Woe Is Me! “My Grandparents Moved in for Health Reasons, and I Can’t Stand the Joint Family Setup!”


Oct 11, 2020


Image credit: Khubsoorat (1980)

Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.

My grandmother has cancer, hence my grandparents had to move in with us. I’m not used to this joint family set up. Heating food every time it has to be served, caging my pet to keep the house clean, talking respectfully, viewing biased news channels — I can’t take it anymore. Please help.”

Solo Act

KB: Ok, I was with you at first — there is nothing less healthy for everyone’s sanity than a giant mish-mash of adult human beings who aren’t used to living with each other suddenly sharing the same roof, meals, and contending with each other’s bad habits and quirks and preferences. Joint families can be especially difficult for the younger people in a family whose needs and autonomy are always subsumed within the larger family hierarchy.

However… then I read the rest of your question, and the C-word negates a lot of the reasons for your complaining. Because your grandmother is extremely ill, and she is suffering, and she needs the love and support and care of her family right now — isn’t that what our families are for, to care for us when we are in grave need? I would sympathize if this was just life-as-usual for you, but it’s not. This is hopefully a situation of finite duration, that exists because someone you care for needs your help and care. It’s time to set aside your complaints about the timing of dinner and help your grandmother battle a serious and possibly deadly disease. If you really have to, think of it this way: the sooner she recovers, the sooner she’ll go back home.

LG: I bet your grandmother isn’t used to having cancer, or a joint family setup with you, and feels like she can’t take it anymore, too. With far more reason. Look, I get it — suddenly sharing space, likely cramped and limited space, with two elderly people, one of whom is sick, is not anyone’s idea of fun. But it’s tough love time: It sucks far more for your grandmother (and grandfather), who had to give up her independence and individual home as she battles a dire disease whose treatment is often worse than its symptoms, with no guarantee the treatment will lead to recovery. In comparison, heating food, caging a pet, speaking politely, and sharing the TV honestly doesn’t seem very difficult — uncomfortable, maybe, annoying, probably. Different? Definitely. But struggling through cancer is life-threatening and leaves one physically and mentally battered.

Frankly, I’ve used up all my sympathy for your grandmother. Cancer patients depend heavily on their families for care, for doing things they can no longer do for themselves; they also stare down the barrel of their own mortality — that’s not merely uncomfortable and annoying, it’s extremely vulnerable and terrifying. Your life is going to be different for a while until she, hopefully, gets better. That’s the reality of being part of a family — sometimes, certain experiences that we are an integral part of are not, in fact, about us. If we care about our family, we put in that time and effort anyway. Look at this as a challenge, as an opportunity for personal growth. That said, caregiving can undoubtedly take a toll on a person’s mental and emotional health, so try to establish a handful of small, private, self-care rituals that help you recenter when you’re feeling stressed, and consider reaching out to a counselor if you need a safe space to work through your emotions. Best of good wishes to your grandmother for a speedy recovery!

DR: Having spent all of my pre-college life in a joint family setup — I feel you. I understand that it must be worse for you, given that you’re not used to living this way, and I’m sure our cultural elder-worship doesn’t make it any easier for you to voice your concerns either. But, unfortunately, I don’t see another way out than calmly talking to your parents and letting them know how you really feel. While having biased news play in your household can be irksome, exasperating even, I would suggest that you try to find a way to avoid subjecting yourself to that. Similarly, you might be able to find a few other changes that can be ignored.

So, instead of focusing on the things that you can ignore, you should take up the changes that are non-negotiable to you, with your parents. Almost always, changes are difficult — especially those which affect the way you’ve learned to exist. I’m sure, on some level, and to some extent, everyone in your family must be feeling the impact of the changes. But, unfortunately, the circumstances you’ve mentioned, seem to suggest there weren’t too many options other than to bring everyone under the same roof for the time being. Having said that, in order to preserve yourself and your sanity, I think it’s pertinent that you have a conversation with your parents. If that doesn’t work, maybe seek the help of a therapist to help you through these changes, or to guide you about how to negotiate with your family.

And, hey, your Indian parents might end up freaking out so badly about the idea that this experience is so difficult for you that you needed the help of a mental health professional that they’ll start taking your concerns seriously and try to address them. Good luck!  

RD: So, I get that you’re feeling annoyed, but ultimately it’s a good thing that your grandparents have people to fall back on when there’s a crisis. I’d suggest getting to know them better, so it doesn’t feel like you’re accommodating them too much out of obligation. Get into it with them about how they met, and all the truancy they did as teens, etc. Maybe start doing movie nights with them? And I think trying to form a closer relationship with them will hopefully help with the irritation. You can also have a conversation with your parents about how you’re feeling and make sure you have adequate privacy/freedom during the day. It might suck, but it’s necessary, and more importantly, good, that they can be taken care of. And you’re a part of that.

AS: I can relate (quite heavily) because my family had a similar situation recently — but ours was temporary, and I’m guessing yours is not. It can anyway be very difficult to give up your space (plus that of your pet) and alter your routine for someone, and the generation gap doesn’t make things easier. Here are a couple of suggestions.

For starters, find a way to take your own space. Spend time in your room, or somewhere you can do your own thing. In joint families, I think it’s especially important so you don’t go completely crazy.

Communicate, and make new rules that suit all of you. Like, why not negotiate letting your pet roam free, provided you clean up after it once in a while? I say this from experience because we have a dog who my grandmom couldn’t stand, but gradually it became okay.

As for the news — I feel you can’t really change the biased mentality, especially for an older generation, but you can change the channel! Try proposing a new channel or division of time for the TV maybe? Basically, unless you’re vocal about what you want or what the problem is, nothing will change. 

Also, try a change in perspective — while you may think you’re the only one suffering, that’s probably not the case. If they lived independently before this, even your grandparents must have had to make adjustments. And trust me, it’s also stressful for the generation in the middle (although they might not say so), who usually end up being the caretakers/’providers,’ stuck with the job of mediating between their parents and their kids. Realizing this might help you feel less frustrated.


Written By The Swaddle Team


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