God, Grant Me the Serenity to Accept Things I Cannot Change

The Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

 This is my mantra.  Every day I have to recite these words to keep myself from pulling my hair out and screaming like a lunatic.  Kids yelling, dogs barking, phones ringing. My husband coming home, dropping his socks in a ball on the floor, asking me,

So honey, what did you do all day?”

Sometimes I look at my life and family and ask myself what I can do to change things.  How can I make things around me go my way for a change?

How can I get my son to focus on college?

How can I change my routine to make my household run smoother?

How can I get my husband to pick up his darn socks?

Marrying my husband was the best training for how to handle all of life’s big and little trials, and the reason I cling to The Serenity Prayer so tightly.  Marrying out of my culture was not easy for me.  As a matter of fact, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I was young and in love, and went into marriage with the expectation that love will conquer all.  Back then, my mantra was by the Beatles,

All you need is love, love.  Love is all you need. (I can’t sing or I’d hum it for you).

Although I had already felt the sting of rejection in many situations by our Indian community while we dated, I had faith, and believed in my heart or hearts, that nothing could come between me and my husband.  Culture meant nothing when we gazed into each others’ eyes for hours at a time.  But, life happened and I smashed into the brick wall of reality.  We had problems.

Here is the biggest issue we have struggled through over the years:

(I generalize here.  All Indians are not the same, and not all Americans are the same.  But this is what he and I were about)

Indian men put their parents and family on equal footing with their wife.  American women are raised to expect to be number one, and an equal partner with their husband. Indian men do not separate from their families when they get married, and western women believe that “a man shall cleave unto his wife, forsaking all others.”  Huge problem!

The reason that I am discussing these personal problems, is to give support and hope for other intercultural couples.  You are, by far, not alone. And there is hope to make things work.  This is where The Serenity Prayer kicks in.

My husband makes all of life’s decision based on what is best for the entire family, which includes his parents, younger brother, sister, and me, and our kids.  That used to infuriate me.  I would argue my side with him until I was blue in the face, but couldn’t change him.  My grandparents expected my parents to function independently in their lives, and that’s what they did.  American parents’ greatest joy is the knowledge that they’ve raised successful and independent kids who do not relay on them anymore.  American kids grow up and their parents retire to Florida. End of story.

Indian families stick together. Many, even second generation people, here in the U.S. still get married and live with the guy’s parents.  That is normal for them.  Mix the two philosophies together, and you have a recipe for disaster if you aren’t careful.

Over many years of fights, the silent treatment, and gritting of teeth, we have come to a happy medium with family.  God granted me the serenity to accept the things I couldn’t change.  I can’t change him.  It’s wrong for me to ask that.  I can change myself and how I perceive things.  And I now know the difference between the two.

We don’t live with my in-laws, but they are at our house almost every day.  They bring us dinner when I don’t have time to cook, they play with our kids, and take them for sleepovers for days at a time. My husband mows their lawn and moves furniture for them.  I take my mother-in-law to the doctor and out shopping.  We need them and they need us.  And you know what?  My husband did the same things for my parents, and now my mother since my dad passed.  He is Indian, and I am white, and the whole family is ours.

I’m glad I stopped trying to change him.  And I’m glad I changed myself.

So, on days when the tornado of dirty laundry, and squealing kids, and homework swirl around me, I just say The Serenity Prayer, and have a glass of wine.  I relax, look out my window at the fall leaves, then grab those socks off the floor and move on.  I now know the difference and let things go.


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26 thoughts on “God, Grant Me the Serenity to Accept Things I Cannot Change

  1. Great post…Yes I agree in Indian culture people are taught that as our mother,father cared for us when we were kids..It is our responsibility to take care of them once they became Old/Weak…..Not to leave them lonely at home for long time…….Don’t be selfish about yourself…think about others also…..I am happy to see that your husband retained these values with him….The kind of Role you are playing and the kind of understanding and patience you have developed are particular qualities of an Ideal Bhartiya Nari…

  2. Hi,

    Read about your family on Sharell’s blog.Came by to say that I really appreciate how honest you and your husband are about the intercultural issues in your marriage.

    Also, that in quite a few purely Indian marriages these days, there is a definite shift towards putting the couple and their family first and then the parents. In my opinion , that is not a bad thing at all, as long as parents are not completely forsaken, because for many of their generation, this is not how things are supposed to be and they may not have the mental , physical and/or financial resources to deal with that kind of an old age.

    Then there are also families like mine (and my husband’s) where this is the second generation “nuclear” family, so both sets of parents are more comfortable living independent lives, with the unspoken reassurance that should they need it, their children are there to help and vice-versa.

    And there are also families, where the parents live close enough to be present in the day to day life of their children, somewhat like your in-laws.

    • Hi Monishika,

      I’m glad to know that in purely Indian families, there are different ways about handling the issue of parents. It just shows me, that no matter what culture, people are all different and have to choose what works for them. I hope that Indians never loose that sense of responsibility and closeness with their parents. A lot of Americans could learn a thing or two from Indians. There are some sad stories of parents in nursing homes here with no one to care for them. I’m grateful that my husband showed me the importance of having a close relationship with our parents. It’s one of the best parts of Indian culture in my life.

    • Thanks, Wayne! I hope that my stories transcend just the surface, specifics of Indian and white dynamics. I know that I am a little bit of a dreamer, but I hope that everyone can learn to love and understand others.
      By the way, you are one of the most inspirational people that I know. You lift me up and have shown me I can give myself permission to express myself. Thank you.

  3. You might like to peruse a couple of books by Alan Roland, an American psychoanalyst who in the course of his clinical practice found significant differences in the “self” concept between Indians, Japanese and Americans.

    He came to the conclusion that Western psychology, which was developed with reference to Western culture, had to be modified for application to other cultures. The Oedipus complex, for instance, doesn’t exist amongst Indians because of extensive maternal bonding which continues throughout life.

    See Roland, “In Search of Self in India and Japan”

    and “Journeys to Foreign Selves: Asians and Asian Americans in a Global Era”

    • Sandeep,

      Thank you for these suggested reads. I will definitely look them over. I am especially interested in a more academic perspective on issues like my own, and similar issues that others experience in intercultural integration. My bachelors degree is in cultural anthropology, and I did some graduate work in the field as well. An understanding of the basis of world view in each culture enable me, on an emotional level, to step back somewhat and not take things personally. However, this ability has been a long time coming for me. I guess it is true that with age comes wisdom and with education comes tolerance.

  4. This is a really good angle on the often frustrating side of being with an Indian Guy! After wrestling for so long with the sometimes fury of trying to tolerate the sheer scale of ‘The Family’ (which sometimes seems to me of Maffia proportions!) this made me think, after five years of trying sometimes to go against the Indian Family Way, I should just accept it and go with the flow. It’s so true when you speak of when you are alone you have faith that everything will come together easily & then ‘bang’! the brick wall (which is usually disguised in my case as the Indian Mother!). It’s so tough when you are raised in a Western culture to adapt, but after living in India for almost 4 years, I might give your philosophy a go! Thanks for the inside tip!
    NB: Sadly patience isn’t one of my virtues, which makes it extra hard to live here! So I’ll let you know how I get on 🙂

  5. I found your blog through Sharell’s and I must say I appreciate your insight and honesty. I am a divorced European woman and mother remarried to an Indian man.
    In our married life I feel we need to overcome cultural issues but that our main challenge is our emotional scars and feelings of unsecurity. Definitely we all need love, but trust is also very important. I feel sometimes my intercultural relationship is really scary because I don’t have enough references to interpret what is going on. For instance it took me 4 years to understand that our fights often occur on days when DH is vegetarian for devotion – and probably on these days he is on edge because of hunger rather than anger 🙂

    You have a beautiful family and I wish you all a lot of happiness. <3

    • You have touched an an important part of marriage – trust! I understand being scared because you don’t have cultural references to understand what’s going on. Been there! It’s great that you figured out your husband’s irritability was from hunger and not anger after only four years. I haven’t always been that astute in my household! We may have been married for 20 years, but sometimes we still look at each other like we have three eyes when new situations arise. But, like you said, when you can trust your partner, you can feel secure that you’ll both figure things out.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You have a unique perspective. I’d love to hear more from you!

  6. Hi! I found your blog through the Diary of a White Indian Housewife site and I was hooked once I started reading your blog and after reading her recent blog post on your family. I found it especially interesting as I am originally from the South, but moved away from there a few years ago and now live in a different region of the US . I am also a non Indian married to a Indian man. It’s been an interesting journey and has had it’s ups and down, but it’s also been very rich and has made me a better person in so many ways. I can imagine it’s done the same for you! I’m just curious…and maybe I missed reading this somewhere on your blog…but have you ever been to India with your husband? I have been there with my husband and talk about a life changing experience! Visiting that place can be eye opening and make one learn the art of adaptability very fast and to learn to have faith in life.

    Also, I love the pictures of your family. Your kids are all so adorable. 🙂

    Please keep writing and posting your insights and observations. I really like your blog!

    • Hi! Thanks for your kind words about my blog! I am really interested in your story because, coming from the South, you must really understand how unique culture is here from anywhere else in the US. We southerners are pretty whacky and can be just as hard to understand as Indians (or anyone else, for that matter). Like you, I feel like the journey through our ups and downs has definitely made me a better person.
      I’ve never been to India. Family has advised us to wait until a child is 4 or 5 to take them. But, in our case, those babies just kept coming and we never had the chance. Now, maybe we will get over there!
      Take Care!

  7. Hi! I also found your blog through Sharell’s. I can relate to a lot of what you have written about here and think you and your husband have done an amazing job at keeping it together with all the cultural differences.
    I am also married to an Indian (I am Australian) and he also makes the ‘life decisions’ for our family as much as I hate to admit it!! That is why we are living in his hometown in India now 🙂
    Keep it up, look forward readng more!

    • I’m so glad you can relate, Amelia. The beauty of the internet is the ability to reach around the world to find people like ourselves. Boy, do I wish I’d had this when we got married, way back when! You are so lucky to be able to experience life in India with your husband. I’ve looked at your blog…very fascinating!

  8. You said you wanted to know my story as I am from the South as well. Well I moved away from the South over 6 years ago…it was where I was born, grew up, and spent most of my life. I still consider it home even though I’ve lived in a couple other places over the last few years. My husband I met over 3 years ago and we have been married for a over a year. When he first told his parents about me, there was some initial resistance to the idea (which is to be expected), but once they met me they really liked me. I think it took them some time to get used to the idea that their oldest son had chosen a non Indian as their spouse. However, over time I think that as they have come to know me and my family, I feel that that they really love me, care about me, and respect me as I’ve been able to somehow blend in with them and their friends and family and that I can cook such good Indian food (even my husband likes my Indian cooking better than his own mom’s cooking!). 🙂

    Anyways, that’s a little about me. I really like all of your blog posts. Despite the ups and downs of life and that come with being in an intercultural marriage, your husband sounds like a very special person with a big heart. You are very lucky! Congrats on your 20+ years of marriage. It’s definitely something to be proud of! 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing a little about you. It sounds like you two have it together. And you are so blessed that your in-laws have grown to love you. You know, as I ponder my life experiences for this blog, I realize more and more that culture is an issue, yes. But at least as important to a successful marriage and family is individual personalities and how they click. And it sounds like you have that going for you.
      I should get cooking lessons from you…I am severely lacking in Indian cooking skills. But, I make a mean chicken tikka masala (that’s about the only thing). Take care.

  9. Thank you for writing this. Although I am Indian marrying an Indian, my friends here will not and do not live with their in-laws or have their in-laws live with them. This is non-negotiable for my fiance for various reasons and I have accepted that after marriage. This reminds me to try to put HIS wishes and feelings right up there with my own. I’m very American-Indian and want to be a husband and wife living alone and consider myself the most important person and felt it threatening to have anyone else be ‘as importan’t, even to the point of making him say that to me! With time I have come to realize he loves me and I AM the most important, but the parents who raised him, gave him an education and made him the man I GET to marry deserve some importance in his life, too. I am sure there will be many days where I am stressed out, upset, or angry with them but hopefully I’ll have some wine and the memory of this entry to get me through.

    • Well, I am so glad to hear that this post will help you. You have such an understanding attitude toward your fiance and his parents, and I think that is the foundation for a good marriage. I love that you respect his parents because they are the people who made him who he is. It’s so true. Best wishes!

  10. That was such great insight. I just found you *on accident* I am an American married to an Indian and living in the US. We have two beautiful children and have been married for 8 wonderful years. Best decision I ever made! But I have my share of funny cross cultural family stories! Your perspective is so healthy and mature. Thank you for sharing! I can’t wait to read more!

  11. Oh thank heavens for this blog! Sheryl – your voice is articulate, refreshing, and hopeful. Given 20 years on this road – you are certainly one to share wisdom and advice! I am bumping right up against the core problem you speak of — the Indian parents and extended family (including cousins?!) being on equal footing as the wife (me, the American wife). After 2.5 years of marriage and 6 years of knowing my husband, R, it seems like an unrelenting struggle — one that certainly gets tiring and often sad. It is not fun to feel like you are one of the sides pulling at your husband. I have a long way to go to get where you are, Sheryl.

    One of the reasons I feel I have a long way to go is that I see so many inconsistencies from the Indian side. For example, my husband’s mother basically tore her husband away from his family. So my hubs dad is pretty much 100% devoted to his wife and my MILs sisters and her sisters children. When I see a story like that unfold, I can’t quite understand how my MIL can rationalize wanting to move in with R and I when she is perfectly healthy and married to a kind and obviously giving man. She also wants to kind of teach me how to cook, take care of her son, and gets very jealous when my husband and I do not spend the little free time we have with her and her family. She also views our house as sort of her house. My MILs own MIL was never a big influence in her life, so I am not sure where the entitlement comes from… because it’s not culture (cultural camouflage is another great topic to post on!). In addition, Rs family prides themselves on being so family oriented yet they’ve caused the so much tumult and pain in the family their own son choose to make. It doesn’t add up.

    One conclusion I have come to is “needs manifest.” In Rs family, most don’t go to their spouses to have their needs met (for reasons that could make up several other posts). For example, if Cousin A is feeling lonely and sad in her marriage it’s perfectly OK for her to request parents, aunts, sister in laws, and cousins to keep her company, entertain her, and sort of fill that void. And this is of course socially condoned because it’s “all about the family” right? So when all of these people spend the night at Cousin As house, stay there for weeks, it’s not always because Cousin A is so generous and giving… it’s because she NEEDS these extra people around… for herself… to fill a void. I see a lot of this and sometimes it makes me think there’s a lot of selfishness in the family. My family is the stoic, German type and won’t whisper a need. That isn’t ideal either, but the needs manifest plenty in Rs family… whether it may be rides to the airport, IT help, multiple party attendance… even when R and I are both busy professionals and often at the expense of the small amount of personal we get to spend with eachother. I keep thinking if husbands and wives would learn to build more of a relationship with one another the extended family wouldn’t need to be enlisted for every health problem, fear, or need. It’s going to be hard to change my mentality that my needs should not manifest primarily towards my husband… and that many of the females in his life should manifest their needs primarily towards their husbands (not to mine). Gradually, R is starting to get that you just can’t meet everyone’s needs, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel guilty or is reminded in backhanded ways that he should feel guilty. So, I remain a little stuck as I think (like you once did Sheryl) the wife just comes first, hands down. This one will take time I know – 20 years perhaps! I do think in the end it will be all about the serenity prayer for me as well. However, my academic mind just can’t get past the many of the irrationalities and inconsistencies that lead me to believe the family system I have tried so hard to work with (and I truly did for the first 5 years — being physically ran away from by aunties is no fun) is essentially flawed and often driven by outdated cultural norms, notions of guilt, fear, and blind duty. Goals set freely, love without condition, and relationships built genuinely are always better in my book. But I need to get there — to the place you are Sheryl. For my own health, my husband’s health, and for the health of our marriage.
    Thanks Sheryl for the positivity and hope!

    • I am so glad that my experiences can give you hope. I completely understand where you are coming from and can’t lie to you…it is a hard road. But, in my marriage, over the years, all sides had to learn to back off and everything got better. I had aunties run from me, too, and elderly men brazenly stare at me like I was an oddity at Indian functions. All of this was hurtful, and I know you feel it now.
      Know this…getting to a healthy place with your husband takes both of you working at it. I wish you all the best in the evolution of your relationship!

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