Disclaimer: For the purpose of this post, I am only taking into account the typical Indian middle class families. I do not support any form of abuse and nor I wish to generalize mothers and daughter-in-laws. I know in India we also have dowry deaths and that is outrightly a sin and a criminal offense. If your in-laws are abusive, report their behaviour right away.
A. “That day I reached home from work only to find my MIL bitching about me to one of her long distant cousins who came to visit her. She got quiet as soon as I walked in and resumed when I went to the bathroom. She thought I won’t hear it but I overheard it, anyway.”
B. “My MIL is good compared to my friends’ but she never, not even once, finds faults in her son. Even if its outrightly her son’s mistake, she never acknowledges it. She always covers it with words like ‘he is like that only’, but doesn’t hesitate in pointing out mine.”
C. “My main problem is my MIL’s limited exposure. She doesn’t like sleeveless clothes and initially she didn’t even like t-shirt and pajamas. To add to it, she hates it when my husband (her son) helps me out. The moment she sees him in the kitchen, she comes running asking him, ‘you want something? I will give you’ and that just kills me. He is my husband. I also go out to work. If he helps me with errands, she shouldn’t be so much bothered.”
D. “I have a 3 year old son who goes to a play school. My in-laws stay with us and my MIL looks after him. My son is allergic to sugar syrup so he can’t eat gulab jamuns or jalebis while he loves them. So many times I have caught my MIL giving these sweets to him. When I ask her strictly to stop giving such sweets to him, she gets offended because she says that her son (my husband) also had the same allergy but he continued to eat such sweets and he is fine now. She just doesn’t understand that my son’s allergy is much serious than her son’s. If I get too strict about it, she stops talking to my son saying ‘okay then, you take care of him. I won’t say anything at all.”
E. “My problem is the most weird, I believe. My husband talks to his mom every single day. No matter what time he reaches home from work, he freshens up and the first thing he does is – call his mom. I understand he loves his mom but he needs to understand that it is me who waits on him for dinner every night. He tells her every little thing. I think my MIL should tell him to discuss these with me first!”
F. “My husband doesn’t like my cooking and keeps singing praises of his mom’s cooking style. His mom does not stay with us but she often sends laddoos and pickles for us. Each time they arrive, my husband goes crazy for them, ignoring my hard work of making meals for him and only remembering those laddoos. Worst part is that I hate those laddoos, which are always too sweet, and the pickle that is too spicy.”
Doesn’t the above sound like the description of an interfering and intruding ‘mother-in-law’?
Now lets flip the coin.
Let’s look at this same mother-in-law from her daughter’s or son’s point of view. We will find the exact loving, gentle Indian mom we talked about in the beginning of the article.
A. “My mom gave up her life in her native and moved in with my brother where she has no company. One day, my distant maasi visited her and my mom said something about my bhabhi. Since then my bhabhi is furious. She should understand that my mom also needs someone to talk to and if my bhabhi has some shortcomings and my mom is talking about them, its okay!”
B. “I am the only child of my parents and my mom loves me to the core. I know I am her weakness. I also understand that I am a human being and I can commit mistakes and my mom can acknowledge them but I can’t complain. I know my mom. She is like that. She accepts her children the way they are. And my mom also covers my wife’s mistakes but my wife does not take it the way I take it. She thinks mom is criticizing her.”
C. “No, my mom doesn’t have a problem with my brother helping my SIL in the kitchen. And she is not narrow-minded. My SIL goes to office and mom does most of the household. She just feels sad that after long hours of work, my brother comes home to relax and not to again work in the kitchen. Mom does not want anyone to work – be it bhai or bhabhi. But bhabhi certainly works because she likes to cook sabzi as per her choice, so mom doesn’t stop her. And about clothes – well, that’s our culture. Mom doesn’t stop her from wearing what she likes inside the bedroom or when she goes out to party. Bhabhi is free to wear whatever she likes.”
D. “I don’t think Maa interferes with our parenting. Actually sometimes my wife gets too panicky and finicky. I know I had the same problem in childhood. I controlled eating those sweets but I didn’t completely stop. How can you stop a 4 year old from something? It’s his age to eat anything he wants to.”
E. “Of course I will talk to mummy every day. Mummy sacrificed so much for my younger brother and me. Papa’s income wasn’t sufficient so mummy used to make crochet table covers and sell them. Why? So that she could afford a good school for us. How can I leave her alone now? And I do discuss everything with my wife. Mummy sleeps by 10 pm so I try my best to call her before that. Plus, my wife should also call her mom every day. I don’t stop her.”
F. “Mumma’s laddoos are the best. No one can deny that. Not even my wife! Look at the effort my mumma puts in making them every month.”
A. “I wasn’t bitching about her. I was casually saying that my DIL is short-tempered. And see, she proved it. She didn’t talk properly to my cousin that day. And doesn’t my bahu ever talk about me in my absence? Just that I don’t go to her office to hear what all she says about me!”
B. “I understand my son has shortcomings too, like everyone else. But when my DIL is already furious at him, I don’t want to ignite it further by pointing to his faults. I try to calm her down. And it is never my intent to find faults in my DIL. Just that whenever I give her any feedback, she thinks I am finding faults.”
C. “My bahu looks very beautiful in Indian clothes and that is why I ask her to wear those. And when I see my son in the kitchen, I rush there to help both of them, not just one. My aim is to contribute as much as I can in the household. Bahu insists on cooking sabzis then what can I do. Go and cook!”
D. “After her delivery, my DIL refused to eat ghee because she thought she would get fat but I still fed her. Look at her now. She is so fit and healthy. After reading Rujuta’s books, she also supports ghee. I follow the same approach for everyone – eat everything, body will adjust. I raised three children. I am more experienced.”
E. “My son is still attached to me. He loves his wife too! How can a mother tell her child not to call. Can any mom do that?”
F. “I send laddoos because I know he loves them. If his wife doesn’t like them, she can buy from market. I am not forcing her to eat my preparations. Does her mom make everything delicious? Taste depends more on the eater like beauty lies in the eyes of beholder.”
War Of Territory
Right after marriage, a daughter becomes someone else’s daughter-in-law. She gets a new home and thus enters a new territory. After being welcomed like a princess or ‘ghar ki lakshmi’, initially for a few weeks or months she is treated with aplomb but without any rights. That is, more like a guest.
Slowly, she gains a foothold in the new household and thus begins the war.
There is a fight for household reign – who gets to decide the menu, who decides the arrangement of furniture in and around the house, who finalizes the daily house schedule – and the ladies begin to have a friction. After all, there can’t be two swords in one sheath!
The MIL spent decades in establishing and creating that little territory of hers; and now the DIL needs to establish hers. The MIL loses it bit by bit and that hurts her while DIL wants to have it as fast as she can as a matter of her right and the slow pace frustrates her.
Winning The Man
Man is the root of the problem. Mother doesn’t want to lose the position of being the ‘most important person’ of her son’s life and wife needs to gain that position. This leads to a tug of war with husband at the centre.
DIL feels her MIL has her husband to go to and thus DIL should have the foremost right on her husband.
MIL feels she gave up everything for her son, put her children above everyone else including her husband and put all her hopes for future on her children. Plus, she can’t trust another woman to love her son the way she does and this leads to over possessiveness from her end.
The man – the son/the husband – is the ultimate bearer of the brunt who can’t afford to lose anyone and who needs to trod the path extremely carefully.
Here comes the most underrated yet the most crucial component of this relationship – money.
MIL cares about her son’s hard earned money and feels a pain each time DIL spends it on anything that MIL doesn’t consider worthy. Call it a generation gap or whatever, MILs tend to think DILs spend too much.
DIL feels she has the sole right on her husband’s income. She is concerned about their future, more so after having kids. She wants savings and does not entertain spending money on in-laws.
Problem gets graver in families where the son (the husband) is the sole bread earner and where the family is undergoing a financial crisis. Another aggravator in the scene is DIL’s income. DIL feels her money belongs to herself, her husband and her kids. In many households, DILs money is also used by the in-laws and that only tenses the current situation.
Is There A Solution?
The tenacious relationship between a daughter and mother-in-law gets strengthened with time and trust.
The universal healer Time helps in building a bond of love and care between the two women.
With time, MIL learns to leave her reign bit by bit and DIL picks up. It is with time that DIL learns to take MIL’s remarks in her stride and not against. Time helps in making both the women understand that if they do not live in harmony, the man they love the most is going to lose out in their personal fight.
Time helps in the manifestation of trust from both the ends.
Sometimes it just takes a change of angle to look at things differently.
DIL realizes that she doesn’t mind the same things said to her by her own mom. MIL feels that her own daughter screams at her while her DIL has never shouted.
MIL comes to terms with the fact that if she doesn’t get along well with her DIL, she may have to lose her son or stay apart from him. DIL becomes conscious of the fact that if she doesn’t behave properly with her in-laws, her husband may reciprocate the behaviour with her parents.
In families where there is no financial transactions between the two, understanding is more easily prevailed.
The sooner the two women realize each other’s importance, the better it is for the whole family.
The more careful the husband is in taking care of the emotional needs of both of them, the more sorted his life gets.
The earlier a mother-in-law begins to give ownership of the house to her daughter-in-law, the sooner peace shall dawn.
The more politely and patiently a daughter-in-law deals with her in-laws, the deeper she touches their hearts.
And like I always say, a smile can do wonders.
And still if peace doesn’t prevail, work on other important things of life. *smile*