Working and fragmenting family

Cohesive family is the foundation of healthy and robust society. Demands of working away from home can pull apart families if personal relationships are not carefully nurtured. Internalizing adjustments as ‘sacrifices’ often signal a disaster inside a family and then fragmentation of a community. Saima Riyaz takes a closer look.

To wait is my fate. My utopian world collapsed as soon as the reality dawned on me.”

Rabiya had never thought it would be so difficult to have her husband working at a far off place. “At home I used to interact with my siblings but here I am alone,” says Rabiya, 32, who works in a private school. She finds it hard to socialize but the underlying reason she herself testifies is the absence of her husband.

“Evil thoughts cross my mind all the time. I don’t want to think about it but I can’t help it.” She is disturbed with the attitude of her in-laws and thinks it to be one of the reasons miserable life after marriage. “My in-laws are least concerned about me. They appear nice when my husband visits otherwise they are different people.”

Her husband is not able to spend much time with her due to his business engagements which she thinks create hurdles in the making of a healthy relationship.
“First, he rarely comes home. Second, he is preoccupied whenever he comes. He has to talk to everybody and by the time my turn comes he is on the phone or too tired to discuss matters with me. And when there is some possibility of serious interaction, it is the time he has to leave. Ultimately what ends up being sacrificed is our relationship,” laments Rabiya.

Sociologists believe a dispersed family member is at the root of the issue. “It is natural to have social fallout of the family structures where a man stays outside due to compulsions of his job, leaving behind his wife and children,” said Dr Peerzada Muhammad Amin, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Kashmir.

“The real problem is taking the family for granted. During vacation a man spends few active hours with his family and even less time to organize domestic matters. People in the west spend money on weekends and long trips, just to be with the family. Here, spending few hours with the family in Mughal Gardens is considered sufficient although it is no panacea for a long period of separation.”

As hard as it is for women, it is no cake walk for men either. “Even if there is some argument in the office, next day my colleagues are back to normal,” said Muhammad Ashraf, 38, a businessman from Nawa Kadal in Srinagar. The reason he thinks it is so is his colleagues have someone to share their frustrations with. “My colleagues share their worries with their spouses but I have no one to share with.”

Besides emotional problems the issue has a pragmatic dimension.  “To live far away from home, managing things solely and working for hours without respite is challenging.” Notwithstanding some common domestic issues, the time he spends at home comes as succor. “I don’t have to cook, make my bed, wash or iron my clothes or polish my shoes.” Things work properly at home which, he believes, is due the sharing of responsibility. “I don’t have a maid service but everybody takes responsibilities and the life moves on smoothly which is not the case when you are away from your home.”

Day to day worries might be easy to fix but there are some issues that have serious consequences.  This is more prevalent in a family where the husband comes home after a long gap.

Sadiya, 39, a working lady feels her life is ruined because of what her husband did to her. ‘I am here, waiting and praying for him and he, without bothering to even inform me, marries a young girl (behind me).” She sensed it when her husband started avoiding her phone calls. “I book a flight to see what exactly is wrong. Somehow I manage to trace him with his wife and a year old kid.”

Sadiya’s husband tried to wheedle her but she was too shattered to hold on to the relationship. “Divorce is the result in our case but no relationship should meet such an end. I would never encourage any married coupe to live separately,” Sadiya swears. “It causes problems whether you accept it or not.”
According to Fatima, many things happen in her daily life which she can’t possibly share with her husband if she meets him once or even twice a month. “Many things get skipped and it is those smaller things that bind you with each other.” Ghulam Nabi, her husband who works in the Police Department, at times takes her with him but, Fatima says, it is not always possible. “He has tight (working) schedule and posting at different locations makes it simply impossible for me to shift everywhere he is posted.”

Others, who can take their family to wherever they go, don’t do it, either due to financial constraints or they have nobody back home to take care of family affairs. “I can take my wife to my workplace but there is nobody at home who will take care of my old mother, our house and a little bit of land we have. Our relatives will occupy it if we will settle in the city,” said Abdul Hamid, a sweeper. He works hard through the month to take some money home at the end. Rest of the matters of home is taken care of by his wife. “I have a two year old daughter who usually remains sick and it is her mother who always takes her to the doctor.”

Children of such parents also feel detached from their parents. “When I was a kid I used to wait for my father’s arrival because his coming meant lots of new toys,” shared twenty year old Rashid. Now he is grown up and no longer interested in toys. He mingles well with people but says he shares a formal kind of relationship with his father.

“It is difficult for the women to exercise control and run affairs of the home single handedly. Negligence by the parents could have detrimental influence on the personality of the children. Institutions that can direct ignored children towards education are missing in Kashmir, therefore parents have to groom the child which is impossible if the relationship between the family members is strained,” said Dr Amin.

Sabreen buys household items for home, pays regular visits to ration depots, deposits water, electricity, telephone and all kinds of bills. She does almost every chore that fathers traditionally used to do. “I repair fuses, fix problems in our water system, stand up in a queue to get domestic gas. My friends don’t do these things but I do as I have no choice,” says Sabreen, 21, a science graduate. She narrates an incident which had so emphatic an impact on her psyche that she decided to look for a way out.

“Our area usually experiences frequent power cuts and one day without any reason electricity goes off suddenly. Everybody in our neighbourhood repaired their electricity fuse but we had nobody to do that. Next day somebody from the concerned department repaired it.” She could not prevent recurrence of such an episode but she noted down almost all the emergency help line numbers. “You never know when you need them.”

Dr Amin says, “family expenditure has to be designed in such a way that the budget should have money for tertiary works. In such cases home delivery can reduce the brunt on the daughters.”

However, there are people who quit their highly paid jobs and are managing well. Farooq Ahmad is one of them. He lives with his wife and eight year old daughter in a posh area of the city. “I was working in Saudi Arabia but I left the job as soon as I got married because I could not take my wife there.” He has two sisters but being the only son of his parents he considers his responsibility to look after his family. “My parents and my wife, both are my responsibility. Before marriage I somehow managed with the help of my sisters and extended family. But after marriage I had to come back, take my responsibility which I did without remorse,” said Farooq.

Sociologists suggest ways to deal with such issues and make up for the lost time. “Dynamics of the problem demand a drastic change in our attitude towards life. If money is needed to manage financial issues, then other ways can be adopted to handle familial issues.  A person should make use of the technology to interact with the family frequently and spend quality time with the family during vacation,” said Dr Amin.

“If the separation is inevitable then timetable should be such that will shape up working time of parents and school schedule of children. A person needs to carefully compartmentalize life, with work in one city and life in another.”

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