family expectations: the objective view

everyone talks about the added stress put on women when they meet their southAsian in-laws. This is a challenging issue and I am not trying to minimize any experience of any woman. In fact, as I plan my trip to Pakistan, I know that it is quite possible that I will be in the throws (all emotions included) of a similar situation. Yet, I am trying to be objective!
I do need to point out that there are certain pressures on the southAsian men that they might not otherwise have, had they married a southAsian woman and lived in their native country.
1. Financial responsibility. DH’s brother was married about two months after we got married. His family’s wealth is his own. N’s bride, N2, came to live within a family structure of a mil and fil and N’s younger sister. And, this, they admit, is a small family according to the members who could be present. In any case, N2 has yet to make a meal by herself, do a load of laundry or take note of the family finances. N, himself has never read his electric bill, haggled with AT&T over phone charges, searched for the best bargain for a specific product, contemplated the financial consequences of a purchase, reconciled receipts with his bank statement, filled out “head of household tax forms,” analyzed Health and life insurance plans, or comprehended and absorbed the specific tax deductions that are taken from the paycheck every two weeks. These activities and the worries that seem to accompany him has eluded N and is certainly not a part of his marriage experience. Yet, DH and I have to take on these responsibilities. These tasks are not optional and failure to take them seriously will have swift and heavy consequences. In addition, he has to deal with landlords, immigration, immigration lawyers and other government entities, filling out more forms in one week than he has ever had to do for his entire life.
2. DH must go to work everyday and he must be prompt. He also must arrange transportation. OK, now, of course, the transportation arranging part is not his responsibility alone. But, N’s work schedule is fluid and much more forgiving. Some of this is because N works for his father, so the work environment can be much more relaxed. N does not have to worry about time schedules or work policies.
3. There are certain cultural norms concerning expressions of LOVE and maintaining the relationship. This might not be cultural, but then again, who knows. I ask DH one day: “Did your Father ever bring your Mother flowers?” “did they ever want “date night” or some time for themselves?” “What about Valentine’s Day?” To DH and many of his friends and family, marriage maintenance is ridiculous. Sure, husbands should bring a gift to the wife upon return of their travels. But, in many cases, they didn’t date before the marriage, why would they do such things after? Furthermore, these “couples quizzes,” and “relationship checklists,” are just “Bukwas,” – “nonsense.” Early in our relationship, I wanted to subject DH to any “couples quiz,” that I could find and compare our answers. After twice indulging me (and he felt that he was being quite compliant) , DH put his foot down and committed never to do another. I guess, there is no “newlywed game” for us, although I would find it quite fun. In a strange turn of events, “preparing for our immigration interview” is working quite nicely as a stand-in for a “Couple’s quiz.” It does seem that the public wants to know all about your relationship and they want to evaluate it against their preconceived notions of what they feel a relationship should be.
4. In addition to DH’s work, my family (and I) expect him to pitch in with the housework. I admit that my family (like most Americans) sometimes scrutinize men’s (particularly SouthAsian men’s) actions to make sure that they are treating their women with respect and giving their 50% to the relationship. To some women, Not including myself in this statement, equity and equality are synonomous terms. Sometimes Americans (even Americans who are not close to our family) feel the need to sternly advise dh to cook, clean and sometimes (give her everything she wants). They are already under the assumption that he does not do these things and he is berated for what they assume he does not do. Is their any parcel of truth in their assumption? Sure. But, that is for he and I to work out. Before I started work, my mother would routinely ask me three questions.
A. Is he still working? My sister, the successful nurse who is going back to get her Masters Degree (even though she is pulling down a serious chunk of change, already) has four children from the ages 6-12 and a husband who finds working at home much more appealing than putting his degree to use; And my younger blue collar working sister who finds working a necessity (yet, is finally attending a technical college to get an office job) and who has four children from ages 16-3 and a husband who won’t remain employed for more than three months at a time; both must be the breadwinners of their family. Both husbands have the same first name and both husbands also inhail illegal substances which seems to enhance their laziness. My sisters are more alike then either of them want to admit, but I keep silent on this one. My mother was, herself, employed for most of her life either as a factory worker or a truck driver. For the most part, she doesn’t respect those who are able to work, but choose not to do so… … especially when they have a family to support.
B. Who’s doing the cooking and cleaning? Before I started working, my mother would constantly remind me that it was my duty to have everything in tiptop shape for Dh because he was working. Now that I, also, have a job,, she asks: “Is he cooking?” “Is he cleaning?” “What is HE doing to help?” My mother likes to be the boss, so she almost orders me to “make him cook and clean.” Actually, DH is helping out. I am certainly not giving him any excuses. But, since he is male, it does feel foreign for him to “consistently” do housework. I say “consistently,” because his father will cook and clean “occasionally.” But, certainly not on a regular basis. And, since he is blind, he feels like he isn’t sure what is involved in such tasks and these tasks just seem daunting. Admittedly, none of his blind male friends (especially Pakistani blind males – even if they do live in London) do any type of housework at all. Yet, he is learning to do more and more around the house. The key is that “we” work together. And, we both benefit when the housework is finished quickly. But, I do recognize that DH has pressure that his other blind friends don’t even experience. Our marriage and situation provokes DH to be responsible in ways that his Pakistani counterparts (brother or friends) are oblivious to and if they do understand such responsibilities, it will be much later in their marriage.
C. Are you pregnant? …. … different topic entirely, but while both of our mothers might request this particular piece of information on an equally frequent basis, their desired responses to this specific question are polar opposites. As of the last conversation, my mother has been quite content (almost gitty) with my routinely accurate response. It has only been six months, hardly enough time for DH’s mother to claim “patience” as a long standing virtue. Yet, it could happen.

I’m not asking you to ride the pity wagon for DH. I am just reminding everyone that when two different cultures come together, there are bound to be adjustments made from both individuals. Furthermore, family members who are firmly planted in either culture have expectations that feel strange to the spouse and in some cases seem harsh or frivolace.

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7 Responses to “family expectations: the objective view”

  1. luckyfatima Says:

    My DH also hates relationship quizzes and articles. I suspect it may be a man-thing and not a Pakistani thing, but I don’t know.

    I think even if you are not working, DHs should all help out around the house. Did you know that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) used to do his own cleaning, mending, and housework? You just tell Mr. Goridesi Rishta that if he ever gives you any trouble LOL.

  2. Roshni Says:

    I totally agree with sis Fatima on this one! I come from a family where my dad did jack all in the house; and if he did/does, we hear about it for centuries to come! I’m blessed however in that my husband has lived alone for years and isn’t afraid to clean, iron and cook (he cooks way better than me actually!). I thought it was just him, but when I visited my in-laws I saw his dad cooking and doing all the same stuff; much appreciation/respect! My brother-in-law is less inclined, so I need to work on that! Oh and about quizzes, I’ve honestly never tried! I kinda hate that stuff myself though, so doubt we’d go there! we are kinda anoraks though in that we like IQ tests and NLP type stuff, but hey; whatever floats your boat and all that!

  3. Sara Says:

    One thing we find is that we both feel better when we “know” what the other person if contributing. Right now our financial contributions are fairly equal, and our workloads are technically the same (FT grad students, PT assistantships, although of course some semesters/weeks are harder than others), so things should roughly even out around the house…but of course, we both have different interests and skills, so we typically do different things. Sometimes we just bargain for it (i.e., will you clean the kitchen floor if I do two loads of laundry), or make a list and divide it up, or establish house rules (whoever cooks doesn’t clean up), but a lot of the time we do things as they come up (like when a certain idiot in the house changed her computer password and promptly forgot it, and someone else had to hack into it to reset it), so it can be hard to track how much work each person is contributing to the household.

    I would agree that “couples quizzes” are not a man thing.

  4. jamily5 (Jan Ahmed) Says:

    Yeah, we are working on the distribution of duties thing!
    thanks to all.

  5. Millie Says:

    Hi,

    I’ve just discovered your blog and am excited to read through it properly.
    I’m Millie, I live in the UK and I’m engaged to a Pakistani Muslim. I’m always so happy to find another blog about an intercultural relationship!

    My fiance grew up with his Mum and sister waiting on him hand and foot. Luckily for me this is not something he wanted to continue and although he struggles a bit on how to do stuff around the house, he is at least willing to try!

    • jamily5 Says:

      Hi Millie, thanks for your response. If you have a blog, let me know and I’ll check out yours. Please keep commenting on any of my blog posts. glad to have you visit!

  6. Millie Says:

    Hi,

    I do have a blog but it’s not very well established yet so there are only a few posts. I do plan to do more though!

    The address is – http://complicatedsideoflove.blogspot.com/

    Millie

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