South Asian Parent talked to Nadia Shah, founder of southasianinlaws.com, about the complicated relationship we have with our in-laws and how things might be different for our kids.
What are the issues we’re facing with in-laws?
“…Our generation’s culture sometimes clashes with our in-laws’ culture. A common challenge is finding a balance to please our in-laws’ expectations, as well as fulfilling our desires. This includes whether or not to live with in-laws, how often to see the in-laws, how to raise kids, and so on. Females specifically also have to figure out if they should change their last name when they get married, or to take on traditional female roles such as a homemaker or housewife. In-laws definitely can put pressure on females to fulfill traditional female roles.”
It used to be ‘your husband’s family becomes your family’; does this still hold true? What about the wife’s family?
“This still holds true in most families in South Asia and in some families in the Western countries. As women are taught to be more independent, we see more women expecting their husbands to play an active role in their families also. My husband takes responsibility for my family and I take responsibility for his. It’s healthier for a married couple to consider both sides of the family as just family.”
Before you get married, your mom said to you “When you marry someone, you marry his family.” Would you give the same advice to your children, or has this expectation changed?
“Yes, this is definitely advice that I believe should be given to everyone, not just women…Regardless of what culture you are from or follow, a person is influenced by their family (whether they want or don’t want to be), and that in turn affects you. This doesn’t mean that a person should run the other way if his or her future in-laws are horrible; this just means to be mindful and aware of what your spouse’s family is like.”
Is there a shift in the way married couples interact and deal with their in-laws nowadays compared to say thirty years ago?
“This depends on where the married couple grew up and what culture they tend to lean toward. Twenty or thirty years ago, it was unheard of a daughter-in-law talking to her mother-in-law about relationship challenges. In recent times, South Asians living in the West tend to adopt some of the characteristics of the individualistic culture, such as direct communication. These couples are usually more direct with their in-laws when communicating needs and challenges. South Asians living in the Eastern part of the world continue to follow the collectivistic style of vertical hierarchy and indirect communication. Many won’t discuss problems or hurt feelings with their in-laws out of fear of breaking cultural rules.”
How can we accomodate the new generation’s need for independence versus their desire to fulfill a cultural and familial obligation?
“It may not be possible to fulfill ALL familial, cultural, and social obligations and expectations while maintaining your own desire for independence. If you are sacrificing your own happiness to fulfill these obligations, then it may not even be worth fulfilling. The best approach is to find a balance. Determine what expectations are the most important and would have the most positive effect upon the family, and then try your best to fulfill those. Both generations needs to budge a little on obligations.”
How should parents advise children on what to expect of their future relationship with in-laws? What kind of values should they be instilling in regards to this issue?
“The values parents should try to instill in their children, regardless of which culture they are from, is to be open-minded, fair, compassionate, understanding, willing to compromise, respectful, and forgiving. Most parents already teach their children to treat others as they wanted to be treated. This is especially important in in-law relationships. Also, many people are surprised to find out that his/her spouse’s family is different than his/her own family, even when they are from the same culture. Parents may want to educate their children about differing family cultures, and how that influences behaviors.”
What factors should married couples take into account when deciding whether to ask in-laws to live with them?
“One great aspect of the South Asian culture is that we care for our elders. Most expect to be caring for their family members when they are no longer able to care for themselves. A couple should explore if living with them (or vice-versa) is needed. If it isn’t, then it might be better for the couple to avoid or delay having in-laws live with them. This would allow the married couple to focus on building their relationship. If the couple will be living with in-laws, then they need to be aware of the decrease in privacy and also discuss household responsibilities with everyone that will be living in the same house. Also, the couple should be aware of their own feelings as the transition is happening to ensure no resentment builds up and if it does, try to tackle it immediately.”
One of the biggest challenges parents face with in-laws is how to raise their kids amidst conflicting values. How do we tackle this?
“This is a complicated issue. Although you want to always be respectful of your in-laws, your kids well-being is the most important factor. This may mean directly asking your in-laws to not interfere with your disciplining and to respect your rules. I would encourage those parents to unite with one another prior to approaching in-laws. If parents aren’t united in their disciplining, then it’s not going to be effective with kids and in-laws won’t abide by those rules.
Also try to understand why your in-laws are meddling. They are used to being the parents and may have difficulty adjusting to someone else’s parenting styles. Gently point out your role as the parent and their role as the grandparents. Try to also recognize the positive aspects of their involvement in your kids’ lives.”
As parents, when we think about ourselves in old age, is it a realistic expectation anymore to believe our children will take care of us?
“This again depends on where you’re raised and living…This is a topic that should be openly discussed within families so there’s an understanding.
With that said, the economy isn’t the best and people can’t be sure of their financial future, therefore it would be beneficial for parents and children to work toward being financially independent in case neither one can provide financial support to each other. Along those lines, there is research that shows that independent people tend to be happier so why not work toward some independence?
On the other side, taking care of our elders is a good aspect in our culture. The best approach is to raise your kids with strong family values and hope that if a family member is in need, that someone will be willing to help, even if that means making some small sacrifices.”
What inspired you to start southasianinlaws.com?
I was inspired to create this soon after I was married…when I realized that all the other sites that provide “support” for challenging in-law relationships were focused on negativity, not finding solutions, and filled with a lot of hatred. As I was going through an adjustment period with my in-laws (who moved in with my husband and I soon after we were married), I was looking for emotional support outside of friends and family.
South Asian In-laws provides a safe and anonymous place to receive support and guidance in regards to in-law relationships. I also use my professional background as a licensed therapist (LCSW) to moderate the forum and post articles.