A year ago, my in-law's moved in with us and we took the plunge into traditional desi joint family life - something I knew was coming sooner or later. When you marry the eldest and only Indian son, it is inevitable that you will have to eventually live with his parents!
In our instance, my in-law's moved in with us after our relationship was already well-established (we had just celebrated our 10 year anniversary last year). And they also moved into our space, as opposed to us moving into their space. Those two factors made the transition much easier than the average bahu.
One year later, I'm still a big fan of the joint family set-up because it really works - for us, at least. Everyone has their roles in the household and everyone is flexible with those roles. Husband-ji works. My mother-in-law cooks. My father-in-law throws the trash and gets groceries. I take care of the kids and am the family chauffeur/master scheduler (driving everyone to their appointments, taking the kids to their classes, school drop off/pick up). My in-law's have taken the role of child-rearing support: they let us primarily parent the kids, but they are always there to help with anything from watching the kids, packing lunches, reading stories, or giving baths.
It has been very beneficial for us and it has alleviated a lot of stress. Husband-ji can just focus on work, and he's even taking a class after work to learn a new skill. I've got the daily support with raising the children, and also some company in the house. My main stress before was cooking complicated Indian meals and now my mother-in-law completely handles the cooking. Husband-ji is so happy to have all his favorite dishes. Indian food is made every day but I often eat my own food (salads, pastas, sushi, etc). Maya gets constant attention and love from her grandparents, which is so important for young children. My father-in-law says the best part is watching his grand-kids grow up every day, rather than seeing them on a screen or through a phone.
So much has happened this year - my parents' health has been failing, I got pregnant & had another baby, my mother-in-law had heart surgery - that I couldn't have done it if they weren't here. My mother-in-law had a depressive episode after her heart surgery, and I had a few months of depression during my pregnancy too. Living in a joint family is like being in an intertwined spider web where everyone is supported and taken care of. When one person is suffering, the others lift that person up. That's what I love about it the most. I try to keep myself busy with the kids most of the time, but sometimes at night I feel sad about my parents and the reality that they're not getting any better. In those moments, instead of sitting in the dark and crying by myself, my mother-in-law is there offering me a shoulder to cry on and also to lift me up with her wisdom. Both her and I definitely rule the roost! Along with my two little queens, it's definitely a female-centric matrilineal household!
Not to say we don't have any fights. I had a gigantic fight with my in-law's in the Fall, but luckily they couldn't stay mad at me because I was pregnant. All of us living in a small space makes us more likely to solve arguments quickly, because there's spatially no way to avoid each other! You also have to be pretty forgiving - give the other person the benefit of the doubt and understand that their intentions are not bad. You can't hold grudges in a joint family household. The noise level has been really tricky, especially with the kids' naps and bed times. The whole house shuts down at 8 o'clock at night, which used to be my in-law's dinner time. And everyone basically has to wake up at 6am everyday. Whenever husband-ji and I are fighting, my in-law's take the kids out for a walk. By the time they return, the fight is always over. I do miss the time alone with husband-ji - we don't have as many conversations as we used to. Now they are family conversations. We have been trying to go out after the kids are asleep for dates again to re-connect and just chat with each other. I also have mixed feelings about shutting myself in the bedroom to breast-feed. Sometimes I like the alone time with the baby, but other times I feel trapped in the other room when everyone else is in the living room. Maya has gotten even more orthodox with her eating habits, as she knows her grandma will make her whatever she desires (which is always South Indian vegetarian food!) but I can't complain because at least I don't have to cook!
We are living in an 1000 square foot, 2 bedroom busy city apartment, which sounds terrible but it's actually not that bad. Well, it was fine for 3 people...but now we are a family of 6! As of now, Queen Maya is the only one who has her own bedroom. We share our master bedroom with the baby now, and my in-law's sleep in the living room. (This is a step up from my husband's childhood home, which had 10 people living in a tiny 2 bedroom house!). We're going to be moving to our new place in the Fall which will be double the size and have a separate room for everyone. Maya says she doesn't want to move because she loves our little apartment, just the way it is. That just goes to show that more space doesn't make a happy home - it's the people in it that matter!