Big extended family in one house
July 28, 2011 9:06 AM   Subscribe

I am 33 years old. Father of two. Living with my parents. My married sister also lives with us and another sister (not married) who is working also lives with us. My brother lives three houses down. He is married and has a daughter. I have become obsessed almost comically with the daily lives of my family. I need some help.

My reason for still living with my parents is cultural. First borns usually don't leave the parents. It also doesn't help that my parents are very orthodox in their life view. They would basically cut me and my wife off the family if I ever decided to move.

Second, I work in the family business. There is no "my" money. It's everyones money because it's a family business started by the hard work of our father. My sisters keep hammering that point everyday.

As you can imagine I have become so frustrated with this situation. I feel for my wife. I feel for my kids. Who all sleep with us in one bedroom. When I told my father about the space problems he brushed me off saying "you only go in your room to sleep". Basically saying why do you need space? You are only in there to sleep.

My brother who lives down the street is at our house daily. His wife and daughter are basically living with us eventhough they have their own house! This makes my mother very happy. It frustrates the hell out of me.

My father is a very temperamental person. Easily angered. My mother lives in a lala land. My sisters don't give a shit. Culturally girls (daughters) aren't supposed to do anything around the house. So this creates a situation where my wife is basically a slave. From morning til night. She is dead at night. You can imagine with two small boys. Who adult sisters (one of them married). One working. Father retired at home. Brother;s wife is basically at our home all day.

Can't anyone see something wrong with this situation? If I speak up against my sisters, my father will basically kill me. He loves his daughters to death. My mom is the same. It's as if I am in a catch 22. I have to keep quite and lets things be or they will cut me off the family.

You can contact me at
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
could you email the mods and tell them which culture you're speaking of? it'll help you get pointed answers.

from my western, white-bread, white trash background, of course this sounds insane. but my perspective is probably of little help to you.

i will say that i come from a seriously dysfunctional family and the thing i took too long to learn is - you can't control them, you can't change them, you can't make them do anything - all you can control is you and your reactions. it seems like you know you're in an impossible position, either you leave and make your way as your own man or you keep living in this situation. only you know which is more soul crushing and damaging.
posted by nadawi at 9:13 AM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

God, what a really shitty situation you're in. I'm going to assume that you moving out is not an option.

Find a new home for your wife and kids. Place them in as normal an environment as you can. Buy them a house, an apartment, anything that keeps them from living on your parent's house. Preferably some place that is not in walking distance so they can't be cohersed into "dropping by for a second".

Visit them every day, make plans to spend time with your kids. You'd be living a still-married-but-separated lifestyle.. but I think if you want to do right by both your parents and your wife and kids, this seems like the only option.
posted by royalsong at 9:15 AM on July 28, 2011 [8 favorites]

Can't anyone see something wrong with this situation?

Yeah, your family is demanding and controlling, and your immediate nuclear family is unhappy as a result. Doesn't sound like your super-traditional parents will change, so why don't you get a non-family-affiliated job and move out?
posted by clockzero at 9:25 AM on July 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

This situation seems monumentally unfair to your wife, to an outsider - but how does your wife feel? If you had to choose your wife's happiness or your father/birth family's approval, could you choose? If you had a daughter, how would you feel if she married into the same situation, a slave (your word) to her husband's family?

These cultural attitudes are foreign to me, so I'm sorry if these are rude questions.
posted by Glinn at 9:29 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, if you are still in your country of origin, I don't have any advice.

If you are now in a Western country, feel free to adopt western customs. Start applying to jobs, both you and your wife, find an apartment, and move. Your parents will have the choice to accept your actions or not. You will probably have an easier time with your siblings and their families, and that might help bring your parents around.

Your wife and your children are as much your family as are your parents. It sounds like you are going to have to choose one or the other for awhile.

Good luck!
posted by Vaike at 9:31 AM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm guessing Indian culture. I don't know how you can expect helpful advice here for your family, when the bulk of the people you're asking in Metafilter were raised with Western values. You should be going to the other couples in your cultural community and talking to them about what advice they have to improve the situation. They will be able to offer far more acceptable solutions than we can.

But otherwise, assuming you want to try to find small adjustments to stay sane in your current situation...

Technically speaking, your brother's wife should also be helping out (even if she doesn't live there), shouldn't she? Also, get your other sister married off already and get her moved out (to go be a slave in someone else's house).

Maybe your wife can take an hour to be totally selfish and meditate every day (at the same time of day, make it her ritual) - peace and quiet, locked in the bedroom. The boys can terrorize the other women for an hour. It's not much but it would do a lot for her well-being, and I would be surprised if the family got mad at her for that - for being "extra spiritual". Then you can get mad at the family - "look how much she does for you! she is not being lazy, she is nourishing her soul! How dare you try to interfere with her spiritual time" Or whatever.
posted by lizbunny at 9:31 AM on July 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

This sounds like slavery on many levels, especially because you are not getting paid. Without the money you've earned, you can not escape. I suspect that is by design.

We need to know what your culture is and what country you live in before anyone can offer solutions relevant to your particular constraints.

Please memail the mods.
posted by jbenben at 9:33 AM on July 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

This is a crazy, unsustainable situation. You need to move your family out and into an apartment or house or even a trailer if that's the way it has to be. But this will be logistically difficult given that you are totally financially dependent on your family and you claim they'll lose it if you try to do so. Can you find a job on the q.t.? Once you have one you can start saving money for your own place (first and last month's rent plus basic furnishings). You say there is no "your money" - do you not get a salary? Is your family just paying all the bills and doling out a bit of money here and there for you to buy clothes and stuff? If you get any money at all, try to start saving some of it immediately.

Good luck. What an awful situation.
posted by orange swan at 9:35 AM on July 28, 2011

hold on in there

try to get some quiet time an meditate on the alternatives

1) move out and start from scratch

pros: a) restoration of sanity and self-respect
b) a chance of having "better" environment for wife and kids
c) sending "right" message to your family, your wife and your kids and ultimately to yourself

cons: a) you have no "profession" you are scared of having no means for living expenses; you do not want your material quality of life suffer
b) you sever relationship with your family and it will hurt you and you do not know if you can stand it

2) stay in and find the way to talk yourself ito "happiness"

pros: a) a certain level of material quality of life is guaranteed
b) one day your father will be dead and you can change how house is beingmanaged and your wife will be "queen"
c) predictability of the situation and knowing how to "cope" with it

cons: b) staying longer can eat up your sanity and you can lose yourself; if you loose yourself you will lose everything else: your wife, your kids and ultimately your family too

Only you can place probabilities and weights of desirability onto each outcome.

The decision is very difficult if not impossible with your "rational" mind because future is unpredicatable and you may be unhapy either way: staying in and moving out

I suggest you give yourself some time, relax, clean your head and listen to your inner voice.

Then you wil _feel_ what it is your whole organism thinks is the "best" course of action.

Once you feel your decision accept it and implement it and stop worrying about the sitiuation for immediate future.

In the long run you want to learn a trade or acquire another "profession" just in case the family business crashes and you will have to start from scratch anyways.
posted by avtodorov at 9:36 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry OP! I realize that's worded kinda harshly and you might not want to get your own home (but it kinda seems you do...) My bad.
posted by jbenben at 9:39 AM on July 28, 2011

I'm guessing Indian culture.

Please don't do this. I come from an Indian family (mine is comparatively liberal, I guess, but still) and while there's a huge range of conservative v liberal ideologies in families, I have *never heard of something like this.*

In any culture actually. Poster, please update with your culture and location so we can help you, but I think this situation sounds like one part conservative culture and two parts abusive and controlling background in your particular family.
posted by sweetkid at 9:43 AM on July 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

Would your parents really be willing to cut off their oldest son's sons if you broke with tradition? If you are in the sort of family where oldest sons are important and grandsons are important, you might be overestimating what your father would do if you moved out.

If you do not want to move out, can you find a new house that is big enough for you *and* your parents (and possibly also your unmarried sister)?
posted by jeather at 9:44 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
Location: Vancouver
Culture: East Indian
Living in Vancouver for 25 years
Only wife is from India. She has lived in Vanvoucer for 3 years.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:57 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, honey. You can make this better. You're in a real city, with jobs. Do you have other contacts (perhaps in the Indian community) who know you and your work and might hire you straight away? If not, time to start looking outside.

What does your wife think? She might be much happier in a tiny apartment, perhaps taking a part-time job (cleaning? child care?) and building a life with YOU than being a slave.

I also agree that as the eldest with eldest grandsons you may have more power than you realize. You can do this. Best of luck!
posted by cyndigo at 10:05 AM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

Here's the thing about family-oriented, tight-knit traditional cultures. Yes, people do get disowned and thrown out (just like in western cultures) but mostly, it's a boogie-man that get tossed around to keep kids in-line. Guess what, if every child (adult or not) got thrown out of a traditional family for disobeying/moving out/marrying the wrong person/etc, you'd have hundreds of millions of orphaned adults. Parents deal with it; they may rage, say awful things, dis-invite you from events, give you the cold shoulder, but usually they'll get over it (in time).

You sounds like you're really scared of what could happen, and therefore are keeping your wife and kids in a horrible situation. Set boundaries, act like an adult instead of a cowed child, and prepare for a negative reaction. Best of luck.
posted by lychee at 10:23 AM on July 28, 2011 [10 favorites]

How come your brother gets to have his own house and you do not? What did he do to get that independence? Can you do the same? If this house is a family asset on not your brothers' own home, can you move into this house with your family and give your bedroom to your brother and his family?
posted by Scram at 10:24 AM on July 28, 2011

Scram - as the OP said in his question - this was determined by birth order. his brother had the fortune of not being married first.
posted by nadawi at 10:26 AM on July 28, 2011

Thanks OP!

You start off your question stating this situation is "comical," but everything you detail after the jump is the exact opposite of funny. So first of all, I think you need to clarify to yourself how you feel about not earning your own money and your wife being a defacto slave to your other family. Even if these things are culturally acceptable, they do not sound comfortable or acceptable for you, your wife and your kids - but I may be reading too much into your question.

If I am not reading into the situation too much, I want to point out there are employment laws in Canada that require that you get paid if you work for a commercial enterprise. It's one thing if you are a volunteer or an intern. IANAL, but I think it is illegal to voluntarily choose room and board over a salary to prevent situations like yours. You my friend sound like you are an exploited worker. There are resources for folks like you.

If I were you, I would start quietly making plans. I would find a real job (with a competitor?) or I would find a charity to fund and support my New Start with my wife and children. I would talk to lawyers and whatever Canadian governmental resources are relevant about getting back pay from the family business. If I were you, I'd put my wife and kids first and I'd get us all OUT. I would expect to be disowned by my father, mother, and siblings. I'd be ok with that.

But I am not you. I don't know what you will do. That the big question here, isn't it?

I wish you, your wife and kids the best as you figure things out.
posted by jbenben at 10:39 AM on July 28, 2011

Will your children be better off if you live at home where they have to grow up all sleeping in the same room, or will they be better off if they grow up living "normal lives" in their own home, just not seeing the grandparents as much (or even very rarely)?

Also, do you have an income with a savings account, etc.? Or is this a situation where you basically have no money?

It strikes me that what you need, basically, is another patron who is not your parents. Can you work out a deal with another East Indian business owner looking to retire or transition out of his business to take it over? Because that seems like something that would be the easiest transition for you.
posted by deanc at 10:40 AM on July 28, 2011

Right now, you're miserable--and understandably so! You can identify what's wrong and why it's unfair, as well as why it's unlikely to change on its own. OK. You've got that covered, then. But it sounds to me like you're mostly thinking about this in terms of avoiding pain--you want to find a way to escape the pain of this current stifling, exhausting arrangement, but you're afraid of the pain of angering your parents and being cut off from your family.

I suggest that you and your wife begin to look at your real options. Practically speaking, if you chose to move out and your father kicked you out of the family business, would you and your wife be able to make ends meet? Do either or both of you have college degrees or professional skills? If not, I suggest you find a way to remedy that: is there a degree or training program that would be useful to the family business but would also give you options elsewhere? Do you or your wife know people who could potentially hire you if you left or were kicked out of the family business? Do you or your wife know people who would be your friends even if you broke with your culture's tradition regarding the first-married son? Do you or your wife know what you actually want?

As jbenben suggests: start making plans.

In the mean time, is there any way that you could carve out a niche for yourself in the family business? I'm thinking there might be some way to make yourself more valuable to the business so that you have a little more leverage to bargain for more space for your family or less housework for your wife--or even moving out entirely.

Know that staying or leaving is a choice. They are both hard choices to make, but they are your hard choices to make, even if your parents don't believe it. You can choose to adhere to their cultural tradition in this regard, or you can choose to leave. Either path will be hard. Either path will be painful.

Also, just out of curiosity, what would happen if your wife began to refuse to do all of the housework? What if she said, "I'll do the dishes, but not the laundry today" or "I'll mop the floors today. [Sister], will you take care of the dusting?" or something like that? I'm sure it would cause confusion and anger, and it sounds like your sisters wouldn't willingly comply with such requests for help, and maybe your wife wouldn't be comfortable even trying it, but she's already miserable so I'm wondering if it might be a way for her to force the issue. If she stopped being the subservient first daughter-in-law, might your parents begin to see a need for change in how the household functions? (Of course, it might also cause them to close ranks and be yet more rigid--I have no idea. I was just thinking that so much of this is between you and your family, yet here's this woman, your wife, working herself to the bone in the background.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:46 AM on July 28, 2011

This may be totally off, but:

Since someone who is Indian has said they have never heard of this, do you think that maybe your family is taking advantage of the 'culture' and interpreting/redesigning it to their own advantage?

It kind of does sound like they are using 'culture' to get a sweet life for themselves at others expense.

It kinda sounds like abuse, not culture, at this point. If you think of it this way, now you can understand why those abused don't want to get cut off from their abuser, even though it might be the best thing for them.
posted by Vaike at 10:49 AM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you are not receiving payment for your work in the family business your situation may meet a definition of forced labour. (IANAL or an expert in any way.)

The resources I was able to find on this issue that were aimed at forced labourers (rather than at activists) were very anodyne and vague. Nevertheless, here is a page: How To Get Help.

An off-putting use of language is the use of the word "trafficking", and it also talks about people brought into the country for forced prostitution. Most of the resources downplay the forced labour aspect but it still counts. See this page. Also, a contact page.

Even if you feel that you are exaggerating just by approaching any of these organizations, it would be worth contacting them and telling them what you've told us. If they aren't the right people to advise you they will probably know who can.
posted by tel3path at 11:04 AM on July 28, 2011

You need to live your life for you and your chosen family (wife, children), not for your parents. Would you do this to your children? There is lots of advice up-thread on how to get out of this toxic situation. Good luck.
posted by deborah at 11:16 AM on July 28, 2011

Since someone who is Indian has said they have never heard of this, do you think that maybe your family is taking advantage of the 'culture' and interpreting/redesigning it to their own advantage?

It kind of does sound like they are using 'culture' to get a sweet life for themselves at others expense.

As the person who said they never heard of this, I agree with the interpretation above. It's not that there aren't Indian parents who raise children in the West very differently than mine did (although among second generation Indian American people I know, my experience is more common), but I really think this is more a case of your family being controlling and abusive, rather than this being "the way" of any particular culture, including Indian culture. (Also, Indian families do not all behave this way in India, either)

They may have *told* you otherwise, but hey, now's the time to expand your thinking. Don't let the sham excuse of family duty keep you from having a better life for yourself and your family. Your work skills will likely translate and I do think it's not impossible that your family will back off from "disowning" you if you do start making moves to separate yourself.
posted by sweetkid at 11:19 AM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would put the odds of your kids growing up and carrying on this tradition as slim indeed. At some point, they're going to be extricating from this situation and these views one way or another. It sounds like you'd actually hope for that. So they'll need your support and to look to you for advice and guidance, and if they can't get it from you, they'll get it from someone else.

So it seems to me that as understandably unhappy as you and your wife are with your current situation, it's actually what this is going to look like when your kids get old enough to take a hard look at things that might be more helpful as a decision-making tool.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:24 AM on July 28, 2011

I have to keep quite and lets things be or they will cut me off the family.

Incidentally, a lot of people have gotten threats like this for a wide and rich variety of reasons and had to go right ahead and do what they believed was right for themselves anyway. It's very sad and very traumatic but it might be helpful to look at this struggle, between your parents wanting you to be person A and you finding that actually, it would be better for you to be person B, as more universal than appears on the face of things.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:35 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Man, get the hell out. Your parents' cultural norms are a complete red herring here. You and your wife are (entirely understandably!) unhappy in your current situation -- (an unhappiness which cannot be good for your children) -- and you'd all at least have a SHOT at being happy if you got your own home and a paid job. That's really all the analysis you need to do.

Either (i) your parents will get over it, or (ii) they won't and you'll replace them with friends and family who respect you and care about your wellbeing.
posted by foursentences at 11:51 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Have you talked this over with your wife? What does she think? Is she willing to take the risk of being disowned by your family and financially insecure in exchange for having more independence? Most of the answers so far have assumed that this is your decision to make, and I think you guys really need to approach this as a couple.
posted by craichead at 2:16 PM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

craichead makes important points (and I'm embarrassed I did not make them).
posted by sweetkid at 2:38 PM on July 28, 2011

One thing that people haven't mentioned: Vancouver has crazy expensive housing prices, so that buying another place will be difficult if not impossible. And it sounds like the Family built or bought a house large enough to house the kids, their families and their grandchildren.

That said, it really does sound like the parents expect their son and daughter in law to be unpaid servants -- this may be why they looked for a bride in India, where they'd find a woman who would have to accept the situation without going home to her own family. How does your wife feel about your situation? How would she feel about leaving?

Also, will you be able to get a job in your own community without the backing of your parents? How about a place to live? You will need references for both, and in both cases, the reference is your parents. Can you document the work you're doing and put together a CV that will illustrate your abilities without your having to rely on your father's good word? And you'll probably have to go outside your community to get work, if your father's a big enough power in it.

That said, OF COURSE you should leave: you and your wife are miserable and you're not contributing to the happiness of the rest of the family in any appreciable way. Your father is being a petty tyrant, and that's not going to change as the old man gets older. Jump now.
posted by jrochest at 3:01 PM on July 28, 2011

I googed "south asian services vancouver" and came up with this. I don't live in Vancouver so I can't vouch for them or anything, but you definitely need help. That's why I tried to find some community organizations that you can reach out to to talk about your problems, in a setting that is culturally sensitive. There are also some South Asian Women's organizations too. I don't know if they'll have programs for men too, but if not, would your wife be comfortable approaching these organizations? I agree with craichead - what does your wife think? Have you talked to her about this?
posted by foxjacket at 3:16 PM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're in a situation that's terrible for you and your wife. Change it. You either have to demand changes at home or move out and hope for the best with respect to your relationship with your family. I vote for the latter.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:53 PM on July 28, 2011

Like many of the people who have responded, I don't have any experience with your type of culture. However, I'd like to bring up this point: Your children are watching and learning. They are learning how to be adult professionals, husbands/wives, mothers/fathers, and what to expect and tolerate in their future spouses.

Are you OK with that outcome? Are they observing and learning how to be the happy adults you want them to be?
posted by Houstonian at 5:35 PM on July 28, 2011

Anon, was any of this helpful? Thinking of you and your family.
posted by cyndigo at 12:32 PM on August 1, 2011

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