Imagine a huge house bustling with too many people. There is the head of the family who manages the overall affairs and has the final decision in all matters. And there are kids running around snaking their way across different rooms or racing down the stairs. The kitchen is a buzz with constant chatter of the women with the aroma of the food lacing its way through idle conversation. Out on the porch the men are gathered, some reading the paper and others idling their time. There is noise, clatter and a sense of being absolutely alive. Welcome to the Indian joint family which until a few decades ago was a reality of our social and cultural environment. Today, the joint family system has declined considerably with most families shifting to nuclear or small households. However, joint families still do exist!
What is a joint family?
A joint family is one where people who are related to each other live together. This means, they cook, eat and also perform all social and religious activities together as a family from under a single roof. However, when one thinks of a joint family, one imagines it quite like the description above. Yet, we often forget that a married son living with his parents also counts as a joint family. This is probably why though it might seem that the joint family system is deteriorating in India, some research say otherwise.
Some Stats and Facts
According to research by Etienne Breton (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-540530910) the nuclear families in India have increased only marginally. According to the National Sample Survey only 4.4% of elders above the age of 60 years live alone in rural India, whereas 3.6% in urban areas. (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/nsso-more-60-years-and-above-people-living-alone-in-villages/articleshow/77075946.cms). Slower rate of urbanization is one of the reasons for a slower growth of nuclear families. Also, surprisingly contrary to perception it is the poorer section of society that are adapting to nuclear families when compared to the elite urban class. The poor are migrating to the cities as they have fewer elements to hold them back, such as large property etc.
Yet the concept of joint families is not alien to the world. Many countries, including China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan have had a prevalent joint family system which started declining in the early 21st century due to more women joining the workforce. However, a study in India throws light on how women in joint families are less likely to take up a job due to family restrictions or social status etc. (https://www.livemint.com/news/india/great-indian-family-doesn-t-help-working-women-1550524334031.html)
The Cultural Undertones of a Joint Family
The joint family in India has always been a cultural distinguisher. Even today children do not move out of their parent’s homes after a certain age, as often seen in the west. The values and respect for elders is ingrained in a cultural DNA, so much so that children often feel the burden of guilt on leaving their old parents behind. The strong sense of bonding and dependency on each family member also makes it difficult for youngsters to live independently. The relationships within the joint family are the fundamentals on which the structure of love and bonhomie is built.
Whether it is festivals, celebrations or a time of sorrow, the joint family system has been the glue that has sealed the economic, mental and emotional development of the individual. In rural areas, the joint family has been an essential advantage during the agriculture seasons. And hence, the Indian joint family has made a deep place in our cultural landscape, where family values help in expanding and involving the same principles in society at large.
Advantages of a Joint Family
Let’s take a look at some of the advantages of living in a joint family:
1. Sharing Responsibilities
One of the biggest practical advantages of a joint family is the sharing of the load. With a lot of people staying together, the workload of the household is evenly divided. Basic household chores, such as shopping, cleaning, washing clothes and cooking are divided amongst the members. So each individual has a reduced work load. Also, when working collectively the completion of the total work takes less time than otherwise.
2. Manageable Financial Burdens
Just as household chores are shared, the financial responsibilities of the home are also distributed amongst all the members. The entire burden of earning and running the budget of the home doesn’t fall on a single person. In fact, the finances are pooled in from the different sources of the joint family and hence usually there always remains an economic stability.
3. Discipline and Teamwork
The adults and especially the children living in a joint family understand the importance of discipline. Since there are many members, the house cannot run efficiently if each member is not disciplined or stuck to their routine. The family figures out a smooth way to live their personal desires and manage their time in ways that do not infringe upon the space or time of the other members. And thus, a sense of discipline and habit is easily adapted by the members of a joint family. Also, they all learn to work together as a team, whether it comes to living together or managing duties etc.
4. Strengthened Love, Care and Family Bonds
The biggest disadvantage of a nuclear family is that the bonding or sense of ‘family’ is often limited to fewer people. However, this is a huge advantage of a joint family. The feeling of being loved, accepted and cared for is extremely strong in a joint family. The bonding between the members is inevitable because they live, eat and spend time together. There is always the emotion of someone having your back or covering up for you in the hardest of times. The sense of not being alone or lonely is paramount as seen in the recent times of lockdown and quarantine. As humans, we crave for an emotional attachment and joint families are a wonderful medium to provide emotional and mental stability to its members.
5. Better Child Care
The saying goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. And this is reflected in the way a child is brought up in a joint family. The responsibility of the parents alone reduces because the child is often spending time with other members of the family. This helps in a more rounded development of the child. At the same time, it frees up time for the mother or father too. The children are exposed to more members or people from birth, helping them to imbibe and learn from a larger group.
6. Learning of Values
Fundamental values, such as sharing, caring, team work, discipline etc. are easily acquired in a joint family. This paves the way for the members to exhibit the same set of values even at the larger community level. This doesn’t mean that those living in nuclear families have only negative values instilled, but the range and exhibition of these in a joint family are far greater.
7. Strong Support System
One needs the family the most during both happy and trying times. Whenever there is an emergency or loss in the family, the support of everyone coming together helps to turn the tide. Imagine a death or crisis in a nuclear family. The responsibility falls solely on a single or two people who have to manage all aspects of it on their own. On the other hand, the same situation becomes relatively easier to handle in a joint family. The same can be viewed during weddings or any other celebrations. There is far more practical, mental, emotional and physical support in a joint family.
8. Improved Learning and Skills
Though acquiring skills or learning is not exclusive to a joint family set up, it definitely helps. Each member of the joint family brings with him/her skills, talents and experiences that can be useful to the entire family. Whether it be grandparents or uncles and aunts or even cousins, the experiences and skills from each other are great to bounce off ideas and new learning.
There are many logistical and practical advantages of living in a joint family. Yet, it would be untrue to assume that all joint family systems yield only positive and excellent results. The advantages of a joint family only reap benefits when the people who make up the family are genuine themselves. Clashes and arguments may be common, however, the way these are handled and the maturity that each member of the family shows in conducting themselves is of paramount importance.
Finally, the basis of a joint family lies on its stress of basic values, such as caring, sharing, brotherhood, helpfulness or standing up for each other. Such values and temperaments are very important components of our cultural outlook and for the overall betterment of the society and world.