MIL: She Is NOT The Monster-in-Law By Default!

It is a grave mistake to jump to the conclusion that a relationship with one’s mother-in-law can never be cordial. Why single her out?

She is human, and she has a global presence. More often than not, she is referred to with a pinch of salt. I am talking about a relative who is extensively discussed in everyday life: the mother-in-law!

Be it seriously or cheerfully, MILs are made fun of immensely!

The repository of jokes is way too rich, and here is one.  A wife complained to her husband that he always preferred his relatives over hers. Pat came the reply: “No way! I have always loved your mother-in-law more than I like mine!”

Sadly, the demonizing of the mother-in-law prevails worldwide

If  you are thinking that the tensions involving an MIL are distinctive just in your culture, you are mistaken. It is a universal problem.

At lunch with a few ladies, I heard one of them exclaim in exasperation, “No wonder mother-in-law is an anagram of Woman Hitler! I am totally fed up with mine!” She was from Jamaica and had a lot to crib about her mother-in-law who was visiting her for a month.

Why does the mother-in-law have such a tainted reputation?

It is really hard to give a concrete answer. Most of the time, social patterns and cultural conditioning lie at the root of problems. The ideas get deeply ingrained in the human psyche.

For instance, motherhood is often related to only taking care of the children. It is sometimes forgotten that a mom is also someone who needs to have her own likes, dislikes, and priorities in life.  Then there are women who feel guilty about indulging in self-care because they think it is being selfish.

Similarly, with some mothers-in-law behaving horribly and inhumanely, the precedence is set. The very mention of mother-in-law strikes a feeling of fear and disdain.

We have another angle to this story. There are definitely moms-in-law who have no qualms of conscience and foolishly believe that the reins of power are in their hands, putting themselves in the position to conquer and control. Therefore they are responsible for creating a negative image for themselves. On the other hand, there are daughters-in-law who sometimes, by looking at other societal examples, walk into a family with a preconceived idea that the MIL can never be a good person.

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Stories on reel make us feel they are real!

Some share of the blame obviously goes to pop culture worldwide for being flooded with the infamous mother-in-law. There is way too much typecasting and no dearth of their drama and annoying habits in movies and shows.

We are getting a bit of a respite these days with the change in content, but the archives of  the Hindi film industry, the largest in the world, are filled with wicked MILs. Who can ever forget the treacherous on-screen MIL icons from the yesteryears, Lalita Pawar, Shashikala, and Manorama?

Our television channels have also produced a large number of soaps on this recurring theme, resulting in a genre popularly called Saas-Bahu serials.  By default, it is assumed that a mother-in-law is essentially the family’s bossy matriarch, and stories are spiced up by painting the mother-in-law / daughter-in-law relationship with shades of gray.

The conniving ladies far outnumber the good souls, so we beam with joy whenever the outliers emerge. Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, for instance, had the trio of Achla Sachdev, Sushma Seth, and Jaya Bacchan playing mothers-in-law with hearts of gold! It was also heartwarming to see Kamlesh Gill in Vicky Donor and Sulabha Deshpande in English Vinglish as the supportive MILs.

A brilliant TEDx talk that throws light on the Mother-in-law phenomenon

I came across a talk by author and motivational speaker Jesse Kaur in which she shares her personal experience with her mother-in-law. With her crisp humor, she gives a balanced and nuanced analysis of the relationship.

Kaur describes how she started off on the wrong foot with her MIL because their ways of thinking were diametrically opposite. However, she later reasoned it out and realized that her mother-in-law was not a bad person but that she was just different and believed in a set of ideas distinctive of her generation.

Kaur happily shares how she developed a strong bond with her MIL over time and how upon her demise, she felt that she had lost her mother all over again. With some fine grains of wisdom, she concludes her talk. She says that all human relationships, including one’s connection with the MIL, can flourish when three basic principles are followed:

  • Having the intention to make things work. One cannot take two steps forward and two steps back but must remain consistent and persistent in correcting the present flaws.
  • Replacing judgment with empathy by putting oneself into the other person’s shoes.
  • Keeping in mind that respect is the foundation of all loving relationships and that every person wants to be loved and respected.

Adults need to behave more mature!

Human relationships are complex, and the basic premise is that each person needs his or her space. It is also a matter of give and take. If adjustments and accommodations can be made without causing too much inconvenience to oneself, those steps need to be taken from both sides.

A film that is essentially a laughter riot, Monster-in-Law, starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda, is based on that theme. A possessive mother is up to all kinds of nasty tricks to portray her son’s fiancée in a bad light. They finally have a truce where the boundaries are decided upon for each woman to have her own right.

Stop the stereotyping: Any relationship can be complex!

It is a grave mistake to jump to the conclusion that a relationship with one’s mother-in-law can never be cordial. Why single her out?

You may be on the worst of terms with a parent, sibling, or any relative, but you may bond perfectly with a friend whose personality matches with yours.

The existence of the controlling, abusive, interfering MIL cannot be ignored. Otherwise why would discussions about the domineering and duplicitous mother-in-law even take place? But are there no toxic individuals other than this relative who are equally pathetic and depraved or even worse?

It is not ONLY a mother-in law who can be manipulative, selfish, and unsympathetic. Any other person can stir a tornado to break a family apart. So it is important to nurture an open and enlightened mindset and to stop the stereotyping.

Image source: YouTube/ rasode mein kaun tha

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About the Author

Rashmi Bora Das

Rashmi Bora Das is a freelance writer settled in the suburbs of Atlanta. She has a master’s degree in English from India, and a second master’s in Public Administration from the University of read more...

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