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Is your relationship with your mother-in-law good, bad or ugly? Mutual respect and willingness to rewrite the rules can salvage this often rocky relationship.
A friend of mine delivered a baby boy. As the good news spread among friends and family, the congratulatory wishes started pouring in. Some wished the couple on becoming parents. Many expressed their joy and happiness that the couple was blessed with a ‘son’, and a few expressed their emotions by telling her, “Congrats! You’re going to be ‘THE’ Mother-In-Law”.
When I first heard this, I laughed. And so did my friend. So “You’re going to be ‘THE’ Mother-In-Law. Just what kind?” I asked her. “I don’t know what kind, but not the kind like my Mother-In-Law,” she said. We laughed about it!
A couple of days later, I met another acquaintance (who has a son of marriageable age) and I observed behavioral changes in her. She appeared to be more serious, grumpy-faced, and uptight – which is not her usual personality. During idle-chat I asked her if all was well. I gathered that she is preparing herself to play the part of a mother-in-law! “In our community the mother-in-law has to be a certain way, so I figured it made sense to start preparing to be that way,” she said. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!
Another good friend of mine recently became a mother-in-law. Soon after her son’s wedding, she lost her spouse. She was broken. Her son and (extended) family meant everything to her. And I know for a fact that she put a lot of effort to bond with her daughter-in-law. Unfortunately, it never happened and her daughter-in-law made every effort to maintain a distance. It hurt my friend deeply and she asked me, “Is this about me? Or it is about my daughter-in-law? Why can’t my bahu understand that family is all that I have left, and the relationship with my son means the world to me?” I did not know how to respond.
“I had it tough, so I don’t want my daughter-in-law to have it easy. I’ll do whatever it takes to make her life tough,” said one mother-in-law. And another wise old lady I know said, “Don’t call her daughter-in-law. She is like my daughter. I will do everything in my capacity to love her, accept her and make her life beautiful.”
Don’t call her daughter-in-law. She is like my daughter. I will do everything in my capacity to love her, accept her and make her life beautiful.
I’ve also seen (up close and personal) ‘THE’ mother-in-law publicly criticizing and condemning her daughter-in-law. No matter how good she is and what she is doing, the mother-in-law will find some fault – from the daughter-in-law’s clothing, to food, habits, style, family, upbringing, education, value system, name, personality, skills, communication, to expressions…
It amazes me how some of these women can find always a point to critique, and be so vocal in their public expression of the same. Too many friends have been deeply affected (mentally/emotionally) by these rebukes. Many of them feel so humiliated, insulted, hurt and deeply embarrassed that they lose their self-confidence or start believing these factoids to be true. For e.g: A very good looking friend of mine got married into a joint family set-up where the mother-in-law always told her, “I don’t know what my son agreed to marry you. Your features are lousy. You are so fat, dark-skinned and don’t look appealing”. At first she ignored these comments. But when she heard them every day, she started believing it to be true.
Her spouse was silent during these discussions. That only re-enforced this belief system. She became so negative and depressed that she even started avoiding social gatherings. Fortunately, her family and friends sensed that something was amiss, and helped her tide through the phase.
Looking at my own network of friends, I observe that almost all my married friends have been influenced in some way or the other by their mother-in-law. I mean if you are in India, marriage means a marriage of two families. So your in-laws are bound to be an influence in your life – you cannot escape it!
In some cases the influence has been positive and many married women are at a happy place. Someone I know discovered her love for cooking through her mother-in-law, someone else was introduced to music and art because of her mother-in-law, someone has a fashion designer in her mother-in-law, some have found their philosopher and guide in the mother-in-law, some have a friend in the mother-in-law, someone has a teacher/Guru in the mother-in-law. Such tales are far and few though!
In most instances there is some ‘negative’ emotion from both ends – be it disappointment, bitterness, animosity, hurt, jealousy or insecurity, and I’ve seen these emotions in the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law. Many times I wonder, “Why?”
I mean, a women should speak up, stand up and support another woman, but many times women tend to be each other’s “frenemies”.
Some of these reasons are strong causes:
As I sign-off, I leave with one parting thought: It takes effort from everyone to make a marriage work – the man, the woman, the mother-in-law. And the father-in-law plays a part too!
What do you think? Leave a comment to let me know.
Love/Friendship symbol via Shutterstock
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Shreya had paused for a moment on the open door of Ravi’s flat when she overheard him. It was the morning of 27th March, and she had come to give Ravi his surprise birthday present. She didn’t want to eavesdrop, but the conversation had caught her curiosity.
She wondered, ‘Are they talking about me?’
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