Question: Need advice on living with in-laws after marriage 

Age: 24

Alrighttttty then. This one is a bit of a doozy. As someone who is not married I think I am wholly unqualified to answer this, but I’m going to give it a go nonetheless. 

I’d also advise you to listen to the Coaches Don’t Play podcast, because this question comes up a lot and host Pammy and co-hosts Gurveen and Gurkaran usually have much to say about this, namely—“don't’ do it.”

I know, I know, it’s tough for me to say when I haven’t been in this situation, but there is a lot to factor in when deciding whether or not to live with your in-laws, and this is something to consider while dating as a brown girl if you are in a serious long-term relationship. 

I say that this is something to think about while dating—if and only if you are in a serious long term relationship—because putting off serious conversations can have a detrimental impact on your relationship in the long run. 

Sure, it’s uncomfortable to discuss things like this, but knowing where your partner stands on fundamental issues that will impact your relationship, is extremely important. So deal with short term discomfort to prevent long-term issues and thank me later. 

It is extremely common and almost an expectation that as a brown woman, upon getting married you will move into your in-laws home to continue the joint family structure that many of us grew up with. 

This was an expectation for our parents’ generation because income was often tied together, and it was always the assumption that a new daughter in the home would assume the mother’s household duties and responsibilities.

This is why as young girls even, we are taught to be mindful of how we speak and act and to learn household chores—not to benefit ourselves, but to ensure that we meet the predetermined standards set out for us by our non-existent future in-laws. 

We are expected to mould ourselves into the perfect daughter-in-law often before we are encouraged to chase after our own aspirations. We are taught from the very beginning that our home is never truly our own.

I wrote about this when discussing a Netflix documentary, A Suitable Girl.

“We raise brown women to recognize that sacrifice is inherent to their existence, and that once they are married, they go from belonging to their own family, to belonging to another which they must come to treat as their own, because that’s just the way things are.”

Most of the time, a “perfect daughter-in-law” is expected to be polite, quiet, agreeable, not too opinionated, good at housework, caretaking, and so much more. 

For many brown women moving in with their in-laws, there are a number of expectations that come with the move, and many brown women are aware of the fact that they can’t just behave themselves like they did in their own homes with their own parents. This is a reality that their partners often don’t understand, because they have never had to. 

Brown men are ingrained with the idea that in most cases, regardless of their marital status, they will be looked after and cared for, either by their mothers, or by their wives. While they do have to adjust to being married, their adjustment is nowhere near the massive uprooting that many brown women have to undergo, which can in and of itself be a traumatic experience.  

As an opinionated, strong-willed young lady myself, I know that I would not fare well in moving into a home where I was expected to to bite my tongue and contort myself into what is expected of me to fit into an already established family picture that was decided long before my arrival.

Nobody wants to feel like they have to compromise their desires and aspects of their character in order to fit into their partner's family structure. This isn’t a fair expectation.

So for starters, my advice obviously depends on what your in-laws are like: what will the expectations be of you when you move in, do you have access to your own space within the house (ie. a basement or separate living area), are boundaries clearly defined or are you expected to spend time with your in-laws every day, will you have privacy, are you able to go about your daily routine and figure out a routine with your partner without interference?

If these are hard lines for you and not something you think you will be able to manage—you need to communicate this with your partner and ensure you are both on the same page. 

I’d even go so far as to argue that how your partner responds to these concerns will give you insight into what your future would look like.

If you bring up these real concerns about living with your in-laws to your partner, how does he react?

Do you get the idea that he is hearing out your concerns and is equipped to stand up for you and set boundaries within the house to ensure your comfort above all else?

While the expectation is never and should never be to put your partner in the middle of conflict between you and his family, it is extremely important to ensure that he is at the very least able to have your back at all times.

Does your partner also expect you to come in and be a caretaker for him and his entire family? Does he also do his fair share of household duties? Is he okay with not having a separate space in the house? Is he okay with living there temporarily before finding a home of your own? Will he defend you against meddling in-laws? Will he support you in all aspects of your relationship, including what you do in and outside of the house?

Brown women are already expected to give up so much, so making sure you are at least entering into an equal partnership whereby you don’t have to shoulder the entire burden of dealing with your in-laws, (even if they are wonderful) is extremely important.

This means you have to discern early if you are in an equal partnership. Are you just expected to take on all of the emotional labour in the relationship? Are you the one walking on eggshells around his family? Do you have to change things about yourself in order to be accepted? 

I’ve heard far too many scenarios whereby brown women are blamed by their in-laws for the actions and choices of their partners. Once their son does start standing up to them, they think it must be because his new wife is getting in his ear and making him change his behaviour.

This is misogyny and patriarchy at work, and it is up to your partner to cut that before it even begins.If your partner is not willing to or able to address it, the consequences are that it will adversely impact not just your relationship with your in-laws, but your relationship with your partner.

Making sure you are on the same page from day one will prevent this from occurring. 

While I can’t tell you whether you should or should not live with your in-laws, because often this depends on a number of factors, I will tell you that you are not the villain for wanting your freedom and independence. 

My only advice would be to ensure you have a partner that supports and doesn’t stand in the way of that, and that you are certain in your heart will have your back no matter what. From there, the two of you can decide the best course of action that makes sense for you. 

But if before tying the knot you have any doubt in your mind that your partner isn’t willing to protect your comfort at the potential expense of his parents’ temporary discomfort—I’m just saying that this may just tell you a lot more than you think. 

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About the author

Rumneek Johal

Rumneek is a journalist, host and speaker. She is currently the BC Reporter at Press Progress where she focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism. Her previous work centers on asking tough questions within her community, starting conversation and chipping away at the status quo. Other focus areas for her work include the South Asian community, arts and culture, pop culture, and more. She is a proud Punjabi woman from Surrey, BC.

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