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The Indian Saas-Bahu relationship is famous for its hostility – a huge chunk of it is from on-screen drama. But these inspiring MILs are their DILs’ biggest champions.
The relationship between MILs and DILs has more than its share of stereotypical beliefs. In the Indian context, this relationship is often seen as a power struggle between the two parties (thanks to the Saas Bahu serials).
It is therefore heartening to hear stories of positivity and empowerment from these five Indian DILs. What’s the secret behind such loving bonds? Is it possible for more people to follow their lead?
The theme for International Women’s Day 2020 #IWD2020 is #EachForEqual. The spirit of sisterhood, in which women help other women rise up to equal, help them towards a better life, using whatever privilege they have.
Here are 5 daughters in law sharing with us exactly how their relationship with their mother in law is such a wonderful support in their lives.
“They are like my second set of parents!”
Initially, Shraddha was sceptical about her relationship with her MIL. Her perception was formed by witnessing how her grandmother ill-treated her mother. However, she was pleasantly surprised when, after her mother passed away in 2013, her would be in-laws, who hardly knew her back then, came to visit her from Pune to Mumbai. They even took Shraddha and her sister to their place so that they feel better after the tragic loss. That touched Shraddha deeply, but she was still unsure of how things might work out after marriage.
Shraddha and Nikhil got married in 2014 after which they left for the U.S., where they had been living for over a decade now. During her PhD graduation ceremony in 2016, Nikhil’s parents came over to attend it because her own father was too sick to travel. They celebrated the occasion as if it was their own daughter’s graduation. Everybody around them thought Shraddha was their daughter and not DIL! After graduating from Florida, when Shraddha wanted to move to Missouri for her job and her husband (who was in Texas) was ready to work from home in order to accommodate her career plans, her in-laws were completely supportive about it.
For the first two months after their shift to Missouri, Nikhil had to travel to client sites frequently. Shraddha was still waiting for her visa status to change before she could start working. It was then that Shraddha and her in-laws bonded properly. Having shifted to a new place with no friends and relatives, the three of them formed an intimate bond of understanding and support.
“I ended up staying at home for two months with my in-laws. My husband not being there helped. I’m a Tamilian, and they’re Maharashtrians. We managed to communicate in a mix of Marathi, Hindi, and English. The unique context in which three of us got to know each other proved to be very helpful.”
Shraddha once again found her MIL’s unconditional support when she had her baby last November. Her MIL was there with her throughout that time along with her husband. “I ended up with very bad post-partum anxiety. My in-laws stepped up; without their help I don’t know what I’d have done.”
Shraddha went back to work when her daughter, Sahana, was ten-weeks old. “My MIL takes care of her. She makes dinner for us because she knows how exhausted I am at the end of the day. They are here in the U.S. till April, I don’t know what I’ll do when she leaves,” she says.
Shraddha’s MIL unfortunately didn’t share such a lovely bond with her own MIL who still troubles her. “Her MIL didn’t like her much because she is darker than the other three bahus. My mom was also dark. They both faced troubles regarding this.”
Her MIL tries to educate other women in her own circle how forming a good relationship in this area is important
Shraddha says that her in-laws are like a second set of parents for her. Her advice for other DILs are: “Don’t go into your marriage with the expectation that your MIL will be exactly like your mom. Treat her as your second mom. Give the relationship a chance.”
“My MIL is #Goals”
“Mom Singh, as I refer to her, has been an exceptional support for me through all my career choices,” Shefali gushes about her MIL, “She is someone who I look up to a great deal, for how she’s managed her own career, her kids and then the way she is living it up now that she has retired! She’s even explored Japan on a solo trip. In a lot of ways, my MIL is, in cliché millennial terminology, #Goals!”
According to Shefali, one of the easiest things with her MIL has been that Mom Singh hasn’t tried to force any norms into their relationship. She gave Shefali the time and space to gradually find a comfort zone. “I remember when managing our own home got overwhelming with a new pet and the stress of our jobs, it didn’t take me a minute to call her and just ask her if we could move in with them. We lived in the same city, spent all our weekends together, and so when I felt overwhelmed and knew I needed help, I had zero hesitation in calling her.”
Similarly, when Shefali wanted to move to Bombay for work, and because of that do long distance marriage, there was never any questions about her decision. Mom Singh was a strong support for Shefali and her husband, at the time, including how their dog basically became her fourth child (for context – she has never had a pet before all her life!) Shefali explains, “I think it’s because she herself lived such an empowered life. In her career, she too found herself posted in a different city, and went through the long-distance marriage phase, and still made everything work.”
Even now, when Shefali is doing her MBA, she cherishes how Mom and Dad Singh celebrate all her victories, no matter how small.
Shefali feels thankful for the equation that they both share. “I can talk to her about work stress, and personal issues with equal ease. I always try to do my little part, whatever that may be. Like, I have started the tradition of celebrating birthdays in the family and I always use that as an opportunity to make her feel special!”
Shefali says that having a husband who doesn’t set much store by gender norms (credit to his parents) has helped her immensely.
Shefali’s advice to other DILs is that they avoid trying to pretend to be someone else just to fit this societally prescribed role as eventually the pressure of living an inauthentic life will get to them.
“Your relationship with your MIL and FIL is not a power struggle so don’t try to treat it like one – that’s a very bad place for any relationship to start.” She also advises DILs to not think that there’s a pressure to ‘replace’ their own parents. “There’s more than enough love to go around for two sets of parents – who are all different and contribute to your life in their own different ways.”
Her final advice is not trying to force anything. “MIL and I would go for movies and she would help me out with my wedding shopping and all of that made it super easy for me to find my own groove with her. Go grab a cup of coffee, go book shopping, watch a movie, and include her in it. That’s an easy way to build a strong foundation for any relationship!” she signs off.
Theatre Personality (Cofounder of Gurgaon’s Urban Suburban Productions) and Writer
“…when she suffered from Alzheimer’s, the only person she never ever forgot was me”
Ruby says that perhaps she had the best MIL in the world. Even though she initially had a problem giving her nod to their alliance, once she agreed, she never let Ruby feel that she was an outsider in the family.
Ruby’s MIL was almost a decade older than her own mother, but she was way more liberated in her thoughts and beliefs. There were no expectations from Ruby as the bahu, neither did she herself act like a typical saas. Ruby reminisces, “We were friends. We gossiped, we shopped, we fought, we sulked, we made up. The one thing that I decided was not to go to bed without resolving any issues we had during the day. We realised we were no threat to each other. That eased our relationship completely.”
According to Ruby, the most conscious thing she did was never to tread on her MIL’s conquered territory. “She was an amazing cook and some of her dishes were legendary. I love to cook but I never tried to show my prowess in the kitchen. Nor did I change a single decor of the house, respecting the fact that it was her home that she had built over the years. Who was I to walk in with my judgment?”
Instead, Ruby always supported “team MIL” whenever she had a point of difference with Ruby’s husband or her three sisters in law. So much so, that if Ruby ever threatened to leave the house after a big fight with her husband, her MIL would always say “I’m coming with you. And if both of us have to leave then why not ask him to leave instead!”
The two of them became so close that during the last seven years of her MIL’s life, when she suffered from Alzheimer’s, the only person she never ever forgot was Ruby. Ruby says that she (MIL) looked after her needs without a hint of doing any kind of favour or obligation. “It came to her naturally, as loving her and looking after her came to me.”
Ruby’s advice to other DILs is to avoid entering a marital relationship with a preconceived notion about MILs. “Do unto them as you would like to be done unto you or your own mother. Don’t try to replace your MIL in your husband’s life. Don’t threaten the life she has spent years building around her. Rather, make them your friend. It will work wonders for your relationship with your husband.”
Entrepreneur at Art Byy Gee
“Even today, I cut a cake on her birthday…”
Gayatri’s husband’s grandmother was widowed at the age of twenty-three. She had two daughters and one was on the way. Her mother in law supported her to bring up those daughters. Gayatri says that her family already had the precedent of having loving relationships between MIL and DILs.
Gayatri’s own MIL was herself a working woman and she supported Gayatri in all ways while she worked in the hotel industry. When Gayatri would go for an early morning shift, MIL would make sure she had a glass of milk before she left. Gayatri would call her once she reached office. They’d spend their leisure times shopping together.
Gayatri’s daughter was practically raised by her MIL and her husband’s grandmother. Her MIL was extremely fond of her daughter and took part in all the grandmother grandchild events of the locality.
Gayatri also did her share of sacrifice. When her husband worked out of station for a year, she stayed back to look after her in-laws and her husband’s grandmother.
Gayatri says that she and her MIL had a clear conversation about two areas that generally give rise to conflicts in this relationship, namely, the kitchen and finances. They had a cook, so they both cooked occasionally. Since they were both working, they also divided their responsibilities of looking after the house.
Gayatri’s MIL passed in 2010 due to cancer. Gayatri and her husband took critical care of her all the while. She says, “It’s been ten years, but I really miss her. She was my anchor. I was her support.”
Her husband’s grandma passed away in 2013. She too was so fond of Gayatri that she left behind some of her important family heirloom to her instead of the next generation.
Gayatri’s advice to other DILS is to treat this as an equal relationship. “I knew my kids had the love of their grandparents. For our part, we took care of them (in-laws). My husband even took a career break to take care of his parents,” she says.
According to her, the pain and suffering of the three elderly people that her children also witnessed had made them kinder and more compassionate in return.
She thinks that both the parties need to make certain adjustments. She describes it as a “beautiful way of hand holding”. She adds, “As parents, critical help is required when the children are young. For old people, it’s critical when they’re sick. You can coexist if you give each other the space and respect.”
Taking care of the three elderly people also inspired her to be more equipped with certain life skills. She learnt how to drive after the time when her MIL fell ill, and there was no one to take her to the hospital (those were the days before Ola and Uber).
Even though her MIL’s death got her into a pit, when she recovered from it, she was also inspired to become her own woman and pursue her dreams. The lesson that she learned from her MIL was that life doesn’t come back. Her MIL wanted to learn how to drive but by the time she was finally ready, she was too brittle to even try. Since she couldn’t fulfil that desire, that taught Gayatri how she should make use of her time to pursue her own desires.
Gayatri and her MIL shared the same birthdays and even today she cuts a cake dedicated to her MIL. She says that even though the taking care of elders limited their career options or impacted them financially, they live with the satisfaction that they provided love and care to the best of their abilities to the parents. She is hopeful that her children, who grew up seeing this, will respect the fact when she and her husband grow old.
Doctor and Writer
“I have always followed the rule of ‘Mother Test’ with my MIL”
Shivani’s MIL, an educated working woman, was married to an orthodox quite unlike her own. They belonged to an era where most people believed that women should eat last, DILs should embrace their marital homes and forget their maiden homes, and in general, compromise on their individuality.
When Shivani first met her MIL, she was quite apprehensive, considering that theirs was an inter- regional love story (her husband is a Maharashtrian, and she’s a Punjabi). But meeting her turned out to be a pleasant surprise. She was quite open and communicative.
Shivani’s MIL had just lost her husband when she first met her. The grief was palpable and always just beneath the surface. Shivani explains, “Our courtship was hardly six months and before l knew, I was married. It was quite a leap for me. A new city, new relationships, and an alien culture. But my MIL was extremely supportive and loving through it all. We (Shivani and her husband) were doing our MD then so it was tough for me to contribute in housework but that never became an issue.”
Her MIL appreciated Shivani’s kind companionship during her bleakest hour. “She gets very irritated at stereotypes that are portrayed on TV and some blogs. She is also a blogger and she’d often try to explain how these stereotypical conflicts need to be left behind, if one wants to move forward,” Shivani further adds.
MIL was also supportive of her career (including her recent switch from medicine to writing) and other issues. When Shivani felt conscious of her weight after giving birth and would avoid wearing jeans/ trousers, MIL encouraged her. That gave her the confidence to wear what she wanted to. This from a woman who wasn’t allowed to wear salwar kameez after marriage or change into a nighty if her MIL was around.
“For me, it wasn’t very tough to make adjustments because there never was any pressure. I have always followed the rule of ‘Mother test’ with her (something we often employ in medicine)- would you do the same (treatment protocol) if it was your mother.”
Shivani’s husband (then boyfriend) had laid it out clearly to her that since his father wasn’t around, things would be different. He explained his responsibilities towards his mother and brother (who is six years younger and was still studying). However, he never interfered between the two women even though there were enough opportunities.
“This helped us build our own equation and frankly that has been the single most important reason that our relationship has survived all the ups and downs,” Shivani says.
Shivani advices other DILs to talk to their MILs. “Most are quite amenable to discussion. I feel that alone helps resolve a lot of issues.” She also believes in setting realistic standards for both the parties as it’s a long-term relationship. Her final advice is to respect in-laws like one’s own parents.
Shivani’s MIL believes that it is important for in-laws to see things from the DIL’s perspective and to not assume that the DIL’s arrival will distance the parents from the son.
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