When Sanjay Johar married his childhood sweetheart and best friend in 2005, they happily joined his large joint family of 10 in the Johars’ two-storey family bungalow in Vasai, on the outskirts of Mumbai.
They soon had a child, and were glad that the extended family was at hand to help with caring for him.
Three years on, Sanjay, 36, marketing head for a pharmaceutical firm, and his wife, a lawyer, decided to rent a flat in the city, hoping to cut down on commuting time and get some quality time as a nuclear family.
Five years on, amid rising prices and increasingly expensive daycare for their son, they shifted back to the joint family home in February.
“It was just too expensive,” says Sanjay. “Plus, given that both of us have always been full-time working parents, we just couldn’t juggle it all without help.”
Since they moved back, says Sanjay, both he and his wife feel they are able to pay enough attention to both their jobs and their child, without the stress of the two overlapping.
“The dynamics of economy are known to shape family structures,” says Shalini Bharat, professor in the school of health systems studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. “Nuclear families may have become the norm in cities in recent times, but the traditional joint family set-up seems to be making a comeback too, although in an altered form.”
Factors contributing to this pattern, adds Bharat, include the difficulty of owning a house in a city and dependence on the elderly for childcare support in the case of dual-career couples.
While this may seem like a reversal, it is in fact a step forward in the evolution of the Indian family, says psychiatrist and marriage counsellor Dr Mita Doshi.
In many cases, nuclear families are rejoining joint families not from a diminishing sense of independence but because of it — because both parents have hectic work schedules, numerous demands on their time and finances, and need to share the burden of housekeeping and child-rearing.
Mumbai residents Pranav and Riddhi Tejookaya, for instance, considered moving into a home of their own but decided against it before even venturing out.
“When we started to seriously assess what it would be like, we realised that it was like taking on a second job. That idea did not appeal to us,” says Pranav, 30, head of his family’s construction company.
Adds Riddhi, 28, a fashion designer: “In order to have the freedom to socialise and do our own thing without being burdened with the responsibility of the house, we decided to stay in the joint family set-up.”
It was for similar reasons that New Delhi-based couple Karuna and Aditya Chatterjee moved back into their close-knit joint family in 2010, after going nuclear for three months.
They had rented a flat near Gurgaon to be closer to work. But the spiralling cost and the never-ending chores led them to reconsider their decision.
“We realised that we were spending too much and it wasn’t worth it,” says Karuna, 29, a content developer.
With work-life balance increasingly skewed in urban India, and parents battling rising costs and trying to accommodate hectic social lives, the support of an extended family becomes essential, says Joseph MT, associate professor of sociology at University of Mumbai. “In that sense, the essence of the joint-family structure is changing.”