Who’s in Charge Here?


Masiji, my husband’s eighty-four-year-old aunt, has been living with us for the past five years. She shares a room with her sister, my husband’s mother, who is ninety-four. Though they get along well most of the time, there are days I’m reminded of the sibling rivalry we endured when our children were small. Ravi’s mother can’t stop bossing, and her sister’s feelings are always getting bruised. I try to negotiate, comfort, and cajole. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s OK. I can deal with the ups and downs of a relationship that is so solid and well established.

What I do find difficult is how each person’s views, values, preferences, and tastes have to be weighed and incorporated into the fabric of the home. When people marry, they generally choose a spouse based on commonly shared understandings and principles. The inevitable adjustments are part of the experience, and a good marriage is full of compromise. You bring up children according to your shared views and values. While this can be challenging and revealing, I’ve found it enriching and (most of the time) a pleasure.

But an intercultural family presents challenges that even I—who grew up in a house with many siblings, three resident grandparents, and a long train of aunts, uncles, cousins, and strays—have found difficult and exasperating at times.

Here in India, there are a number of different ground rules and non-negotiables. Meals, for example, must be elaborate and served...

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About the Author

Jo McGowan, a Commonweal columnist, writes from Deradoon, India.