Out of joint?

May 19, 2013, 10:11 IST | Sunday Mid DAY Team

Remember Babymoon? Coined by pregnancy expert Sheila Kitzinger in her 1996 book, the word suggested a calm phase that fraught parents need after the arrival of their child.

Nervy couples have reversed the term to go vacationing before a baby is born. I got lucky. Ahead of ideas like “babymoon” claiming attention, my mother-in-law packed us off to holiday minus our babies for a breather.

Both born and married into a joint family, I’ve enjoyed special moments and extended bonds denied in smaller homes. Few privileges top the joint family support system, which grooms kids to greet the world with altogether different emotions and minds. Child psychologist Sangita D’Silva stresses on key qualities nurtured by the joint family network: communication, adjustment, self-esteem over self-centredness.

I hear the murmurs of protest and indignation. “What of those damn unasked opinions floating around?”, “It’s my child and I don’t need over-advice on bringing him up!” and “We’re dying to afford our own home...”

Yes, there they are: personality clashes, private space invaded, egos fiercely asserted, passive-aggressive battles et al. Yet, these homes provide youngsters unhurried love, forging strong social and interpersonal skills, sharing, discipline and responsibility. Children even sit to eat differently on a large dining table laid out with more than just food. It is the crucible that mixes unique seasonings of layered thought, tolerant attitudes and a wider outlook.

Too many voices madden and widen the generation gap. “My problem was conflict in parenting,” says one mother. “Elders have their own views on handling kids, we want our way. What resolved this was to convey my concerns and listen to theirs.

As new parents, we tend to be defensive towards tips from experienced seniors. Later, you see the wisdom of balanced viewpoints and the child benefits from such roundedness.”

The trade-off takes getting used to. As a freelancer who writes from home, I go through days despairing how anything remotely creative can result from the surround-sound cacophony that envelops me.

Try staring at a blank computer screen with daily family drama booming at your door, knowing you can’t out-shout those drums a nephew bangs away on in the next room. They’re hard lessons in grace under pressure, provided everyone shows reasonable respect.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. Nothing beats the relief of focusing on an edit conference out of town, reassured that my sick daughter is cheered back to bouncy normalcy by her grandparents.

No quelling the surge of pride when the 20-year-old football freak leaves watching a match midway to drive grand-aunts to a concert (he’s going to treat the women in his life right, you dare to dream). It may make sense to choose the battles — every situation hardly calls for a hissy fit. Then, unless they’re monsters, you may not outlaw those in-laws.

Meher Marfatia is the author of 10 books for children and two for parents. She has mothered her own kids well past the terribletwos and almost past the troubled teens. 

Bonding with the best
Trump the push-and-pull politics of an extended family:
>> Get real. The city’s property prices make separate flats a distant hope. Joint family parenting is a lot less exhausting than the slog in a nuclear family. Not always stifling, the presence of older people to an extent helps calm
quarrelling couples.
>> Multiple authority figures is a problem which leads to manipulation. Be firm or kids learn to get exactly what they want by playing elders off against
each other.
>> With cousins under the same roof, kids yearn for identity. Comparing or belittling your child’s efforts damages healthy
>> Counsellor Sangita D’Silva has a hint for husbands - “Avoid taking sides (parents vs wife). It’s only fair to be diplomatic and have practical expectations of your wife.”  

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