Why this guilt, guilt di?

 There is nothing wrong in living with in-laws. There is nothing wrong in having guests over and entertaining them. It becomes a problem ONLY when people who do not want to live with in-laws or entertain guests feel guilty about their preference. I have some case studies to share:

Case Study 1:

One day, a coworker of mine, CO told me he was going back to India and was wondering why his wife is really apprehensive about going back to India. He said that she felt the schools for his kids in India weren’t good enough or the kids couldn’t do ice-skating, skiing, etc.  She also felt he wouldn’t treat her in the same way in India.

“Are you going to live with your parents? ” , I asked.

“Yes, parents are the reason I am going back, so it doesn’t make sense to live separately”, he replied.

“Does your wife have a problem with that?”

“No, she doesn’t. She says it will be totally different, but she doesn’t oppose it. It will be different for me too; a different boss at work. But I will adjust and so will she.”

“I don’t think having a different boss at work is the same as having in-laws at home. As for me, at work, I have a work face that could change with different environment.  At home, I want to be myself.  Would you like to live with your wife’s parents?”

“I wouldn’t even like to live in the same building”. Thinking hard, he said, “If she doesn’t want to live my parents, why doesn’t she say so?”

“Because, our culture is very successful in inducing guilt in those women who feel that they need a place of their own. If a woman chooses to live separately, she is a home-breaker, not a heart-winner”.

I continued, “Your disposition is to take opinions from everybody. Your wife must be feeling that her opinion will not be valued. Did you make clear to her that going back to India was your decision, so to counter-balance, once you guys are in India, all decisions will be hers, nobody else’s? She will get to choose where she wants to live, which school your kids go to, what furniture you buy and what car you buy. She will live life as she wishes. Nobody gets to make a decision for her.”

Next day, he comes to me with a grin. “My wife is very happy. She is assured nothing much except her postal address will change.”

Why didn’t Co’s wife say what she wanted? Why this guilt, guilt di?


Case Study 2

T was a career girl whose parents came down to help her. They cooked food and took care of her kids while she and her husband continued growing in their career. This continued for a whole 4 years. Her parents had to leave because of other commitments. Husband’s Parents (HP) came down to help. They had to leave their hometown, their friend circle and even their part-time jobs.  But they were not healthy enough to do both, take care of the kids and cook. This put strain on T. She had to come back from work and cook for the entire family an entire meal because HP were used to having maids in their hometown do that for them. Since this city was in a different state from the hometown, they couldn’t get the maids do cook the cuisine they were used to.  Had T not had HP at her place, she would have made quick meals. Another issue was that HP did take care of the kids, but it was in a different manner than what T expected. She couldn’t tell them what to do, nor could she accept their way of upbringing.

Nobody was happy here. The husband couldn’t ask his parents to for the fear of sounding as if he is driving them out of his house. HP did not leave because they felt like abandoning their family in times of need.  They all felt guilty of the urge for change. This guilt wouldn’t let them say, “This isn’t working. Let’s change the set-up”.

Why this guilt, guilt di?


Case Study 3

V lived in a big city with her husband. They bought a 3 bedroom house.  Husband’s bro got a job in the same city. He and his wife moved in. The parents moved in too because both sons were in big city. Neither V nor her husband could say that the others need to look for a house for themselves, though they would have preferred it that way. They felt it was even wrong for them to have that preference.

Why this guilt, guilt di?

Case Study 4

Y lived in the US with her husband and a baby. Her husband’s cousin completed his education and was looking for a job. So, as long as he did not have the job, he stayed with them. That makes it 5 months. The couple left their baby in daycare and left for work. The Cousin did nothing towards helping the couple in cleaning or cooking and expected to be babied around. The couple used to order food from restaurants often, but this Cousin wouldn’t allow it, citing stomach problems. He wanted to be waited on hand and foot.  Y was frustrated. She fought with her husband all the time. Her husband wouldn’t put his foot down.  But what stopped her from setting ground rules at home for long-term visitors? It was this culture, “Atithi devo bhava” and the family ego: “Everyone is welcome to stay as long as they wish, and will be well taken care of”.  There was guilt when she felt that the Cousin had no right to dictate terms in her house.

Why this guilt, guilt di?

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13 Responses to Why this guilt, guilt di?

  1. Flop post?
    Soup post?

    Relax. Just kidding.

    So you too have been bitten by the Kolaveri bug?

    You can be forgiven.
    Even at my age, I found it nonsensical and outrageous but also amusing and eminently hummable. Now even in Pakistan they have come up with an adaptation.

    All the four cases made me think.

    I am probably going to find myself in one of these situations in the next few years as I prepare to retire and keep myself independent for as long as possible and then gradually adjust to the inevitable. After a certain age, I must accept that I will be controlled by the next generation.

    The daughter in USA has already served notice.
    She wants us to drop everything and be with her when she starts a family.
    When she was young, I had used my in-laws and parents liberally to help in bringing her up while both my wife and I were busy with our jobs.
    She is using that as precedent and says she is counting on me and my wife to give up everything here and be with her in USA when she needs me. Her in laws have their own compulsions and commitments here and except for visiting them occasionally, cannot help much.

    Let me learn from these situations you have described.

    Ideally, I would like to live a life of my own here in India. But if the children need me, I will not let them down. Even if it means playing second fiddle at home, I must rise to the occasion and be with them in their hour of need.

    What is comforting is that I can maintain my economic independence at least. But if I am unfortunate to live up to on “over ripe” old age, with poor health, then even economic independence is not enough. You can’t help depending on the next generation.

    Quick comments on each case:

    Case 1
    Has CO considered living close to the Parents, in a separate house? If they live in an apartment complex, then two flats in the same building would be a good compromise in my view.
    They will be near enough to help but still wont be bumping into each other by living within the same four walls.

    Case 2
    The story is nearly identical to what my younger brother went through.
    He lived with my parents all his life, much to his wife’s discomfiture. It was initially beneficial for my brother as he was abroad much of the time and he needed my parents help to bring up his two daughters. His wife could not handle everything alone. My parents too were overly attached to the grand kids and they all welcomed it though it was not economically necessary for either my brother or my parents to live together. But family ties and the bonds between my mother and my younger brother were so strong that they just could not separate and lived cribbing and grumbling with all the inconveniences for nearly 20 years together. They finally compromised by buying a separate flat in the same building when it became available for sale. My nieces had grown up and they needed private space of their own and rebelled against the grandmother’s restrictions and orthodox beliefs. The house became too small for all of them and tensions increased to such an extent that I had to bring my parents over to live with me even though my in laws were already living with me. After this flat in the same building was purchased by my brother, he moved my parents in there. Living separately but close by eased tensions considerably. By now for health reasons, my parents needed my brother and his family close by and not the other way around.

    Case 3
    My sympathies are entirely with V.
    She has every right to expect the brother-in-law to find his own accommodation. Helping out by accommodating them temporarily till they find alternate accommodation is understandable Accommodating the parents in a joint family is okay, if they can’t live by themselves. But this is clearly too much.

    Case 4
    That cousin deserves no sympathy if he is not prepared to chip in and share household responsibilities. Y’s husband is clearly wrong and must put his foot down.


    • GV, you are amongst the modern people of your generation and so you won’t have any problem staying with your daughter and helping her out with her family. That’s very nice of you to offer help. If possible, get an International Driver’s License. That will help you be independent in the US. Plus, there is a 6-month limit on the stay on a visitor’s visa. So, your decision will be time-bound, unless you have a green-card. Do you have one?

      • Nope.
        No green card yet.
        Just a 10 year multiple entry visa.

        Not sure if it’s worth trying for a green card.
        I am not sure if my daughter and son in law will stay there permenently
        Besides, I dread the hassles of getting a green card.
        I’ve just realized I don’t even have a birth certificate, leave alone a marriage certificate.
        So I will live with the need to keep hopping back and forth every six months.
        That’s not unwelcome. I have a lot of matters to attend to here too and can’t be away permanently. Matters like payment of taxes, insurance, investments, and attending to the needs of maintenance of my immovable properties etc will need my presence here too and I plan to escape the harsh winters and come away to India every six months.
        My final plans will depend to some extent on where my son will be and what his plans are. He is now busy with his DPhil programme at Oxford.

        Yes, I will get myself an International Driving licence.
        No hurry. I have no immediate plans to leave.
        My extended professional career is nearly over and I am keeping myself in readiness and will set out as soon as I get the signal from my daughter.
        Thanks for the advice and suggestions.

  2. KMKH says:

    part of our culture, is to impart values and traditions to kids along with a massive dose of guilt. Take the moving out of inlaws place. My husband and i moved just down the road from in laws but the first week instead of enjoying it we fought like wild animals because the guilt was killing us! (thankfully we talked and its all sorted).

    Regarding the rest of the scenarios mentioned, as a culture i feel we have no concept of personal space and do not value individualism at all.Community before individual always. This Hum Saath Saath Hain attitude is really not helping.

    I feel for V. She bought a house with so many dreams and expectations only to have to contend with being imposed on. I’d be really really resentful in her place.

    • KHKH, good you sorted it out.
      V has learnt to stand up for herself now. She goes swimming, learns French, works full-time, sends her daughter to day-care and has found out how to have a life of her own too without any guilt.

  3. Why this “no new post”‘ “no new post” “no new post” Di?
    Hope “awl izz well” di

  4. Sruti says:

    I totally agree with you. I live in a joint family, and am comfortable — for now. I realize there will be a time when my parents will need my support and i would want them to stay with me. Then my children will also grow up. The best idea as suggested would be to get two flats and sort out the space.
    Living with the in-laws or parents is always a tricky issue. I had written before that i’ve have gained a lot from it–and that’s true–but yes there is a lot of adjustment involved–and to be fair the adjustment was as much from their side as it was from mine.

    • I am glad Sruti that the current arrangement is working great for you! And that adjustment came from both sides. I am also glad to see that you attach no virtuousness to staying with your in-laws and are flexible about the arrangement as and when circumstances change.

  5. what a wonderful post! am sharing it..

  6. kj says:

    i love this, so well expressed. giving guilt fresh air someone makes it less…..


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