Many people in India are shocked to hear that I do not live with my parents even though we live in the same city. I live in a flat with three other women (at the moment, it changes), down the road from the school at which my team serves. There are usually amazed questions that we have all faced from people who think only college students would choose a life like that, and can’t imagine what our life looks like. So here you go, some common questions (plus some we made up) and our honest answers.
So… you cook?
Amazing at it may seem, I am quite capable as a 32 year old woman who has lived away from home for most of the past eight years, of feeding myself and others with REAL food. I can make bhajis and chapatis, rice and dal, and plenty of other yummy dishes too. Somehow people equate being unmarried with being helpless. MY mum was not just cooking for but also raising four young children when she was 32 (the youngest arrived when she was 33). Each of the women in our household take turns to cook. But of course, we do NOT live the life of a typical Indian wife and mom – we do not cook every day. We schedule cooking every other day, and are quite happy to eat leftovers, and do not demand or expect fresh chapatis at every meal.
Perfectly round chapatis are not usually found in our home. Probably why we're still single.
Every now and again we ‘scrounge’ (as I like to refer to it) when there’s no regular food left. I consider hummus with chips a great in-between meal. Or hummus sandwiches. Or hummus with veggies. (We make GREAT hummus.)
And who cleans?
Once again, we are adult women quite capable of cleaning our own home. I don’t at all judge those who hire a cleaning lady, especially when they have kids or very demanding jobs. But we don’t need to do that, and take pride in being able to work with our hands. Funny story, when I first moved away from home, I lived with an American volunteer who was shocked that I had a maid growing up. “What does Sue have in common with a princess?” she asked, and then supplied the answer- “She has never cleaned a toilet.” Well, that’s changed. We have a weekly chore chart, and while our house is not always pristine, and we do have messy days, we manage to keep it fairly clean.
Do y’all fight?
Not really. One of the women I live with is my sister, so we occasionally have disagreements that we talk out. But the beauty of being not very young adults is that we’ve learned to extend grace to each other, not make a big deal about small stuff, and assume the best about each other.
What is the best thing about living in household?
I read some American Catholic single writing about how hard it is to be unmarried – no one to cook for, to come back home to. I don’t know why people assume marriage is the only way to have community. I love that we have people to do stuff for. If I was alone, I probably wouldn’t cook at all, or follow any kind of schedule, and would probably get pretty depressed. I love that I always have someone to talk to about my day (and my dreams), to go to Mass with, to laugh with and to pray with. It's great for accountability and growth in discipline.
Actually one of my favourite moments each day is at about 9 pm when we gather in our living room to pray the Divine Office and sing the Salve Regina at the end. It is a quiet and peace-filled way to end each day.
I asked my household sisters what their answers would be and they said –
The discipline of our life together, combined with freedom. We follow a common schedule, but with large chunks of time to do our own personal tasks. It’s not like being at home a parent telling you what to do, we choose it freely.
The freedom and lack of guilt or blame – even if we occasionally forget our chores, no one makes a big deal about it, but just reminds us.
The conversations – every night we eat dinner together and just chat about everything.
What’s the hardest thing about living in household?
For me, it’s balancing the needs of the introverts with the extroverts. I am far more aware in household how an extreme on either side can hurt the other members. Even though I am often a chatterbox, I often withdraw into my own world, with my phone or laptop or book. I can do that for hours at a time. But then I realize I haven’t even asked my household sisters how their day has been, and I wonder if they are secretly feeling isolated or hurt by me. At the same time, I can’t do constant long conversations, because I start feeling frustrated or exhausted, and I know other introverts feel the same way. So that’s sometime hard.
For the others- Not having a water heater (aka geyser) or a washing machine. Technically we could buy them, but this is a temporary home, and we try to live simply, or make do, so we are not planning to do so.
For our newest member who has never lived away from home, it is just feeling a little homesick, and not yet finding her comfort zone.
What advice would you give a group of women (or men) who were planning to set up their own Christian household?
Do it! It is totally worth it! If you are planning to be married some day, this is a great preparation for married life. You have to adjust, and face your own selfishness and temptation to blame and be resentful. But if you’re willing to learn these lessons of love, how beautiful the resulting fellowship is! And if you're probably not getting married, it's a great opportunity to build a happy home.
My household sisters’ advice –
Learn how to do conflict resolution before you move into a household. Most Indians don’t talk directly about issues, but we have to learn how to do it. We need to unlearn unhealthy habits of communication like being passive-aggressive, or using anger or accusation as a weapon, or avoiding issues.
Be clear about expectations and jointly decide beforehand what your schedule and goals are. When people do make mistakes, do not accuse or make them feel guilty, but gently remind one another about the decisions made.
Get to know each other’s likes and dislikes, needs and schedules, so that no one treads on each other’s toes, and each person has the space that they need.
And bonus question that someone actually asked us – what is one old person thing that you all do?
Well, we’re all deaf. We constantly have conversations that go –
“What? Are you talking to yourself or to me?”
“What did you say? What did she say?”
“She said she doesn’t like mumblemumblemumble.”
“She doesn’t like WHAT?”
“SHE DOESN’T LIKE MUMBLEMUMBLEMUMBLE!!!”
“Oh, never mind.”
Well, either we’re all deaf, or we all mumble. Quite possibly both.
The other old person thing that we do is Zumba. Or rather Refitrev. You might say that’s a young people thing. But that’s the point, we look at those videos and try to follow along and start feeling our age.
“Why are they all so skinny and chirpy?” (about the dance instructors)
“No, we don’t want to be your friend. We have enough friends.” (When the dance instructors try to have intimate chats with us at the beginning of the videos.)
Sorry, white women, you don't have a monopoly on this.
“How do they even do that step? I’m too old for this.”
“They’re moving too fast! And there are too many steps. How do they expect us to remember all these steps?”
“Never mind, just keep moving your body awkwardly, the point is to be healthy not be expert dancers.”
“I can do THAT! Thank God the windows are closed anyway.”
“How long has it been? I’m exhausted. Twenty minutes? Yup, I’m done.”
And that, my friends, is a Christian Women's Household.