Today I am going to talk about a different kind of parenting. This topic is about ‘parent-in-law’ing, or the issue of how parents, especially mothers, and their new wards (read daughter-in-laws) deal with the power struggles between them.
My friend is going to be married soon. However, trouble has already started brewing for him. His mother is leaving no stone overturned to establish who is the primary woman in the family. The bride had chosen a designer sari to be worn for the reception, as do all girls normally, and as have his sisters done during their marriages, but the to-be-mom-in-law shot down the plans by declaring that the girl should wear the silk sari that she has got for her, no arguments, even as the bride gulped down her disappointment. When the groom tried to reason with the mother, she responded with a, “This is my wish and this is how things are done in our family. I won’t say more than this.” Poor boy, was all I could say.
What is it that comes over women when a marriage happens. I am talking about the women on both sides, those getting married and those whose sons are getting married. No matter how charming, dynamic and kind personalities they have otherwise, when it comes to each other, a resistance, a defensive wall gets built up almost immediately, why? And it is not that women contrive to oppose the other woman, but somehow, it just happens, whether you like it or not.
Saas-Bahu conflicts have been central themes for many a joke and mega serial. In real life though, if not handled extremely carefully, these conflicts can leave indelible damages on a family. It can leave bonds broken, dear ones estranged and lives shattered. The men either get caught in the crossfire and lose their peace, or make themselves aloof from both sides and weaken the family bonds. And if the boy had married a girl of his choice, from a different caste / community / religion, with the parents only just consenting, God save him. The fact that the girl is one of the ‘others’ will get highlighted at every drop of the hat. Even if the girl completely foregoes her former identity and adopts a new one in accordance with the boy’s family.
When a new person enters our lives, we do view him / her with some suspicion and resistance. The suspicion stems from doubts about how the new person will adopt to our lifestyle and what changes will we have to make for her. The latter, is also the most hardest. That’s where resistance comes, with the thought, “Why should we change the way we have been living for her?” This happens to both the DIL and the MIL. If the DIL comes into a family with culture and practices different from her maternal home, she exhibits some reluctance to adopt to the ways of the new family.
The question of Why should I, probably stems from the power struggle between both the women. Both of them are vying for the position of the ‘primary woman’ in the family. The older one is often not ready to relinquish the position to the newcomer since she has been ‘the one’ for the family, for several decades. The younger woman, on the other hand, has entered matrimony with dreams of ‘establishing her own family’, in which she figures are the primary. So when the mother in law keeps displaying her one-up-man-ship, the daughter in law endeavors to pry the power out of the former’s grip.
A study In-law tensions hit women hardest by Dr. Terri Apter of Cambridge University has found that “Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law conflict often emerges from an expectation that each is criticizing or undermining the other, but this mutual unease may have less to do with actual attitudes and far more to do with persistent female norms that few of us manage to shake off completely.” Which kind of substantiates what I mentioned earlier, that the core of the problem lies with each woman trying to be the number one lady of the family.
Personally, I have not had the chance to be in conflict with my mother-in-law, for sadly, the iron lady has succumbed to cancer before our marriage. I however wish often that she had been there, because no matter what, having another female support in the family would have made so much more difference. Maybe, if she had been there, there would have been conflicts between us, but hopefully we would have learned to accept each other in the due course. When I see people around me cribbing about their mother-in-laws or daughter-in-laws (both in equal measure), I often wonder, will there never come a day when these Saas-Bahu conflicts will disappear and we will learn to broaden our mind and let the other person be what she wants to be?
In the end, I believe all that matters is how well you are able to accept and adapt to each other. Nitpicking and bickering will lead nowhere, but once you have realized that you both want the best for the family, you can try to work out a middle way that will lead to a conflict free, harmonious family.
Yamini is a software professional turned work-at-home-mom. Amidst her domestic responsibilities and a very demanding 2.5 year old son, she snatches time to write academic papers, freelance content, fiction and poetry. Her stories and poetry have been published in various online literary magazines and anthologies by Penguin Books and Cyberwit Publications. Yamini voices her thoughts now and then at http://myexpressionsandme.