It is my personal belief that in the big picture of things and from the perspective of sustainable use of nature’s resources, human endeavors and activities that promote and make use of inter-dependence, co-operation at the level of family, neighborhood, community, sate, nation and global is in conforming with nature and results in more gains (economic, social and environmental) than losses in the long run. Knowing that human life span is on the increase and we are going to be inhabiting this planet for longer than we used to, it makes sense in trying to do things that are beneficial over the long run. And of course, that will also ensure that future generations are able to lead a life of prosperity.
The ‘joint family system’ is one such thing that has the potential to ensure sustainability of life and natural resources on this planet. I believe the joint family system has several benefits and hence needs to be re-visited. We must consider it as a possible model for future families.
In countries like Pakistan and India, with increase in population and resources like land and space becoming scarce, the families and individuals are leading a life filled with stress and worry. On the other hand the situation in developed countries is similar for different reason. In developed countries like USA and Australia. the individuals are stressed out for different reasons. Some of the major problems that people living in developed countries face are – job insecurity due to unstable economy, difficulty in raising children while pursuing career ambitions, young adults having difficulty starting out on their own. Therefore whether living in developing countries or in developed part of the world, the model of ‘joint family’ has potential benefits that can lead to secure, healthy, stress free and affluent individuals.
I also believe that having experimented with ‘nuclear families’ and having experienced its drawbacks, we are capable of developing a model that draws on the benefits of ‘nuclear family’ and ‘joint family’. We might even be forced to do so when resources become more and more scarce with passage of time. We will certainly do it when our survival is at stake.
Joint family system vs. Nuclear family system
Today we have a generation of people who after having lived in a joint family system have taken the initiative to break out and start a nuclear family. This generation today has come of age and very well appreciates the strengths and weaknesses of both the system. In a sense I represent such a generation and therefore wish to present my personal thoughts on why and how we could revive and make a ‘the joint family system’ work.
The generation that broke out of the old joint family system did so when individualistic thinking began to gain predominance in the society. It was exciting to explore, experiment and establish a living set up on one’s own. The nuclear family gave immense freedom from the traditions and ways of life that the old system was ridden with. Hence whenever and wherever the parents and the grown up adult children could not get along well and when the adult children could afford to build a house to call their own, nuclear families began to be formed. As it happens with most changes in the society, initially the people from the old system did not take this change very well. They were saddened to see the disintegration of family values and system and emergence of individualistic nuclear families. However, gradually when nuclear families became the order of the day, the old generation slowly began to accept the realities and became comfortable with it.
The other factor that gave rise to nuclear families was industrialization. Industrial revolution brought with it increase in job opportunities in and around major industrialized and commercial cities and towns. This forced men and women to move out of their family home and away from the parents. In this case, often the parents who remained emotionally attached to the place where they spent most of their life preferred to continue staying in their family home and accepted with some sadness their children starting out new life away from them.
Today, as a person from the generation that broke out of the system in the hope of immense freedom, I look behind and ask myself ‘what has my generation really and truly gained from the quest for freedom and what has it lost’.
The one and only major gain that I see from the ‘nuclear family’ system is the opportunity it provides us to create an identity of our own – something we as human beings crave for and are born for. On the loss side there are several –
- being physically far removed from the family members and as a result inadvertently getting disconnected from their hearts and minds,
- stresses in bringing up our children only relying on child care centers. In Indian cities and towns, it can be even more difficult where there are not enough facilities available for care of children.
- coping with all problems – big and small on our own as we are unable to afford the privilege of sharing and downloading worries on someone (other than spouse) whom we feel close and connected to. This has led to increase in several problems in the society like depression, suicides and heart disorders due to highly stressed lives.
- missing out on celebrations and festivities that binds us to our culture and gives us a sense of being at home. This is more relevant to those living out of the country.
- having difficulty in passing on the cultural values to our children. Cultural values are learnt and taught by seeing them in action.
- facing great difficulty in even passing on our own language to the next generation. (this is more applicable for those who have moved out of the country.)
Tips for a successful joint family system
1. Mutual Love and Respect
One of the major reasons why my generation was desperate to break out of the joint family was the attitude of the older generation to impose their views and thoughts on us. In some families the father’s word would be the final word and nobody could dare say or do anything against it. Such an autocratic style of leading a family leads to repression and suppression giving rise to feelings of discontentment and unhappiness.
If the joint family system is laid on the founding stone of mutual and genuine love and respect for each and every member (including children) then the system is guaranteed to be a success. It helps to keep in mind that love, respect and affection are things that can be only commanded and not demanded. We command these precious things by GIVING them first. For example – you cannot expect your son or your daughter to have respect for your advice and suggestions if you cannot demonstrate understanding, love and respect to them through your actions and words and by being sensitive to their individual aspirations and ways of thinking.
2. Open and Honest Communication.
Family members need to communicate openly and honestly with one another. The elders in the family must encourage and create an environment conducive to open communication. In the absence of such an environment, family members can feel repressed and suppressed that can lead to discontentment. Non-judgmental listening and demonstrating mutual trust are necessary to help family members open up to one another.
One of the things that disintegrated the old joint family system was the constant interference and meddling by elders in the matters of youngsters. Learning from the past mistake, another important aspect of communication is knowing when NOT to communicate. In other words, it is important to give one another space and respect the boundaries of each other. Living under one roof does not have to be about transgressing the personal space of the members. Personal space is more mental than physical. If a joint family system has to succeed, recognizing and respecting this space is crucial.
3. Realistic Expectations of Members.
It is important that members in a joint family system feel accepted for who they are and as they are. The crucial part of acceptance of one another is acceptance of our own weaknesses and limitations and that of others. By doing this, expectations of members of one another become more realistic. Realistic expectations help us to be more tolerant of weaknesses of one another. Having unrealistic expectations of others is often the root cause of disappointments and discontentment with others.
4. Acknowledgement of and Being Grateful for What IS.
When more than one family live together, it brings together members of different strengths. One of the great advantages of this (when compared to a nuclear family) is that different strengths of different members can be potentially enriching to the family and in turn provide a sense of fulfillment to the members. For a joint family system to be a place where the members feel valued and nurtured, acknowledgement of the strengths and different positive aspects that each member brings to the family and being grateful for the same is useful and even necessary.