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Would You Tell Your Son In Law “Don’t Come Over, We Want To Spend Time Only With Our Daughter”?!

Before expecting the daughter in law to love, respect and accept the new family, it is only fair that the family demonstrates all of these first.

If you are a married Indian woman, one of the first words you hear from your in laws is that you are now a daughter of the house. How true is that statement though? Are daughters in law really treated as daughters or is this only lip service?

A friend recently confided how hurt she felt when she wanted to visit her in-laws along with her husband but was told not to, because the in-laws wanted time alone with their son. Naturally, she was taken aback since she had always been fed this trope – that she was the daughter, not the daughter in law. Why then this sudden keeping at arm’s distance? Would a son in law ever be told not to accompany his wife on her visit to her parents because they wanted quality time with their daughter? That is unimaginable in a patriarchal society.

It is ok to want time alone with the married offspring but how does that meld into the Indian family system, where independent choices are less important than the whole family coming together?

Every family has its dark secrets and to open up the circle of trust to include the daughter in law is indicative of her inclusion into the inner circle – where family gossip is shared, where the finances aren’t secret and where the daughter in law’s opinion and advice is taken on all matters important. And where coveted recipes in the family for generations are shared with the daughter in law! Yes, heirloom recipes aren’t shared in many families!

How much do you know about your daughter in law’s life?

However these aren’t the only indicators of the family’s genuine inclusion of the daughter in law. The daughter in law’s life doesn’t begin from the day she gets married. She brings with her a rich past, nostalgia, childhood experiences and memories – all of which have been borne witness to, by her family. How much of this is remembered, appreciated, encouraged to be shared with the inlaws? Do they know which school she went to in kindergarten? What her favourite subjects were? The times she made her school proud by winning prizes in debates? Or of the times she was teased because of her weight? Or her acne? Do they know the name of that English teacher who made her fall in love with the language?

Wouldn’t the parents know all of this of the son or the daughter? If as a parent in law, you have made the investment of deep, meaningful conversations with the daughter in law, it is not just possible to bear witness to her life’s future moments but to also understand what each of  these moments mean to her.

A friend told me a funny but sad story that happened at her inlaws’ place a week after she was married. She was married into a ‘progressive’ family, and to welcome her they had an evening of drinks, toasting to the newly weds. As is wont to happen, the conversation went on to include family jokes and dozens and dozens of childhood stories of her husband. She enjoyed them all, but kept waiting for the moment when someone would ask her to share snippets of her life as well. That moment never came; hasn’t to this day – she tells me. What a loss that is – to have a close family member, an offspring almost but know nothing about their life, except the basic and the obvious.

Of course there are daughters in law who are ‘included’, but they are still rare

However, in many Indian families I know of, the daughter in law is embraced with both arms, treated equal to the son and is involved in all decision making of the parents. There are no secrets, no hush hush conversations behind closed doors. She is a part of the family she is married into and made to feel that way everyday, in myriad ways.

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I know many women who have the good fortune of such parents in law. In fact I know of one daughter in law who is closer to the parents than the son, and the relationship is one of mutual respect, love and care. I also know of one woman who is closer to her parents in law than her parents!

How rare are these instances though? There is no way of knowing, although one can guess how these symbiotic relationships develop.

Before expecting the daughter in law to love, respect and accept the new family, it is only fair that the family demonstrates all of these first. After all, it is she who has to adjust to a whole new family, learn the way it functions and everything that is important to the family. Expecting her to treat this as her home is a moot point if she is not made to feel like an integral member right from the outset.

Image source: a still from the film English Vinglish

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About the Author

Poornima Kulathu

I am a banker, author, poet and an intersectional feminist. Speaking up on social issues, mentoring and coaching and cooking up a storm for friends and a certain strapping 21 year old boy are what read more...

6 Posts | 15,205 Views

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