I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I got married early and had to live with my in-laws for a while. Now, I am middle-aged, and a mother-in-law myself, living out that traditional role of the ‘monster’ without a problem. “Touch-wood,” I exclaim to my friends.
This “battle of the laws” seems to happen in all cultures. In ours, the groom’s folks are the bad ones, while in the West, the wife’s relatives play the role. How real are the problems? How far-fetched the tales? Let’s take a look.
A young bride wants to wear jeans and T-shirt to a wedding. The Ma objects. Who’s right, who’s not? Ma can’t/shouldn’t intrude on the young bride’s freedom, but the young bride wouldn’t wear that outfit to a swimming pool, would she? It’s important to wear what’s appropriate, and behave accordingly. Does appropriate, acceptable behaviour mean bondage? Another debate ensues.
From smiles to sulks
Here, I’m not going to talk about extreme domestic situations where cruelty leads to murder or suicide. That’s abnormal. I’m going to consider [after inputs from several young wives and old friends now in the mother-in-law’s seat] the friendly neighbourhood family where smiles give way to sulks without any apparent reason. The grumbles are trivial to begin with: “She keeps nagging me about how to cross the road, for heaven’s sake!” “When is she going to learn to do her own shopping? I even buy her personal things for her. Didn’t her mother teach her anything?” Or the traditional: “I expected at least five tolas of gold, but.” “I hate to call friends over when she’s home. It’s like an interrogation of their background. It’s terribly embarrassing.”
We’re talking women things here. Men might not be in the limelight, but there are frictions between genders, too. “He thinks he knows it all. He’s going to get into trouble one day, mark my words.” “Dada’s living in another century. Nothing moves here. I’m a slave, need to break away.”
From cracks to chasms
A small incident can snowball into a major relationship crisis. It needn’t be a bitter, loud argument or quarrel, a series of minor events could lead to ‘no talking’. That, and maybe indifference. People living in the same flat, members of a family, sharing a kitchen, yet not on talking terms. It happens. Psychologists say quite often this is because parents don’t let go easily. They want to cling to their children, no matter how grown they are. As a result, the new stranger, the bride or the groom, resents it and cracks widen to become chasms. In India, where tradition is all-pervasive, where there is blind obedience to elders, where conditioned women would rather die than speak against their man, expectations from the bride can cause havoc. Without physical torture, without a word spoken out of turn, just the heaviness of expectations of the right behaviour, gets too much to bear. It was discussed endlessly when Dear Di [Princess Diana] died. The rules of the Royal Windsors smothered her spirit, led her to be reckless, and destruction followed.
From in-laws to family
At the other extreme are women CEOs and businesswomen who have reached pinnacles of success because their moms-in-law ran their homes and raised their children. There are women, mothers of husbands, wives of sons, who bond so well that the relationships are looked at with envy. There are men who prefer their wives’ brethren to their own. It’s not gender specific.
Even in these days of nuclear families, the spirit of the joint family rules. On special occasions, in times of need, it’s the family one still turns to. Yet, the bitterness over matters unspoken, the secrecy that replaces trust often leads to daily unpleasantness. Is there a mantra to keep things smooth? Yes, there is.
My advice to parents
The bacchey[kids] are adults, with minds, lives, attitudes of their own. You’ve done your bit, educated them, given them values, now give them a chance to make their own mistakes. Let them go. Have your own occupation that won’t intrude on their routines. If you want to be near and can’t afford the space, have your own home close to but not within theirs. Don’t harp on the good old days.it’s 2009, it’s just not the same age. Things have changed and you may not understand their stresses and difficulties.
My advice to the young
Where do you draw the line between interference and caring? Irritations, annoyances must be tempered with plenty of tolerance. The old are inflexible in many ways. You too will get like that one day. Let them give you advice. You never know when it might be useful. Involve them in your activities, for they can give you dependable support that no one else can. Independence need not mean breakaways. Speak your mind, and allow them to speak theirs.
My advice to both
Talk. Communicate. Be open about money matters, rituals, opinions. Give, give, give. a lot. Take little. Happiness comes from small, frequent joys. Expect and accept differences. Agree to disagree on certain issues. When there are heated arguments, guard your tongue and do not bring up old issues. Unhesitatingly make up when things go sour. A bit of ego-squashing goes a long, long way. Use humour, humility in large doses. Being honest and open doesn’t mean one has to be rude or blunt or nasty. Keep smiling, stay calm. It works wonders.
Last of all, life is short, we can’t always choose to live with those we have to, whether parents or in-laws. It’s up to us to make our relationships smooth.or rough.
The choice, the action, is ours. Good in-laws stem from good us, not good them. The benefit is yours alone, no matter which side of the ‘law’ you’re on.
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