Family conflict

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Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had rightly said that “In family life, love is the oil that eases friction, the cement that binds closer together, and the music that brings harmony.” What if there is no oil for greasing, no cement for binding and no harmonious music? What if love ceases?

Well, that is when family conflicts arise. The reasons for family conflicts can be myriad. A small misunderstanding can be blown out of proportion to take on the form of a family feud. Let us take a family of four, say parents and two sons of marriageable age. This family has never had serious issues, emotional or financial. However, that doesn’t mean issues cannot ever crop up, right?.

The elder son falls in love and gets married. He brings home an educated, cultured wife, who is the only daughter of rich parents. From their experiences, we can learn a few lessons:

- Addition to the family demands adjustments

Although the parents and the younger brother are only too happy to see a pretty young girl becoming a part of their family, they are not completely prepared for the adjustments they are expected to make.

The newcomer is not used to living with so many people, with different tastes and schedules, under the same roof. A separate television is bought for the couple’s bedroom, so that the new bride can watch what she likes and whenever she likes.

She struggles to get used to the bland and simple food cooked by her mother-in-law; yearns to eat variety fare but feels uncomfortable about telling her mother-in-law to cook for her. She requests her husband to keep a cook. The son moots the idea but the parents are averse to letting an outsider enter the kitchen. Though after a lot of convincing a cook is appointed, the problem takes on a different form. Before the daughter-in-law gets home from work, the cook has already prepared dinner as per instructions given by the mother-in-law. The daughter-in-law is again left disappointed. She resorts to getting packed meals only for herself, much to the annoyance of her parents-in-law. Soon, small arguments turn into big conflicts and the young couple move out of the joint family, to set up house separately.

In this situation, if everyone had tried to make little adjustments and compromises, matters could have been resolved. The conflict could have been nipped in the bud and the five of them could have lived as one big, happy joint family.

- Privacy

Let us look at another family of four. Parents and two children in their twenties — a son and a daughter.  While the son is a successful professional, the daughter is in college. When the son gets married, the daughter sees in her sister-in-law a young companion and confidante. The newcomer in the house also indulges the college-going girl, takes her out shopping and even includes her when she and her husband go for a movie or to eat out. While initially the brother plays along, he soon resents not being able to go out with his bride without his younger sister tagging along. He tries to make his wife understand and eventually, when they start going out as a couple, the sister feels left out. Soon the love she has for her sister-in-law turns into jealousy. She is put off when her own mother appreciates her sister-in-law for a new dish she prepares, or for the way she tidies her room or the manner in which she wears a saree. She refuses to allow her sister-in-law to mentor her in any way and tries to go against her at every available opportunity. What could have matured into a strong and long-lasting bond of friendship between the two young girls, fell victim to jealousy harboured by the younger girl. Everyone needs privacy and their own space. In case of newly-married couples in a typical Indian family, the need for privacy has to be understood by everyone in the family for the new bride to feel welcome and the couple to take their relationship forward smoothly.

- Finances

Quite frequently, money is a big cause for conflicts in a family. Usually, as long as the parents are working, the children, irrespective of how old they are, rarely feel the need to contribute towards the expenses of the house. However, once the parents retire, and have only their pensions to fall back on, they become extra cautious with money. While some children are more than eager to shoulder the financial burden of running a house the moment they start earning, some are unwilling to do so. Usually, the daughters in Indian families get married and start living with their husbands. While some of them continue to help their parents financially, many are unable to do so because their husbands do not allow them to. This leads to unnecessary arguments, which discourages them from bringing up the subject just so that peace is maintained at their husband’s house.

In case of sons, when they get married, their own expenses spike and they are sometimes unable to contribute as much as they were before marriage. Sometimes, their wives discourage them from making generous contributions towards running the household.

When it comes to matters pertaining to money or expenses, it is best to make things clear and transparent. Ideally, the children should bear all the expenses of the house. After all, that is the least they can do for their parents. However, if the parents insist, the perfect way would be to divide common expenses, equally. For instance, the electricity bill and maintenance cost of the house can be shared. The provisions and groceries can be bought by the parents and the sons in turn, that is, every alternate month or week.

Problems will not arise if there is transparency. If the children are aware of how financially sound or unsound their old and retired parents are, and if the parents themselves are aware of the earnings of their children and major expenses, it will be easier for everyone to sort out the finances. When family members are unaware of each other’s earnings, responsibilities, liabilities and expenses, they tend to make wrong assumptions that may lead to unnecessary misunderstandings.

- Property and will

It is very important for parents to make a will and clearly state what goes to which one of their children. In case of more than two children, this becomes even more important. Many a happy family has been destroyed by family feuds, and the most common cause for feuds is property or inheritance.

Ideally, parents should divide their assets equally amongst all their children, irrespective of how many they have. When it comes to land or property, especially a house, each child should be entitled to a share, so that there is no question of a conflict. If the parents are aware of a particular child being especially fond of a specific property, they should allow that child to inherit the property, but pay the others the value of the same in cash.  

Nobody wants their children to be embroiled in legal conflicts. Therefore, it is the duty of parents to ensure that the siblings share a genuinely affectionate and transparent relationship, with a strong foundation that even money matters cannot shake.

- Care of parents

Parents who have children eager to take care of them in their times of need should consider themselves really fortunate. Given the fast-paced urban lifestyles and professional pressures, many youngsters today are unable to spend quality time with their parents leave alone take care of them. Quite a few stay far away from them, at times in a different continent altogether. Therefore, instead of harbouring high expectations and then meeting with disappointment, parents should try and secure their old age, so they do not have to rely on their children for anything. Health insurance, adequate savings and a roof over the head are essential.

While it is important to ensure that the needs of their children are met, parents close to retirement should focus on their own future too. That is the best way to ensure peace of mind for themselves and their children, and in the process, avoid any family feud.

 - Marrying a family

Most family feuds in India can be managed if the couple realise and accept the fact that Indian marriages involve marrying the groom or the bride as well as their families. It may be very difficult for millennials to accept this but the truth is that this coming together of two people along with their parents, grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunties, nephews and nieces creates unique bonds and relationships. It is almost like a merger or an acquisition that happens in the corporate world. It affects the mindset, the culture and each individual of the workforce (family and extended family). The couple have to be smart and handle each person and each relationship with a lot of sensitivity and maturity.

Girls, when they get married and move in with their husbands, should be able to handle their parents-in-law and the husband’s relatives and their household issues on their own. They should not be updating their mothers about everything that is happening at their husband’s house daily. Similarly, mothers of daughters should also realise that once their daughters are married, they should give them the freedom and space to handle their marital issues on their own and advise them only if their advice is sought. Being too nosy and curious about what is going on in their daughter’s married life can lead to unnecessary issues.

- Responsibilities

In any marriage, it is usually the division of responsibilities that leads to arguments. Most women continue to work after marriage too. This often takes a toll on their mental and physical health. However, if the household chores are divided and gender-based division of roles is eliminated, the house would run better. There is no law that prohibits men from doing the laundry or cooking. Similarly, there is no law that prevents women from paying the bills or driving around to run errands. If this is understood, accepted and followed, by both the husband and the wife, the reasons for conflicts will be drastically reduced.

- Possessiveness

Gone are the days when women were expected to go about with their head low, or wear a veil and avoid speaking up, especially in front of the men. Today, they are brushing shoulders with men in every arena. Therefore, men, be it husbands, fathers or brothers, should not be over possessive about their wives, daughters or sisters. They should not look upon every man who interacts closely with them— for professional reasons —with suspicion. Not all men have bad intentions. Men and women should trust their spouses with their colleagues and try not to interfere with their professional matters.

- Professional help

When it comes to family conflicts, professional help can be sought in terms of counselling. Professional counsellors are trained to look at situations from different perspectives and suggest ways for the involved parties to reach a neutral ground and try to make amends. Many couples who have attended counselling sessions have managed to look at the strengths and positives of their partners and improve their own ways, opting to tread a middle path and managing to save their marriages.

However, the best way to handle things is to introspect. A simple apology, without letting egos get in the way, can actually patch up the worst of feuds and restore peace.

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