Beyond love, what is necessary to make a house a home?

One of the biggest challenges of a relationship is transforming a house into a home. Home is defined as the place where one lives, especially as a member of a family or household. But a home is much more than just a place to live in! It’s where you run to in your hour of need, fear and anxiety. It provides solace and peace of mind. It protects you from the harshness of the world. It allows you to be yourself and takes care of you. It also provides a sense of belongingness and identity.

 

As the relationship progresses, how does the home change?

 

The concept of home changes under certain circumstances. Namely, you could be newly married and have to move in to live with your in-laws. It’s their house and you’ll have to fit in. To begin with, perhaps the only place you can truly call your own will be your bedroom. Only there, you’ll have the freedom to add in elements that reflect your style and personality.

 

Another scenario involves you or your partner moving to another city for a new job or posting. It means finding a house that not only suits your basic needs but also your budget. Or you might be in a live-in relationship and although you’re madly in love with your partner, you don’t particularly like his or her taste in home décor.

 

Then again, you might be a couple who moves to a new city every 3-4 years to fulfil their need for travel, meeting new people and keeping their life and relationship exciting. You might believe in living life in style and love entertaining. That could entail a spruced up home that constantly goes through a makeover every few months to keep it new, fresh and trendy.

 

Whatever your relationship status, your bond of togetherness is strengthened by your ability to create a home.

 

Beyond the need for understanding, love and acceptance that a successful home life requires, there is also a more practical aspect to consider!

 

Often specific items of furniture, knickknacks, appliances, or décor ascertain the identity of a home. Some people might have a favourite corner of the house to call their own or a favourite piece of furniture. They derive a feeling of safety and warmth from these. In fact, it’s interesting to see how upset and disturbed they feel when these are moved, something else is put in their place, or they’re given away.

 

Within these parameters, recreating a living space with furniture that uniquely reflects your personalities is often hard. Sometimes, after purchasing a piece of furniture you realize that it doesn’t suit the space or match with the rest of the decor. When living in a rented apartment, spending too much money on furniture can seem unnecessary. In addition, you’ll have to forcibly tag them along no matter where you go or whatever you achieve in terms of income and position in life. It can be extrapolated to reflect your old mindset and standard of living.

 

Generally, furniture is considered to be big-ticket items and the buying experience can lead to arguing about size, shape, style and personal preference. Then there are budgetary considerations especially if both of you have divergent views on financial matters. Often one partner might only look for utility while the other needs to feel house proud. For the less vocal partner, forcibly having to adjust to living arrangements can make them feel unhappy and discontented which in turn can impact their personal interactions.

 

How to make a house your home?

 

Therefore, the way forward would be to find alternatives or solutions that address both partner’s needs and wants. Sometimes just the effort put in to find a solution helps make compromising easier. Another quick solution includes renting furniture and home appliances from a tried and tested online rental company with a wide geographical presence like Cityfurish. It’s a win from many aspects including comfort, elegance, quality product, great service post delivery and value for money. When you tire of a particular look, without too much effort and investment you can easily look at renting a newer look for your home. Or you can buy off any piece of furniture you fall in love with.

 

Making a home requires both partners working jointly to create a safe haven for themselves. More importantly, taking care of the necessities frees up that much more time and mental space for you to strengthen other aspects of your lives.

 

Losing your home twice over!

A random conversation after lunch one afternoon amidst three daughters-in-law (DIL) revealed a startling truth. The youngest amongst the three stated, “mera ghar kahan hain?” (read where is my home?) She continued, “my parents tell me that my husband’s house is my home now while in different ways I’m made to feel like an outsider in that house. So, I really don’t have a home to call my own!”

There was much sadness in her voice. For a moment, there was silence as each one of them felt the same way.

Second DIL added, “I’ve been brought up in a home where girls are revered. We were loved, taken care of, educated and allowed to take up any job or travel on work. Our every whim and fancy was taken care of. That same house (in a way) wrote us off after marriage saying that the property will always have to stay within the family and so would only belong to the son. Even after marriage we would be taken care of, if needed but we would have no say in the family property.”

So, the third DIL, wondered aloud, ‘then what is home? What does it mean to us, as women? We all have daughters, what should we teach them?’

Home is defined as the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household. But home is so much more than just a place to live in! It’s where you run to in your hour of need, fear, anxiety. It provides you solace and peace of mind. It protects you from the harshness of the world, allows you to be yourself, takes care of you. It also provides a sense of belongingness and identity.

The second DIL continued, ‘after a really long day at work, I returned home to take care of my cranky 2-year-old daughter. I was very tired and happened to leave my clothes in my mother-in-law’s (MIL) room and forgot to remove them. Instead of simply telling me to do so, she took a picture and forwarded it to her son on Whatsapp and said, “look at what I have to deal with. I have to take care of her clothes also. Does she think that it’s my responsibility to do her work?” One fleeting moment of tiredness led to an evening of unrest at home.’

The third DIL concurred, ‘I have to constantly remind my MIL (in different ways), that this isn’t only your son’s house, it’s mine too! Along with your son, I pay an equal amount of the EMI!’

There is a deeper power play that happens within a home. It’s about control, asserting one’s existence while negating the other’s. It’s also a way to keep women from becoming too comfortable. Being a guest in your own house ensures you’re always living in uncertainty.

One may opt to live separately after marriage instead of moving in with in-laws, but the fact remains that it’s not recognized as your own house. Most often when in-laws come travelling they tend to instil a semblance of their own value system and rules into your home as if they have the right of way and believe that their son wants the same. It’s not mandatory of course, to ask for permission.

It’s generally accepted that the MIL behaves the same way she was treated when she was a young bride. But isn’t this explanation too simple?

When bringing up daughters’ parents tend to do everything in their power to give them a happy childhood within a loving home. They empower them to create their haven there and yet these same parents when marrying off their daughter, retract from that logic saying your husband’s home is your home now! How does that help? And the icing on the cake is that they feel that their daughters are “lucky” to have a place of her own (read husband’s house). Really?!

Yes, there are men who strongly believe that their wives have equal right to their homes too. They’re life partners and as such building a life time of togetherness does call for sharing everything equally. But there are also men who listen and understand a wife’s lament, agree to her sentiments yet simultaneously listen to every word their mother’s say. Is it only because they don’t want to get caught up in the crossfire and don’t want to be seen taking sides? Isn’t that explanation equally simple too?

So, what’s the solution? Should girls be encouraged to become established in their careers, become financially independent, buy their own place (no matter how big or small, how far or near) with their own money before they marry? They might put it up on rent or sell or keep it locked up. But at least they’ll have a place to call their own.

Or should girls be taught to ask for their rights as they deem fit – either at their parental home or in-laws. Women are taught to be strong and independent, then why take away their basic right to a home?

 

 

The First Lady – Part II

Since I’ve received so many shares, likes and feedback to the post The First Lady, I thought I should add a sequel to it.

As I’d highlighted every “mother-in-law – daughter-in-law” unit is different and each have their own ways to deal with their situation. I’d like to share some experiences that my close friends have had with their mother-in-laws (MIL). The intention here is not to question if they’re right or wrong – it’s simply to say that they dealt with their situations to the best of their abilities, judgement and the only way they knew how – that’s exactly how it should be. You experiment to find if it works or not. You assume and you might be right but in most cases you’ll be wrong, much like my first experience with my MIL.

Immediately after the wedding, having moved in with my in-laws, I had assumed that this was now my new home and went about re-decorating the house.  I wasn’t wrong to assume that – it was in fact my new home but what I’d failed to understand is that the initial few days was a testing time for everyone. Everyone at home including my MIL was trying to figure out how I was as a person, how they should react to me, how would I adapt to their life and way of living, how much leeway should they give me knowing that I had come from a nuclear family, with a different religious background. I should have ideally given it a bit more time like my friend’s wife did.

They were married in 2007 and since our families were close I’d visited them quite often. Mashi (my friend’s mom) kept the house a certain way – I didn’t like it but it was home to them. I always found it unkempt – even with things in their place, it felt as if something was missing. Even when the house was painted and decorated for the wedding nothing changed. This year in August when I visited them I was pleasantly surprised. My friend’s wife had drastically changed the entire look of the house! She sold some old furniture, bought new ones, and re-arranged the set-up making the house look amazing. After years it looked fresh and inviting. I loved it and I was reminded of my folly. She had taken years to develop a great rapport with her MIL, slowly taking care of her needs and everyone else’s in the family. It wasn’t something she did because she felt she had to, like it was her duty – but she did it because that’s the kind of person she is – someone who loves to include everyone and live for others. Today her MIL is totally dependent on her and was full of praises about how she had transformed the house.

Yes, she too had assumed that this was her home now but she was prudent enough to understand no one likes changes – the best changes are those that happen over time, so slowly that you accept them as natural outcomes.

Another friend who lives independently with her husband and children doesn’t get along with her MIL but in times of need (whatever it might be), they are dependent on her even more than their son! She regularly calls them, is aware of all their troubles, always accompanies them for check-ups and hospital visits – she’s also taught them how to use Facebook! Is she more tolerant or is that just a role she plays? I know her as someone who derives her strength and reason to live by stretching herself for others – she can mend a situation without thinking about herself. Does that make her well-adjusted or a martyr? Whatever it might be the open lines of communication between her in-laws and herself makes all the difference in their relationship.

Another friend lives with her MIL – she’s a homemaker and between the two of them, they take care of the two children. I always felt that they were the ideal “mother-in-law – daughter-in-law” duo till one evening she opened up about the issues she was facing with her MIL. I was taken aback more so because when you saw them in public and even when we visited them at home, you could never sense any tension between them. Nor did their interactions seem put-on. They were genuinely nice and civil to one another. That opened up another interesting aspect – whatever their worries and issues it didn’t concern anyone else but them!

MILs are generally made out to be she-devils but more often than not they’re simply women who too are trying to deal with their situation the only way they know how! Suddenly there is a new addition to the family – someone younger, with a stronger hold on her son and a mind of her own. As an open minded new-age MIL she has to be more accepting and cover up her own insecurities about her changing world. Similarly the daughter-in-law too sees a senior and stronger experienced woman within an established set-up. She’s as insecure about this life changing experience – will she be able to befriend her MIL, will she be accepted, will she fit in?

At times like this ideally one should be calm, believing in themselves and their abilities, no point in repeating the pattern of how they (either the MIL or daughter-in-law’s mother) as young brides were treated – unfortunately that’s not how things work. On either side, there is always a long line of well-meaning friends and family waiting to support, guide or stoke these insecurities! As Shobhaa De in her book Spouse: The Truth About Marriage reaffirms when co-existence is inevitable it helps to mark out the territories, define and share domestic duties, treat each other with respect, giving one another time to get used to the family and way of life. Although dealing with the one common factor in between – the son / husband does lead to some natural emotional outbursts – possessiveness, jealousy and competition – unnecessary power games help no one.

My friend’s wife who is loved and accepted by her MIL, is openly praised by her for changing the way the house looks – even today elicits moments of unhappiness for her MIL. Her MIL feels upset when she sees her son return home to first talk to his wife before her. As his mother she sometimes feels like he doesn’t love her or need her as much. Yet she is unable to take it out on her daughter-in-law who genuinely is a nice person. Now that’s one crazy situation to be in!

Being senior and more experienced, it is the MIL’s responsibility to make the first move. She should remind herself constantly that her daughter-in-law is entering a new zone and needs support, reassurance. After all her reactions and behaviour can establish her expectations from her daughter-in-law and reaffirm how she would want her household to run. Similarly the daughter-in-law too should rethink her own attitude. No matter how independent or ‘advanced’ she might be – she must accept and acknowledge her MIL’s position in the family.

The best way therefore to broker acceptance and peace in the family is to define expectations, be open about feelings, adapt to the rules of the family and wherever possible meet each other halfway.

Family vs Family

Now, that was the heading of an article by Vijay Nagaswami. It reminded me of the many conversations with my husband, especially when we’re in the mood to either have a good laugh or hurt each other.

What is it about the ‘family’ that makes these conversations difficult? We’re either overprotective or hypercritical – each trying to outdo the other.

When we were married, we realised that we were mere pawns – incidental to the marriage ceremony. It was our families that were playing the major roles and in no uncertain terms, we were told to keep away. So we both learnt the ‘art of silence.’

I lived with my in-laws for about 2 years before we moved out. My husband got a job in another city and I joined him, gladly. Sometimes I feel if we hadn’t perhaps we wouldn’t still be married! Interference was an understatement. We were not considered a couple who could spend time on their own or do our own thing. Everything had to include the family. Sometimes it felt good while at other times it was a challenge. Why did it seem like we were going against my in-law’s wishes when we wanted to do something on our own? Even if we decided on the spur of the moment to have dinner outside, I was made to feel guilty for having not informed my mother-in-law in advance. She wouldn’t have cooked for us. I was bluntly reminded that “it was a waste of her time.”

I remember the birthday and anniversary celebrations when the same set of people got invited – it was never about our friends or going out to celebrate ourselves, perhaps over the quintessential ‘candlelit dinner!’ It had to be celebrated at home with a home-cooked meal – which ultimately felt like an obligation.

Similarly, my parents too had their own set of expectations from us. In fact, most often, their expectations were in competition with my in-laws! So on most occasions, it was a balancing act for us – sometimes we gave in while at other times the pressure was on me to balance with my husband, his family and mine!!!

Even though we had a ‘love’ marriage, we actually ‘re-discovered’ each other when we began living on our own in a different city – it meant being away from both families. The only connection was a phone call every now and then. It didn’t matter much then because we exercised selective information sharing – what they didn’t know didn’t affect us.

Dr Nagasawami was absolutely right to suggest that ‘the resolution of the ‘family vs family’ conflict can only begin when the couple starts to think in terms of ‘We and Our Families’’. He says, “…couples should define their mutually comfortable marriage space and establish boundaries between this and the family space, thereby making the marriage space sacrosanct, inviolate and inaccessible to anybody other than both the partners.”

As a couple, we realised just how much happier we were, away from all the family drama. Family in small doses helps to build a stronger bond. But did this mean we were completely exempt from their influence? Far from it! Every phone call brought back memories and with it the feeling that we had so desperately run away from.

Yet, those earlier experiences gave us enough ammunition for future reference. We continue to use them liberally. Sometimes we laugh at each other’s expense while at other times it is a way to create maximum hurt.

The struggle still continues :-p