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There are umpteen stories of mother in law – daughter in law problems. Why is this so when there aren’t so many stories of father in law – son in law issues? The answer will surprise you.
Abhishek and Tara were a newly married couple. Tara was contemplating buying a car for her office commute in the new city she had moved to post her arranged marriage. Tara consulted her father who was a retired banker on car loan options. This offended Abhishek. He felt it was a direct insult to his competence. He believed Tara that should have relied on his knowledge to take care of this decision instead of reaching out to her father. He even called her father and told him that he could take care of his wife.
Unfortunately, Abhishek was quite useless in his financial suggestions, having no idea what he was talking about, and relying on his ‘mansplaining skills’.
Tara was upset. Abhishek’s mother would always offer free advice on how she should run the household. She never failed to make Tara feel inadequate. Tara questioned Abhishek:
If your mother can comment on my cooking because she is an experienced cook, why can’t my father advise me on my financial issues given his professional expertise?
The answer was unanimous from Abhishek and his mother:
‘Ab tum hamare ghar ki ho. Unka haq nahi hai tumpar. Unse yahan ke problems share mat karo’. (Now you belong to our family. They don’t have any right on you, don’t share any of our personal problems there.)
This ‘humare ghar ki ho’ was a diluted concept used as per their convenience. When it came to repay the instalments of Abhishek’s home loan which was he had taken before his marriage, suddenly Tara’s father was expected to pool in because ‘Aakhir beti to aapki hi hai. Raaj karegi bade ghar mein’. (After all, she is your daughter. She will be the queen in a big house.)
The modus operandi of Abhishek’s mother to humiliate Tara was to call her parents and tell them what a poorly raised child their daughter was. She would conveniently forget that she herself forbids her DIL to discuss things with her family.
Interesting to note, when Tara’s father realized that there was the slightest discomfort between his daughter and son-in-law, he backed off immediately. He even offered to help financially if it would save the marriage. He avoided conflict.
Abhishek’s mother however never gave up. She decided to move in with the couple. Correcting Tara became her life goal. Tara could not take it anymore. The couple is now divorced.
This inconsistency in the reactions of both parties brings me to the question:
Why is it that a the father of a daughter can let go after marriage, but the mother of a son cannot?
I remember an episode of Satyamev Jayate on toxic masculinity where Kamala Bhasin ji was invited to share her thoughts. She had articulated beautifully, that it is not about gender but power. A woman who may otherwise be docile leaves no stone unturned to torture her daughter-in-law when she becomes a mother-in-law. Because now she has power over this person.
The very mindset of mothers-in-law thinking they have power over daughters-in-law is disturbing. Let me make an attempt at analyzing the psychology of the mother-in-law vs father-in-law to gain some perspective. For simplicity, I shall refer to the husband’s mother as MIL, and the wife’s father as FIL.
Let’s go back to the moment of ‘It’s a boy!’ day. Our MIL has achieved life-long security because she has given birth to an investment.
Coming to the ‘It’s a girl’ moment. The father of the bride, oops I mean the father of the baby girl has started worrying about the right combinations of fixed deposits that should mature along with his baby girl. All in time for her wedding!
Ever since the son gets married, the MIL is insecure that now there is another woman in Raja Beta’s life. In no time he and his wife will turn into the evil couple from Baghban and throw them out. What’s interesting is that a lot of these marriages may be arranged. The MIL first wants her son to get married. But once married, she ensures that he does not like his wife enough. He should like her enough to be able to make babies, but not enough to actually listen to her!
The FIL on the other hand has zero expectations. If he does not have a son, he is prepared to have saved enough to take care of himself and his wife independently post his retirement. He does not even accept much financial support from his daughter because well, once the kanyadaan is complete, she is paraya dhan! He wants her to save for ‘her family’.
(We’re happy if our daughter is happy vs our daughter in law doesn’t look after everyone)
The married daughter may not be “allowed” to visit her parents frequently. Her family misses her at important occasions. But they take solace in the thought that beti khush to hum khush. The ‘khushi’ of beti has a pretty low bar. As long as the marriage is not dissolved, sab badhiya hai. (everything is OK.)
The bahu on the other hand is expected to make everyone happy. Husband, his parents, his siblings, cousins, friends, bua, mausi-saas, chacha, neighbor, dog etc. The parents of this woman happily decide to remove themselves from this queue, as they know she has enough on her plate.
Few years ago, my house maid has asked for an advance of Rs 10,000. I asked her why she needed so much money. She told me her son-in-law is visiting and she wants to buy him nice clothes, a watch, a gold chain, and give him cash.
‘The same man who gets drunk and breaks your daughter’s bones?’ I asked.
‘Jo bhi hai. Jamai to jamai hota hai!’ (Whatever, a son in law is after all a son in law.)
No matter how useless a man is, once he becomes a jamai, he gets treated like a king!
Coming back to Tara’s mother-in-law’s dialogue, the daughter-in-law is now of her husband’s khandaan. Sadly, even the rituals that we perform in our puja are so discriminatory. A married daughter is not included in the puja of her maayka. Legally she may have rights. But who is going to fight the mindset?
I had an (Indian) friend from the UK who always told me that life in India is such a struggle that you need a support system. Something like getting into a good college, getting a job requires donations and connections, often offered by parents. Even Bollywood is full of nepotism!
When adult children continue to take help from parents in the form of lavish weddings, house finance, car finance, ‘sifarish’ for jobs and use them as a ready day care for their children where exactly do we draw the line between control and rights?
I have heard a female colleague complain non-stop about her MIL’s interference in her daily life. However, the same MIL is the one who takes care of her children while she works. Adult men who have premarital sex, smoke, drink, eat non-vegetarian food during Navratri manage to be discreet about it all with their parents. Yet they feel the need to discuss the wife’s menu with their mothers!
Our family structure is extremely inter-dependent. And it is theoretically a good thing to have family support. But the boundaries continue to remain undefined.
And more often than not, it is the parents of the wife who are shown the lakshman rekha.
Image source: a still from the movie 2 States
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