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When Guests Are Blood Relatives

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For a young and upwardly mobile couple, life in the metros is not all rosy, but there is a great deal of convenience and comfort that cannot yet be found in the smaller towns of our country. This is one reason why, if one or both of the partners has family in the small towns, such relatives naturally look to getting encouragement and support from their family members to seek their own fortune in the big city.The arrival of a brother, sister or cousin, who is in the city to complete a course of study, or appear for a job interview, can affect the equation between a young couple, or even a more well established pair who have been married for several years. “It is not as if I resented the extra work that needed to be done around the house when my brother-in-law was living with us for his trainee period,” says Shalini, 33, who works demanding hours in the hotel industry. “Of course, the work was also part of it. But what used to bug me more was the hours my husband spent with his brother in front of the TV, or just chatting up about their work. It was as if they had kept aside all this bonding during their childhood only to discover it again in my house!”

Shalini’s resentment is the most common side effect when a guest lands up for an extended stay in a couple’s home – and such a guest is related by ties of blood to one of the partners. Whether the guest is a mother-in-law, the brother, sister or father of one of the partners, suddenly it appears as if priorities and power equations within the household have shifted, giving the other partner reason to feel jealous or irritated. At such times, many things come up to be tested – maturity, our upbringing, and a willingness to put oneself in another’s shoes.

As Shalini describes it, finally her resentment melted only a few days before her brother-in-law left to return home to Kanpur, and made it a point to cook an entire meal for his brother and ‘bhabhi’. “It was sweet of him,” she recalls. “Even better than taking us out to a restaurant. Though it was potato sabji, raita, a vegetable pulao kind of dish – simple stuff really – he had taken lot of trouble over it, and I was touched. For some days after he left both of us missed him!”

For couples who live abroad, the relative who arrives from home could end up staying many weeks or months. This is when things can turn decidedly difficult, as the couple juggle work and household duties with the additional tasks that arise from the arrival of a guest from India who has not got used to sharing in the housework. In fact, if things are not made plain by some simple explanations right at the beginning, such visits have the potential to rupture relationships, creating wounds that take a long time to heal.

If your home is going to be host to blood relatives for an extended period, the following hints could be helpful:

· Warmly welcome the guest at the beginning of the visit, and explain in a pleasant and polite way the ground rules of the house. If you don’t show what has to be done, how can you expect guests to co-operate?

· If you notice after a few days that the guest is not responsive to the ground rules and making no attempt to help, make a simple request to do something. ‘Just help me with this laundry’, or ‘Please make the coffee while I put away these groceries’, is a better way of getting co-operation rather than an accusatory, ‘Why aren’t you making your bed? I thought I told you there are no maids here!’
· On occasion, if you notice a guest going out of the way to do something, and struggling in the process, take over the task with a ‘Here, let me do that,’ and reward them with a smile. This way, you give them the necessary importance of being an ‘atithi’ and make them feel loved at the same time.

· Tackle the issue of privacy and time needed with your spouse by speaking to your husband or wife about it, early in the visit. Don’t make it sound like a demand, or it may make your partner spring to the defence of his or her family! A hug in the morning, with a murmured ‘I hope you will still have time for us in the midst of your work and job-hunting for your sister…’ should be much more effective than ‘You only have time for your sister/mother/brother!’

Have happy times with your houseguests, and remember, they’re only human!

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