Woe Is Me! “My Husband’s Family Judges Me for Not Having Kids”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
Some of my husband’s family are NRIs. They seem to be more conservative than most of us in India and are crazy about babies! Like that’s literally all they talk about and the WhatsApp group is always filled with kids’ photos and everyone replying with hearts and smiles. My husband and I’ve been married for 6 years but wanna take some time and do it when it feels right. I feel judged by them for not having kids and not making enough money. Maybe I’m making it up but they rarely have chats with me about my life or try to have any other conversation on WhatsApp. I’ve been feeling very strongly about the inherent patriarchy in the family and have been vocal and arguing about several things with my husband’s parents. Maybe it’s that? Help!
— Leave My Uterus Alone
KB: Welcome to marriage, the human experience defined by the eternal struggle to distinguish how much your love for one person can require you to tolerate the baggage they bring with them. Extended families are tough, especially when they seem to think they have a say in your personal life. And to be surrounded by a cacophony of voices that feels alienating, and possibly disrespectful of your life choices, is extra hard. But you also have to remember that your marriage is not literally to all of them, and as enmeshed as they may feel, they literally live in a different country. Your life is your life, and you and your husband seem to agree on how you want to live it. That’s all you really need to survive family pressure.
My advice is to train yourself to ignore their comments, or come up with a one-liner that leaves them struggling to make sense of whether you just insulted or complimented them (e.g., “This is such valuable advice, thank you.”). This is certainly not worth fighting with your husband about or stressing over. You’re living the life you want, so pick your battles, keep your cool, and learn to ignore people whose opinions don’t matter.
DR: Ah, so it’s not just the NRI-side of my family that’s the absolute worst when it comes to imposing their conservative viewpoints and way of life on others! Mine tried to convince my parents to get me married to a 27-year-old so that I could be shipped off to the U.S. when I was just 19, and didn’t even have an undergraduate degree. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I feel your angst. I understand the pressure must be suffocating — debilitating even — whenever you are forced to engage with them.
But there’s very little you can do to change the mindsets of this variety of NRIs, who choose to live far away from their country for better economic opportunities while trying to hold on even tighter to their version of Indian values — without bothering to update their mindsets with evolving viewpoints and ways of life emerging here, while continuing to update their bank balances.
At the same time, when you are finally ready to have a child, if that’s what you indeed want in the long-term, then think: wouldn’t the child be super proud of a firebrand mom, who is independent-thinking, refuses to bow down to outdated ideas despite familial pressure, and doesn’t shy away from arguing about things she feels passionately about? Also, if you have a child when you’re not ready to be a mother, in addition to being unfair to yourself, you’ll be unfair to the prospective child too. So, please know that you’re doing the right thing, and try your best to ignore these in-laws residing hundreds and thousands of miles away. I know that ignoring is easier said than done, so maybe speaking to a therapist could help you manage the suffocation?
As for them making more money than you, hey they have to spend it on their kids, and you don’t yet — so, who knows, maybe your disposable income is more! Perks of not having people depending on you, right?
LG: First: good on you for waiting until you’re ready to have a kid (if you ever choose to — if you don’t, that’s okay)! Kids are amazing, but parenting is not easy, and having kids is the biggest life commitment you’ll ever make; ergo, not one to rush into without thought.
Second, onto your Woe: try not to take it personally. An enormous (read: more than four people) family WhatsApp group is not the place to look for discussions about life and work. It is entertainment, emotion, and humble-bragging, pure and simple. For people with offspring, kids are an easy, entertaining way to superficially stay in touch — they’re cute (well, some of them) and they’re always doing something new, funny, or weird. They’re a lot easier and more fun to focus on than the downer ‘I’m really struggling with xyz at work right now,’ or the esoteric, ‘I just completed this cool, big-deal project that no one outside my field will really understand or appreciate,’ or the more personal but only-matters-to-the-people-involved, ‘I’m having a fight with my sister right now.’ This is why memes are such a big part of family WhatsApp group interaction — they are quick and entertaining (… to the sender at least…).
That said, deeper conversations around life and work and dreams could be taking place in one-on-one WhatsApp conversations; from your Woe, I’m assuming they are not. But, I have to ask — have you reached out, one-to-one, to ask any of these family members what’s going in their life? How work is going? How they are apart from their kids? It feels unreasonable to expect this personalized interest from them if you’ve not extended it. Parents, while they love talking about their kids, are also normal people who love to talk about themselves and their interests, thoughts, and work. Reaching out directly to them with individualized questions might signal you’re looking for a deeper, two-way connection, one not solely characterized by sharing what Tiny Tarun did today. Something like — while I love hearing about Grubby Garima on the family group, there’s not much opportunity to catch up on you. How are you doing? What’s the biggest thing going on in your life outside of Annoying Angel Aditi? Most people will appreciate the thoughtful attention and reciprocate in kind — no matter whether they agree or disagree with you about the patriarchy. (Keep up the good fight 🙂
ADT: You know, I wonder if you’re overthinking this because you want them to like you. Wanting them to like you is obviously not a bad thing — they’re family! It’s always nice when family likes you! I say this only because every relatively ‘older’ person I’ve met is a huge fan of babies and baby pictures. Older people are 100% over adulthood, and nobody knows how much adulthood sucks than people who’ve been doing this for a long, long time. Kids on the other hand are young and full of potential — perhaps the oversharing on Whatsapp is merely to marvel at that? You point out that they never talk about you, or your life — is it because they’re ignoring you or because they’re obsessed with kids only? That’ll give you a clearer perspective.
Another point you need to consider is that NRIs are quite lonely — especially the senior lot. They’re friendless, stuck at home more often than not, and struggle with communication. Interaction with people their own age is also fraught because of the above and because of racist tensions from both sides. Maybe they’ll ask after you more if you give them more attention?
I don’t discount the possibility that there may be inherent patriarchy at play here, since family elders see women as baby-production machines more often than not. And if that is the case, I’m sure you know exactly how to assert your boundaries, because you can recognise wrongs and are vocal about it. All I’m saying is — exhaust all your options before arriving at the worst? Good luck!