Category Archives: Marriage

East Meets West Parenting

It seems that North American and Indian parenting styles have many opposite features.

Lets have a little quiz just for fun. In which culture would you hear the following statements, North American or Indian?

  • “Its the school’s fault that my kid hasn’t learned to speak yet.”
  • “Just let him pee his pants in public, he will learn potty training from shame.”
  • “I can’t go out because my child has exams this month.”
  • “Its ok that he fell off his bike, he will get back up again.”
  • “You are not getting any other kind of food until you eat your vegetables.”
  • “Its bedtime.”

If you guessed the first three to be from Indian parents, and the last three to be from North Americans, you’re right!

To qualify, I’m making broad generalizations and comparing middle class North Americans to middle class Indian people. People who live in the village, who don’t have access to education, or on the other end are very wealthy can not be compared directly to the variety of flavors of Western parenting models available in the US and Canada. I’m attempting to compare one middle class segment to another. 

General Principles which I find to be the most contrasted in Indian vs North American culture

1) Role of the child in the home

The joint family system creates an interesting challenge for parents in India. Grandparents, aunts and uncles living under one roof provide a hedge of protection and love for a child, but can also be confusing if there are not consistent rules and expectations. I’ve seen parents who try to enforce rules, which are then trampled by grandparents who have their own ideas. The child becomes the center of the home because of this power struggle between the elders and adult children.

In many North American families, the child is not the center of the home, the marriage and husband/wife relationship is. After that, comes the children, and other family relationships. There is little question of who is in charge of the child’s development and often times grandparents are cut off by adult children because they try to implement their own ideas or “push the boundaries.” The role of the parent being in charge is clearly defined and culturally accepted.

In middle class India, the child is the center of everything. Your world is dictated by the child. All grandparents, aunts and uncles circulate around the child’s school schedule, food desires and sleeping habits. Even professional offices are child-centered and allow flexibility for parents when a child is mildly sick or in need of extra care.  This is simply not the case in middle class North America. There are other outside forces (careers, parents’ hobbies, husband/wife relationship) which dictate the center of priorities.

2) Role of parent vs role of school in behavior development

Teachers are somehow responsible for everything in India. I have actually heard people blame the teachers when their children get poor marks on an exam. In North America, this is a matter of personal responsibility for the child and parents.

To share a personal story, in my son’s school, there are people employed there to actually hand feed your child. There are people employed to change the pants of the child when there is a toilet accident. In the West, these are all the child’s responsibility to learn on their own and the school remains uninvolved in these matters. In the West, by the age of 2 or so, a child is expected to be able to eat on their own. Potty training is a personal matter and parents are the sole contributors to the process.

There is immense pressure to perform in school in India, yet kids somehow end up not learning as much as they could. Due to this pressure, parents often complete the school assignments for their child to “impress” or “keep up” rather than helping the child to really grasp the concepts. The end goal seems to be to “complete the assignment” rather than “learn the concept.” The goal is to impress the teacher, get good marks, not learn.

In North America, parents give more space for their child to try and fail. I don’t know of any Western parents who would ever complete a child’s homework for them. There is no concept of propping up the child to protect them from failure. You often find parents who don’t “push” their kids in school or who are pretty uninvolved in the learning process of their kids. Parents let their child manage their own workload and take responsibility for their mistakes, even if they fail.

3) When to enforce discipline

Discipline in studies is of utmost importance in Indian culture. But correcting bad behavior seems to be something which is reactive rather than proactive in the early years. The attitude is “when kids are small, they are bound to misbehave.” There are little efforts to proactively teach the child to behave properly. But when they start school at a later age, things somehow shape up and the kids turn out to upstanding citizens of society.

In US and Canadian mainstream culture, the behavior of the child is something that needs a lot of correction and attention in the early years. Discipline in studies isn’t a main focus, but making the child into a “good, well rounded person” is the goal. Discipline and consequences are often enforced in the early years. The goal is the make the child independent in the long term.


Westerns would call the Indian style of parenting “coddling” or “pampering” with no discipline whatsoever at home. Indians would call the Western model of instilling independence “uncaring” or “aloof.”

The issues of discipline, roles in the home are central to forming a culture at large. Observing these cultural patterns, can give great insight to the psyche and behaviors of a people.

This post isn’t meant to be a criticism of either culture, just observations from a parent who finds herself confronting these contrasts in her daily life. 


Making the “Love Languages” Cross Cultural

If you’re ever heard of the “Five Love Languages” concept, you probably know about its popularity and worldwide reach. The love languages books have been translated into 50 languages around the world, but are they all applicable to other cultures?

Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Gifts and Acts of Service are the five ways that identified by the author Gary Chapman. The idea is that different people have different pathways in which they receive and give love. Meeting the needs of those in your life according to their way of receiving love is the main thrust of the concept.

For the most part, I think these five “languages” cover a broad spectrum of human need in relationships, but they aren’t entirely translatable cross cultures.

First example, in some Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures, directly giving words of affirmation is very awkward and not well received. Praising that person to a third party else is more highly valued when they hear about what you said about them through the grapevine.

Secondly, public physical affection between spouses or romantic partners is also taboo. Holding hands walking down the street is scandalous. Even physical touch (hugs) between brothers and sisters are not common. These are two love languages which are dominant in the West, but much less prevalent in non-Western cultures.

I’d like to add a couple more “love languages” which I see as being central and unique to non-Western cultures.


I believe this one has the weight to stand on its own. If you’ve ever had relationships with folks from a non-Western culture, you understand how important food is. Food is a shared experience. Sitting to eat together is a bonding experience in every culture, but the fast food mentality of the West has degraded its depth. In cultures like India, the time and effort put into cooking a meal for another person communicates depths of love, duty and respect for the person. Not offering to serve someone drink or food is a direct insult. The acts of serving food and sharing food are mediums of building and maintaining strong relationships.

Respecting family

Respecting the family of one’s significant other, particularly in honor/shame cultures, is an overlooked approach to showing love to one’s spouse in the “Love Languages.” For example, making an effort to get along with a spouse’s family and understanding the interconnectedness of family relationships is an important part of many non-Westerners lives.

In many cultures, the joint family system is hinged on the importance of a new spouse getting along with all the other family members. If the daughter-in-law and mother-in law don’t get along, the husband/wife relationship is in trouble. Likewise, this can be said for building love in non-romantic relationships. A wife showing respect for her husband can build love between her and her mother-in-law. A father teaching a child to respect and honor his grandparents shows love to his parents on a different dimension.

Showing love to one’s spouse who lives in a communal society looks very different from the Western approach. Saying to your spouse “I love you because you are smart” may not have an affect. But showing love by cooking for a spouse’s parents speaks much louder to non-Western minds.

The Love Languages are a great concept and have undoubtedly helped millions of folks from non-Western countries improve their relationships, but pointing out the nature of indirect communication and the importance of family networks is crucial to making it a truly global concept.

Firangi Bahu- Does This Really Represent Indian/Western Marriages?

Built on drama, jealousy, lies, and mistrust, Firangi Bahu was just like every other saas/bahu drama on Indian television, with one exception, a British bahu instead of a homegrown one. After one dreadful season, Sahara One cancelled it.

firangibahu-indianwesternThe show shows Camili (British born 20 something) who met Pranay (a wealthy Gujurati boy studying in London) and secretly get married after a whirlwind, short-lived stint of infatuation.

Pranay was a  babied son who didn’t know how to balance the challenges of family responsibility with having a love marriage. Camili was a naive but sweet spirited girl who desired to please people around her and fit into the conservative Indian Desai household she found herself a part of.

Like many other serials on Indian television, this show skewed several portions of reality. The show did a good job of breaking down negative stereotypes of Westerners, but unfortunately reinforced negative views of Indian families:

Exaggerated View of Dysfunctional Families

Fortunately, many foreigners who have experiences in India know that the dysfunction of the Desai family is not the reality for most Indian households.  This show had all the stereotypical “worst case scenario” characters –a vindictive older bhabhi who was trying to control and hurt others , a mother-in-law who was desperately trying to maintain power over a changing household, and an unsupportive and childish husband who was easily manipulated by catty female relatives.

This show was not unique, as many of the family serials thrive of jealous relationships, and mere emotional drama to keep ratings high.  Sadly, shows like this make Indian families look horrible to the outside world. I’m calling “bluff” on these negative stereotypes.

Inflated “Love” Story 

Pranay and Camili’s meeting and marriage was based on almost no true relationship, but pure infatuation. The scenes of their “love story” mostly consisted of bumping into each other at the train station followed by eyelash batting and romantic music playing in the background. Not much you can tell about a person by just batting your eyelashes at them.

Most of the successful Western/Indian marriages I’m aware of were based on two people having common interests, mutual friends, common values, and healthy friendships. Most couples get to know each other, spend time together in a variety of situations, and do their best to see the “true colors” of their partner before making a lifelong commitment.

Camili and Pranay got married without his family’s knowledge, which is also rare from what I’ve observed. From any cultural perspective, families are bound to be very upset if a young person does this. In my opinion, the characters started off on the wrong foot to begin with. Things are bound to get rocky when a couple doesn’t have a strong foundation or a shred of family support.

Excuses Abuse of Women:

A recent episode showed Pranay confronting Camili by grabbing her by the face, pinning her arm behind her back, and falsely accusing her of being unfaithful and getting pregnant with someone else’s child. I was a little shocked, although I know Indian television and movies show this kind of behavior all the time, and excuses it as just “the way things are.” I know this kind of abuse does certainly happen, but I especially want to emphasize that this is not the norm of cross cultural relationships.

Camili is a girl who had no father, was raised by an alcoholic mother and has now found a new variety of abusive relationships in her sasuraal.  In the West we call this kind of person someone with a “victim” mentality. Camili seems to be to be a woman in love, but someone who didn’t get the whole picture before diving into a lifelong relationship. She is now married to a pampered adult man who thinks it is ok to abuse and manipulate women in his life.

Pranay is portrayed as a “typical Indian boy” who loves his family and would do anything to protect their honor, even if it means rooting out people who attempt to dishonor their reputation. In the beginning of the show, Pranay was understanding, sensitive Camili’s family problems, and seemed to be an advocate for her finding acceptance with his family. His colors changed as soon as he was back in his native environment. As soon as he was faced with a major conflict, his prejudices and fears about white people all emerge and were acted out against his wife.

Most women I know who have willingly married their desi partner would not put up with this kind of abuse, neglect and blatant mistrust from their spouse.

firangi bahu relationships

Balance this Show with Real-Life Family Situations

I don’t believe this show portrays reality of most Indian/Western marriages. Camili is now stuck in an abusive family with a husband who treats her poorly. Of the desi/non-desi couples I know, these kind of dysfunctional situations are not the norm.

A family (from any cultural background) who mistreats their daughter-in-law with this kind of extreme abuse is unacceptable, and certainly not the norm in Indian families. I’d like to see a show which portrays real issues that cross-cultural Indian/Western couples face.

But functional, happy marries don’t make for good TV shows.

I’d also like to disclaim and say that the word “firangi” is not an accurate word to describe many of the non-desi wives of Indian or Pakistani men I have met. Firangi has a connotation of being a complete outsider and someone not to be trusted. The word “Videshi”, or just simply “Australian”, “American”, “Peruvian”, or “British bahu” are more appropriate. Its kind of like calling a Chinese or Korean person “Oriental.” It is degrading, antiquated, and inappropriate language.

We are the 15%. Making a point with interracial marriage.

A few months ago, the Cheerios ad showing an interracial couple and their child sparked all kinds of ridiculous controversy which made thousands in our country hang their heads in shame. Reactions to this ad show a disgraceful state of backwards individuals that still exist in the USA today.

According to the 2008 census, 15% of new marriages are interracial. So, why does it feel weird to some to see an ad representing a normal consumer population on TV? The website We Are the 15 Percent aims to change that. This is one effort to show the real faces of interracial families. Hundreds of families have submitted their photos to show that interracial marriage isn’t all that strange anymore- but is a normal part of our society.

But there is one reaction to racism which makes me very uncomfortable.

Believe it or not, there are people out there who are determined to marry someone of a different race, just to make a point. 

Photo credit- This American Life
Photo credit- This American Life

Have you ever heard someone say “I like white girls” or “I am only attracted to black men” or “I fit better with desi guys.”

Isn’t this another form of objectifying someone for their race? Isn’t this classifying someone as part of a group which they may or may not fit into?

Something is wrong with a person who is attracted to someone just for their ethnic label.  A person’s race is only one quality that expresses who they are.  Putting an individual in a box is a dangerous game to play when considering about a lifelong relationship. If a person marries another primarily because of their race, they will be disappointed when that person surprises them by being an individual with a mind of their own.

I recently heard a story on This American Life about a white American man who only wanted to date Asian women. Eventually he got what he wanted, when he met a Chinese woman online and got married. He was really disappointed and surprised after a few months of marriage when she showed him that she had a unique personality and didn’t fit into his little box of what he thought an Asian woman was supposed to be.

Marriage is not a project. Marriage is not a label. Marriage isn’t something a person should do to prove anything to someone else. Marriage isn’t a statement.  A strong marriage is built on commonalities, interests, and shared values.  Marriage is a commitment to an individual (and their family.) Each person is different, and can not be defined just by their race. Human beings are complex, and each marriage is different, be it “interracial” or not.