The White Punjabi Bride
What It's Like Living As A Joint Family With My Punjabi In Laws
Updated: Jan 9, 2021
In India it is tradition to live as a family under the one household with each generation of the family. Once married, it is the wife who moves in with her husband's family and they will then raise their children in the same household. It is always the eldest son who will be the one to care for their aging parents. Therefore you will tend to find that grandparents will be living under the household of their eldest.
When I first arrived in India I was treated as a guest for the first couple of weeks, after such time I had to start adapting to their way of life. Although the expectations put on me weren't excessive as I was a bride to be at the time and new to the culture. It is tradition that a bride to be stay out of harm's way and remain indoors before the wedding. For my family that meant going out as little as possible as soon as I arrived and until the day after we were married. If I had to leave the house I always had to go with the family. Having lived an independent lifestyle my entire life, this was difficult to do. Especially since I was in another country and I just wanted to explore and be a tourist, though wasn't able to do so. Although my in laws tried to oblige me as much as they could, within what they thought was safe and were able to afford.
My mother and father in law would start their day at 5am every single morning without fail, so they could attend to the buffalo. They were both retired government employees and decided to take up farming in their retirement. After attending to the buffalo, they would come home to bathe and put on fresh clothes in time for morning prayers at the local temple. Usually upon waking they would also spend time saying morning prayers in their prayer room before starting the day. Every household in Punjab will have a prayer room so that they can pray and give offerings to god each day in the comfort of their own home.
At 7am the rest of the household was expected to be out of bed and we would all have to bathe before getting dressed for the day. Although I preferred bathing before bed especially in the Winter time, it was something that was quietly expected especially if we were to go to temple. Then everyone would gather for their morning cup of tea break, which was more like breakfast for me, since I am accustomed to eating upon rising for the day. Though breakfast wasn't till late morning, usually around 10am after the chores were done for the day.
It was not uncommon for many households to have a maid come and help with the cleaning and washing, just as we did. This felt rather strange for me given all the household chores back home were all my responsibility. But each morning our maid would arrive and start helping my mother in law merrily take care of all the household chores. I was never expected to help out much and especially not in the kitchen, other than helping to prep dinner by shelling peas, peeling onions or potatoes and so forth. There usually was a lot of vegetables that needed to be prepped for the day as they had curry for all three meals of the day. So I would prep vegetables whilst they were out and about for the day attending to the farm chores.
Other than that I would keep our bedroom tidy and attended to my own washing. Although my husband wouldn't do his own washing and it would be expected that the wife do it. However since we both didn't work and could take care of ourselves I refused to wait on him just because we lived in India. So he would have his mother do his washing for him and she would always joke with me that I am the wife and I should be doting on my husband.
Whenever we had guests visit the family home, I would be asked to join them and listen to their banter in Punjabi till they left. This was exhausting as I tried to interpret what was being said although with much difficulty. It became tiring when majority of guests couldn't speak English and I would sit pondering what was so funny as they all chuckled away over their cup of tea. However during my second stay I wasn't expected to do this as much unless I hadn't met someone before. Should male guests happen to stop by, I would have to ensure I was wearing my dupatta draped around my neck out of modesty, before I could greet them. I would tend to take it off at home as I found that it was always in the way and was rather suffocating, although that is typically not allowed of women.
My husband's Grandmother lived with her eldest son two doors down the road therefore it was only my husband and I, with his brother and parents that lived under the one roof. There was plenty of space for each of us to have our own privacy and we didn't all need to sleep in the one area like many households do. My husband and I were fortunate to have our own spacious bedroom to ourselves, just as his brother did and both his mother & father. Though when we had relatives stay, such as my husbands cousin who lived with us during my stay, a bed was made up in the living area.
When it came to dinner time it would usually be around 9pm which was rather late for me so it varied between 7 to 9pm depending on what was planned for the day. Most nights we would all sit as a family but that was difficult at times with everyone having different plans. My husband would come home from the gym around 9pm every night and sometimes I was too hungry to wait to eat with him. Which meant I had dinner on my own on many occasions as I wasn't used to eating meals so late in the day.
During both my stays in Punjab, my in laws were always sure to have another female relative come stay so that I had someone to help me who actually spoke English. However I was used to taking care of myself, meanwhile they would always try to help out with anything they could, such as my ironing, or clearing my dishes, serving me dinner and so on. I was not comfortable with someone doting on me when I was capable of doing such things myself. So at times it was a little suffocating although they were simply just being hospitable. Since they had the help of another relative, it meant I was never expected to do as much around the house as an Indian wife would.
On the other hand, life for my husband and his brother was luxury since sons are void of doing anything around the household. My mother in law constantly doted on them bringing them meals in bed, making roti at the drop of a hat and cleaning up after them. Men are expected to be the income earner of the household however as a son living at home many don't have work and are studying. Therefore they can live at home and not have to lift a finger until they gain employment later in life. Whilst a daughter living at home must always help out around the household even if they should be studying or working. However when my father in law needed help on the farm, my husband and brother would always help.
Living as a joint household meant the house was always alive with chatter and laughter which made it more homely. It also provided a support network being able to help one another in times of need. Although there were times that I felt a little suffocated simply because I didn't have any independence, I enjoyed living as a joint family. Nothing beats the feeling of living under a loving household.
Have you lived as a joint family before?
How was your experience living with your in laws? Did you have a good or bad experience?
Leave your comments below in the comments field as I'd love to hear your story.