We spend most of our young adult lives wanting to be independent, craving nuclear lives and freedom because it feels most optimal at the time where we have very little time to manage our own expectations of life, let alone others. This is probably one of the reasons why so many women nowadays tell me that they prefer not to live with in-laws. Now, there’s nothing wrong with how we feel because it’s only natural for the type of lives we live managing high pressure jobs, consuming marriages and a lot of attention needing children. Having said this, there are many people who smilingly or grudgingly pull off joint families, either out of desire or necessity, and hats off to them, but let me assure you that this is more an outlier than a trend today. We are definitely moving from a more communal model to an individualistic model at least in the way we run our homes and families here in South India (being specific due to lack of data about the North here) today.
My mum recently told me about the success (read happiness) of joint families among Marwaris and I argued vehemently about all the sacrifices women in these families would have to make (such as not pursuing demanding careers, etc) in order to keep families together and how their lives would be like that of Sejal or Tulsi from Kyunki sans bhai kabhi bahu thi! Such sacrifices would be considered a sin in ours or any typical south indian brahmin household today (let alone feminist sentiments) since education and profession hold utmost importance in our lives irrespective of gender. After several minutes of debate over joint vs nuclear families and desperately trying to convince each other of our own opinions, we gave up and went our separate ways.
Beyond these arguments, I realised what Amma was really trying to get at was how old age breeds insecurities since we no longer have the physical confidence to handle adversities like we did in our 20s or 30s or 40s, which in turn depletes mental/ emotional well being making us wish we had nurtured a community that would support us in our old age. Of course, the growing mismatch of our sustained traditional expectations of children taking care of their parents in old age, and increasing number of individuals seeking familial independence, doesn’t help matters much.
Honestly, I cannot comprehend these exact insecurities just as well as Amma does, but only time can tell. Parents sacrifice their prime adult lives bringing up children and even supporting them with their children, while having to expect nothing in return because children like us don’t like being thrust with guilt for not returning the favour. We regularly indulge in discussions with friends our age about how some parents (who we only see/ know from a distance) prefer to be independent and pursue their personal interests over their kids. Yes, children are selfish and as my sister says, that’s just the way of life. We do this to our parents, they did it to theirs, our children do this to us, their children do this to them and so on.
But on a less selfish note, I think parents having their own lives gives parents a chance to live their individual dreams and makes their lives worth living beyond just seeing their progeny prosper, which I believe should not be the only aim in one’s life (Amma would disagree, but what the hell, we have several sleepless nights ahead of us to argue this out!). While this argues in favour of more independent living for all, my traditional upbringing still makes me guilty for thinking these thoughts, making me wonder if there is a fine balance between being independence and thriving in a community at all and where our generation is headed!