This is a slightly long read and has a bit of my life story in it, so if you’re interested in knowing a bit about home politics in India – read on & I hope you enjoy reading it.
So here goes, a lot of people find it a little difficult to digest the fact that I have been living happily with my in-laws for the past 15 years – that’s pretty much the time I have been married. No we (neither my maternal family nor in-laws) don’t come from a traditional mind set, which requires joint living; but it just happened on its own. My FIL (father-in-law) decided he wanted to live with his son one year into our marriage (he didn’t explain his reasons & we never asked) and since then they’ve been with us. To make his decision irreversible and binding equally on himself (and his wife 🙂 – who may not have shared his enthusiasm), he sold of his house and decided that he would co-invest in another property with us jointly. That was it. Luckily, I was a new bride, young, innocent and willing to have the guidance/protection of parents nearby and I readily agreed. In fact I recall that it never struck me as a problem or something that required any thought – if anything it seemed natural and welcome. I say luckily because as we age, talk to friends/relatives (the so called well-meaning ones), we start doubting whether staying together really is a good idea. We think of all the possible problems that can arise by living together & then convince ourselves that much can go wrong than the good that might come from it. As we age, we believe we have attained a different kind of maturity – and tend to probably scrutinise decisions more critically.
I can say it’s been a good decision even after so many years & it’s because they have been around for me as much as I have for them. They’ve helped to the best possible extent and loved me enough for me to not complain. My mother in law specially has been around my difficult times, my career years, my pregnancies and has taught me so many things about managing the household, cooking, and most importantly – patience. I’m forever grateful to her. I give more credit to her for the smooth sailing of our relationship than to myself. She has been genuine, truthful and loving towards me – caring of me and a wonderful influence on my kids.
Power struggle? – When they joined us, I was happy to have my MIL take charge of the kitchen – so much so I never bothered about the day’s menu and vegetables to be bought. Initially my MIL would be nice and ask for my preferences but as I gave her total control to decide – she became more confident and was happy to take ownership. This way there was no power struggle. Of course we have our tiffs once in a while, but which relationship doesn’t. I’ve seen women who want to control running their homes, even when they are absent or travelling or have other commitments.
We’ve had our share of rough weather as well. Right after my first child was born we ran into our first serious phase of disagreements. My MIL had specific views about child rearing and I was a new mother – having devoured lots of parenting books . When it comes to rearing your own child, giving up any kind of responsibility is not as easy. We found common ground somewhere after a few months – but until then those were stressful times. I had overnight turned into a mother, and was unwilling to take the back seat anymore. My days of pregnancy with her fawning over me and I listening to her indulgently were over. During my pregnancy she took extremely good care of me – I can say much more than my own mother. I was happy to be the pampered child. But overnight after the child was born, I changed into the assertive mother and we had numerous disagreements. She must’ve found those times hard – to accept such a change in me; but it was inevitable. She learnt that this was an area she would have to allow me to lead in. She made peace – slightly grudgingly but thankfully things fell into place. My son grew up and is extremely fond of her and she of him; and I’m grateful for the warm and emotional relationship they share.
I give my mother in law the credit of being able to detach herself – first from her own son when he married me and then her grandson. She allowed us to take decisions as a young couple and then later me as a mother.
Finance – Another important thing here is that a lot of young people look at their own parents/ inlaws as more mouths to feed. They are, but then they fed you when you were financially dependent – so make no mistake – it’s your turn now. Whether you feel like doing so out of love or duty; it is your turn to give back. If you do not want to – then you have to own up that you are selfish & ungrateful – there can be no other excuse/reason. Finances will be stretched but naturally. If both partners are working, then ideally the financial responsibility should be ours primarily. If not, then they can be shared to a larger extent depending on the potential of old parents. But the primary responsibility remains yours.
Culture – When two families meet, there will be an amalgamation of cultures. Best to accept both and allow all to practice their own freely. Anything restrictive is never conducive. Sometimes young parents do not want their parents/in-laws to teach their young kids about religion, rituals – that’s a tricky area – children should not be pushed in one direction rather encouraged to know more about religion/practices etc by reading more – then the choice of practicing a particular religion/ritual can be theirs. Of course a lot of rituals today are irrelevant and those one has to strictly ensure are not practiced at home. I do not believe in Karva-chauth, Prathamastami or any other ritual that celebrates one gender or one child (first born etc) and hence even during Raksha-bandhan both my children tie each other rakhis. It is explained in our home as protecting & loving one another. Anyway, back to the main topic.
Well begun is half done – On the part of in-laws it’s important to make the new bride feel welcome and wanted. In India, women leave the home of their parents where they’ve lived their lives hitherto and step into another world – another family with a different value system, culture and history. I know of many families where my young friends felt alienated by their in-laws, unwelcomed and were constantly asked to prove their worth and earn their place (so as to say) in the household. The young bride is put on test – can she cook, is she homely as well as well read, can she manage expenses, can she care for the young and the old? A big deal is made of small mistakes or misunderstandings – in such an environment of mistrust and competition – where & how can the young girl – (now removed from her earlier support system- and struggling to find her own identity) blossom into a confident home-maker/wife of daughter-in-law. Mother-in-laws have to give their DILs a free hand to experiment, make mistakes and learn. They have to be forgiving – its not easy for women, I know 😉
The freedom to wear clothes that we always wore, do the things we always did – like watching movies, going out with friends or having them over, save our own money etc is important for the new bride to feel at home. But mind you, here I stress that the new bride has to speak up for herself – make her feelings known. If she doesn’t she is to blame. Maybe the culture in the In-laws family is a little orthodox – you have to work towards change – if you want it. No point playing the blame game later.
I understand when people are amazed to see our long relationship; because as a person, I’m assertive, unapologetically blunt and confrontational. But I’m also for the same reason genuine in my behavior. So a person like me is likely to get into arguments easily and not back down. Not a very healthy attribute for healthy relationships. But I’ve discovered the secret. When the new bride is confident and not insecure of her mother in law, happy and satisfied with her own life, has her hands full with her career or hobbies, she has much more to do than pick fights with MIL. She’s happy to relinquish responsibilities of running the house, so she can focus on her career. Mornings and evenings do not have to become a tug of war – about proving and stamping ones authority. For both women involved – Define roles and responsibilities, do not pseudo-delegate – do it completely. Accept the transition period and allow for mistakes. If you love handling the kitchen, then let her take responsibility of something else. Shared responsibilities and the feeling of ownership is what cements relationships.
Maybe I was lucky that the initial few months we were on our own – it helped me settle down on my own into marital life – without any dependencies or guidance. Later when my in-laws came, they made some effort to settle into our life as well.
So then to all the daughter in laws – don’t complain about your MIL being controlling – check if you are as well. Give away control to gain love and peace of mind and it’s better – you make time for yourself. Be secure and confident of your relationship and standing at home/in your family. And as the saying goes – to gain something you first have to give it – Be it money, respect or love.