each other (or a stone’s throw away)!
  • A common mode of worship is also a means for spiritual gatherings and greetings being exchanged to seal relationships with love.
  • You are never alone. That’s by far the biggest advantage unless you crave your privacy too much in a full house.
  • It’s like a Social insurance scheme for the orphans, sick, aged, widowed, divorced members who may face social stigma from the society. Emotional and financial support is what is necessary for such members and a joint family fulfills it with aplomb.
  • Instils social values and virtues like teamwork, sacrifice, affection, co-operation and broad-mindedness to name a few. It’s a perfect model for a child to grow up and learn about the importance of staying together as a unit and respecting relationships.
  • Emergencies and sad occasions. Who does not crave their dearest members to be with them during testing times? A joint family comes to the rescue when life throws those dreaded unpredictable and unforeseen situations at us.

3) It’s disadvantages

Traditional Indian joint family drawing

Image courtesy

Even though it has its good share of advantages, a joint family has its negative effects too especially on personal life, decision making and determination of authority.

  • Privacy Issues go hand in hand with joint families, whatever category they may belong to in our previous classification. Finding some “me time or spending a quiet afternoon in peace without someone knocking on the door is a distant dream as there is always someone loitering around the corridor ready to disturb you. Yes, it’s true.
  • It can be quite tiring and bothersome for newly-wed couples as it disrupts their first weeks of marriage and withers the petals of love.
  • Clash of egos and quarrels can become the prelude to a breakdown of this system. There are so many different types of people of varying personalities, ages, egos and personal preferences that misunderstandings are bound to arise. Fights over petty issues which are not resolved in time can lead to bitter feelings and cause a strong divide among relationships as time passes.
  • Gossipmongers in a family can easily create mistrust and misunderstandings in the most unlikely ways. Even if we strictly follow the “See no Evil. Hear no Evil. Tell no Evil” strategy, one of them is bound to be broken due to ignorance or one’s emotional state in relation to the concerned problem.
  • Property issues and litigation are unavoidable in case matters of implementation of wills, division of property and relocation arise. Such matters are usually settled in the court and some can even drag on for years.
  • It is a hindrance to personality development and independence in many cases. Those members who are bold enough to choose a different career option or to move out are usually misunderstood as being greedy.Those who succumb to this pressure feel lost in the crowd and can lose their self-confidence causing an emotional upheaval in extreme cases.
  • Romantic moments have to be stolen and it requires effort from both spouses to keep it alive always. Duties and responsibilities, kids and whatnot almost always get in the way of romance.
  • In-laws are the controllers and dominating members of almost every joint family. It is a bit intimidating to newly-wed brides (who were independent before marriage) to be ordered about and told to follow certain rules, traditions, and customs within the first few weeks of marriage.
  • Kids can easily get spoilt for choice and may even disobey their parents in front of their grandparents. It is a major cause of conflict when they are being taught to behave or being admonished for bad behaviour.

4) Relationships at a glance

i) The Daughter –in –law

Traditional Indian bride

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When her delicate feet, decorated with henna set foot on her marital home, she enters a whole new world quite different from her parent’s home. She was always pampered, independent, was her daddy’s girl and the one who decided where to eat out for dinner.

Now, she is greeted with a lot of new faces of different ages, reminding her about her duties towards her husband, their customs, and traditions, what time she has to get up, how she has to get dressed (and decked up actually!) and how she has to serve others. Phew!

That was a bit of an understatement. Some newlywed brides feel this as less of a welcome and more of a duty she has to do for marrying her husband (their son!).

It can be quite intimidating and hectic for her where she tries to adjust to her new surroundings and way of leading life after marriage.

Had it been a nuclear family with a separate house, it would have been a different scenario altogether.

I am not criticizing the joint family system but just trying to convey what goes on in every daughter- in –law’s mind when she undergoes such a drastic change in her life after marriage.

ii) The Mother-in-Law

Traditional Indian mother in law ousting evil eye

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Well, well, well.

The mother-in-law who has been the sole person responsible for handling the entire household, the upbringing of the children till their marriage and taking important decisions see the newlywed bride enter her home with grandeur.

She tries to help out the newly-wed bride adjust to the new surroundings, reminds her of her duties and after the honeymoon is over, she expects her daughter-in-law to take part in running the house, under her guidance.

Yes, and this is what usually and mostly happens where the conflict and friction arises.

She is not really willing or unsure about her capability to handle the entire household on her inexperienced and delicate shoulders. She questions criticize and compares sometimes which does not go down well with her daughter-in-law almost all the time.

If the daughter-in-law had adjusted well and her relationship with her husband is going strong, then the feelings of jealousy, competition and attention start arising because of the decrease in time spent with her (the mother-in-law).

Some cases of extreme interference and emotional blackmailing have also been observed in arranged marriages where the son is forced to decide finally whether he wants to remain either a “good husband” or a “good son”.

So, be it a very natural motherly insecurity, a feeling of being in the state of “she is trying to change my son” or if she does not relate to this progressive, independent woman’s outlook and way of handling situations quite unknown to her, cold war ensues.

It requires conscious effort from both these sides to try to understand and resolve, adjust and be considerate, forgive and forget to let peace prevail.

iii) The husband and son

Karwa Chauth Celebration. Wife touching husbands feet.

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The husband and the son, yes he is the one who sadly suffers the most and is uncomfortably sandwiched between the woman who gave birth to him and the woman who he has to spend his life with.

If he stands by his mother, he is called a “mamma’s boy” and if he stands by his wife, he is nicknamed,”joru ka Ghulam”.

Many a time, he is forced to reassure his mother and listen to her advice for arriving at the right solution. On the other hand, his wife will be apprehensive about being at the receiving end of this advice and may term it as interference.

It becomes essential to try to understand their feelings and insecurities to be able to draw a delicate line for the right form of conversation to end the fight.

An overbearing nature may become intimidating for his wife and may also make his mother feel her son has become disobedient after marriage.

He should only step when matters go out of hands and a cold war ensues between these two important women in his life.

Finding out workable solutions instead of becoming frustrated and venting out your anger is a must for every Indian husband in a joint family system I must say.

iv) The Father-in-Law

Bidai / Widai Traditional ritual when the bride leaves her home for husbands home after marriage

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We almost always talk about the triangle of relationships between the mother-in-law, son, and the daughter-in-law, conveniently forgetting the father-in-law.

He was and is the man of the house, then why not shed some light on his opinions and changes in life after his son gets married.

Many a time, we observe that the relationship between a father-in-law and daughter-in-law is similar to the one between a father and daughter, especially if he has only one son.

He is often not aware of what is going on in this newly-wedded couple’s life as this duty is being carried out by his wife (almost all the time)!

He feels happy that his son has now become the next man in the house and he plans his retirement from work. Happy with the changing equations of relationships in the house, he requests his daughter-in-law to make his favourite dish (which was banned by his wife for health reasons) and even compares and (compliments) the new bride’s cooking skills as exceptional to infuriate his wife!

He dreams of becoming a grandfather anytime soon and tries to maintain peace by comforting his wife if she complains about how their life has changed now…

v) Siblings, their spouses, and the kids

Traditional Indian wedding celebration

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After having eagerly prepared and enjoyed the wedding to the fullest, the remaining members of the family are quite an excited lot.

What with teasing the newly married couple over their romantic equation to planning for post wedding parties and vacations, the house is always buzzing alive with chatter in such a typical joint family.

If there are older brothers who are already married, their wives (the “jethanis”) try to help out the new bride) now, their “devrani”) in explaining and adjusting to the traditions and customs followed in the house.

If she is the youngest, then she is pampered quite a lot and given a lesser share of work in running the household (which is quite an advantage) with then more experienced ones’ handling with the mother-in-law.

The kids receive continual attention from all the members and are often spoilt for choice. Pampering is in excess and scolding is kept to the minimum. Their parents are scolded by the elders instead of them but they are the ones who come to the rescue during sad times through their innocent words and smiles.

5) Keep the romance alive

I love you written on paper, opening animation.

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  • Many times, couples quote unexplained downfall in their romantic equation after marriage. They blame each other for having changed after marriage, not realizing that this will only sour their relationship, especially in a joint family system.
  • There are comparatively more responsibilities and regulations to be followed for a couple living in such a system as compared to the nuclear family type. Here are some tips to have a ‘never say die ‘attitude to the love of your life.
  • Plan some more dates and weekend get-a ways within the first month of marriage and try not to decrease it too much as time passes. This will make the other members also realize how much quality time you like spending with each other and they will try to adjust their schedules so as to not disturb you frequently.
  • Public display of affection like a small hug or words of praise (including the three magic words, silently) can go a long way in strengthening your bond because which woman doesn’t want to be reassured of your undying love for her every day.
  • Privacy is a key to a successful marriage. With private time requiring conscious effort from the husband and wife in joint families, it is better to set a maximum time when you should be in your room and take out time for each other.
  • Switch off the television and mobile or any other device when you are together. It is very irritating when one is continuously disturbed by calls from work or the like during this special time.
  • Talk, talk, talk. Communication should never break between the two of you no matter how many misunderstandings crop up in the near future. Many members mean many misapprehensions, miscomprehensions, and miscalculations!
  • Make out time for a walk or even write love notes and hide them in places where your spouse may least expect them. It shows that you really care and are actively taking interest in keeping the surprise element in your romance still alive.
  • If both of you are working and have the same time shifts, then meet together for lunch or even party together with common friends to not let the feeling of being free (like when you were unmarried) evade so soon.

6) Keeping misunderstandings at bay

Man proposing woman with a ring

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If at all misunderstandings arise between you and your spouse or with other family members, it is important to be assertive and not aggressive.

There may be chances that some words had been misinterpreted by a loved one or you may have heard someone gossip about you through another member.

Confrontation in a sombre manner, asking for their opinion first about the matter can clear your doubts in the first step itself in resolving an issue.

If the words spoken have hurt you, then you can convey it to them kindly that you felt very hurt and if it is the other way around, then clear it out then and there that you were in a hurry or did not hear and misunderstood them.

Dragging issues for days will only create coldness and a negative atmosphere in the house, with members arguing with each other and breaking apart.

Some golden points to be kept in mind in this area are,

  • Tackle the problem, not the problem-makers: Many a time, we observe that an issue which is left on the back burner arises out of the blue at the most unexpected times and wreaks havoc.
  • Tackling, talking, resolving and implementing on an agreeable solution with all the concerned members is the best solution for such issues. For example, if a joint family is unable to resolve who should do the household work and there is bickering among the female members as to the division of duties, it is better to talk it out. Discuss who wants to do what, at what time the tasks should be done (considering each member’s priorities) and who should take over and switch duties if someone is ill. Hiring household helps can also ease the burden and prevent it from becoming a recurrent nuisance.
  • Tread carefully on sensitive matters. Some matters related to property or a dead relative, divorcee or a crippled member may seriously hurt your family members. It is better to keep quiet and slowly fade away into the background in such situations. Even if someone gossips to you about this matter, it is better to remain neutral and not voice your opinion until asked directly.
  • Carefully weigh your words, try to remain neutral. Mincing words and trying to approach the concerned person cautiously so as not to hurt their feelings is one more skill to be mastered. You do not want to pounce upon an already disgruntled and angry person at the wrong place and time and attract more negative attention!
  • Reserve complaints, resolve problems with your spouse first. Lest you want to become famous as the “nagger” or “complainer” or the one creating problems on the slightest pretext, it is better to complain and communicate the problem to your life partner first since they may better understand the situation than you (this is especially for the new daughter-in-law).
  • No pricking egos, no problems created. Ego problem is by birth in many individuals. This cannot be overcome suddenly and you cannot change someone overnight without hurting their ego.

So, stay calm, sometimes if your ego gets hurt (tolerate it with gritted teeth) and let go of it (like your mother-in-law or father-in-law). If the concerned person is elder to you by relationship, the above approach is approved else it is better to convey politely that you do not approve of their thoughts and their free advice!

7) Conservative, judgemental, orthodox, easy-going -How to cope?

Large traditional Indian family dancing together

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There are a few lucky brides who get pampered even more after marriage and are relieved from household duties and sent on vacations frequently. Yes, some families like these exist today.

But, most of them expect the daughter-in-law to step into the shoes of the mother-in-law (which she will allow very unwillingly) and handle all the household duties, manage the finances, drop kids to school even if she is trying hard to balance her career in all this confusion of added responsibilities.

So, what category do you think is the best?

Is it the conservative one, where you are supposed to cover your head all days and rarely stray outdoors or is it the orthodox type where there are religious shrines or hymns being sung from early morning?

Whatever may be the type, we all should keep in mind that some traditions and customs can be adapted to slowly and can become the second habit.

They say that a woman should be like water in a vessel. Whichever vessel she is poured into, she has to take its shape.

I am not emphasizing that only the woman should make changes and adjustments (and go out of shape!), but it comparatively requires more effort on her part because she is the one who shifts to her marital home in the joint family.

If respect, goodwill, and care become ingrained in all the members due to her continuous efforts towards a harmonious home, she will definitely melt hearts and be cherished more than a daughter.

But, in the case that efforts and time are being not appreciated or she is being looked down upon due to personal grudges or adjustment problems. It is wiser to live separately after convincing everyone that it is better that this step is taken for retaining the unity of the family.

8) Parenting is quite a task

Mother crying and consoling her sad son

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Ok, so you have decided to raise children and reached a level of comfort with your family (and be pressurized to give the good news mostly!).

You can do a handstand.

Raising a brood is not an easy task. But, wait it might be easy to handle and nurture them with so much help ready at hand and within reach.

Children have the fondest memories of the childhood shared with their grandparents and the trips with their cousins.

Your kids will never be alone but will also likely be over pampered by your in-laws.

  • Set their schedules and seek help in getting them ready for school or for the bed to imbibe the value of time.
  • Be stern when they misbehave but do not shout at them in front of everyone as it spoils your impression and also makes them lose their self-esteem.
  • Spend time with your child and involve in fun activities like poster –making, candle making or even baking. Never let them feel you have no time left for them even after a strenuous day of work.
  • If you feel someone is crossing the line about the way you deal with your kids, kindly and politely convey to them that you have the best interests of your child at heart (or speak to them later about your views).
  • Children in their preschool and toddling stages tend to be cranky and rude sometimes. It is better to take away a crying child away from the situation to a quiet place and calm them down yourself.
  • Watching TV and having junk food is a common habit of kids and they tend to go overboard sometimes. Set the time, plan for more outdoor time and healthy snack ideas (like a buffet prepared by all the kids and teens) to involve the whole family to eat healthy food in a fun way.
  • Do not taunt or scold your children if they spend more time with their grandparents. It is quite natural to do so at their age where they want to be spoilt for choice. This will make you the villain and they will hide things from you if you criticize continuously.
  • Lend an open ear to your child and talk about what is going on in their life. Talk about the happenings at school or college, why they were angry on some issue, how to approach you and confide in you and reassure them that you are always there for them no matter what mistake they might have committed.
  • A friendly way of approaching kids tends to loosen the knot of uncertainty and shyness. If they confide in some other family member about some problem, do not criticize them. Try to analyse and correct your behaviour and talk with them openly about it.

9) Handle blame with grace

Handle blame with grace

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An Indian woman’s fall of grace in the history of India has been attributed to the concept of private property and the concept of a patriarchal monogamous family.

No need to delve into the history now as Indian women can change this attitude with their grace, intelligence, and charismatic persona.

If there is a blame game going on in the house, then it is usually the newly joined members who are held to blame (the daughter-in-law usually is a soft target mostly).

For example, consider there is unrest in the Sharma house regarding the decision to move away by the eldest married son, Mr. Raj (to adopt a nuclear approach) and they obviously do not want him to shift so soon.

In such a system where the parental hold is remarkable and defiance is unthinkable, a big round of applause for the brave man I would say.

Yes, considering how the most loved son suddenly turns into the villain who has “left his parents to die for” and “abandoned them” and who has taken this decision with the full support of his evil wife, Mrs. Raj who “poisoned his mind against his parents”, I think you know what I am talking about.

It is a common story in many joint cum extended families and is quite sickening. How can the house and family break if one married son takes the decision to move away for raising a better future?

Is it worth blaming the couple for this bold decision of theirs and make them repent it (by taunting and blackmailing them emotionally)?

  • Try to control your emotions and stay strong during difficult times
  • Meditate, practice yoga, exercise and do whatever pumps blood in your body and makes you forget your fears for some time
  • Ignoring is the best strategy. The blames and taunts are for provoking a reaction. Do not give anyone a chance to misjudge and misinterpret you.
  • Support and comfort each other during such times. It will make your bond even more durable to stress!
  • Handle with grace, reply with ease, and do not flare up immediately. Save it for the last!
  • Enough for now, let us now stop blaming each other, bury the hatchet and live in peace…

Family hug

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