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Confessions of a mother-in-law


 I thought a daughter-in-law would lighten my load.
The most strained relationship in the history of mankind is the one between a daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law. This age old tussle is, perhaps, the only thing that hasn’t changed with time. It’s the stuff jokes as well as tragedies are made up of. My own relationship with my mother-in-law is a strange one. We definitely aren’t friends, but we aren’t enemies either. We don’t like each other all that much, but we don’t despise each other either.

Though my mother-in-law is quick to berate me at the slightest chance she gets, she will also stand up for me when an uncouth relative says something negative about me. If you see our photos together, you’ll mistake us for mother-daughter but if you see us together in real life, you will definitely not make that blunder. The stress in our body language makes it evident that we have been lumped together by fate we both could do nothing to change.

Epic battles between daughters-in-law and their mothers-in-law are constant themes in literature from around the world. From Chaucer’s The Lawyer’s Tale to Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, there are instances of venomous power struggles between moms and the women their sons married.

This rivalry between the two women bound together by one man, both the son and the husband, is an ancient one. However, I don’t think it’s encoded into women’s DNA as it’s made out to be. From my experience, the root of the conflict is the belief that husband/son in question is a perpetual little boy, in need of care, and constant female management. Both parties have their own ideas that neither party is willing to let go of which leads to all the trouble.

According to the book What Do You Want From Me by psychologist Dr Terri Apter, the conflict often arises from an assumption that each is criticizing or undermining the other woman. But this mutual unease may have less to do with actual attitudes and far more to do with persistent female stereotypes that few of us manage to shake off completely.

But while as a daughter-in-law, I might be quick to blame my mother-in-law for the differences we have, I also know that like every story has two sides to it, they too might have their own. Research shows that mothers-in-law feel excluded from their sons’ lives by their wives. I set about to find out what makes mothers-in-law monsters-in-law. I asked a few mothers-in-law, including my own, about what makes them tick and why they are the way they are. Doing this, I unwittingly gave them a chance to confess.

I didn’t set out to have an uncomfortable relationship with my daughter-in-law and I don’t really know when we started behaving awkwardly around each other. I don’t remember her being rude to me or me being mean to her but now we are so coldly civil towards each other that sometimes I think either one of us is about to snap and say something hurtful. Before my son got married, I remember we all went out and we seemed to get along fine. All that changed after the marriage though. Now, it seems to me that my daughter-in-law judges everything I say and holds it against me. We are definitely not at loggerheads but it’s a strained relationship. And the sad thing is that because we don’t know what’s actually wrong, there is nothing we can do to fix it. I wonder if a mother-daughter in-law relationship is doomed to fail right from the start. Maybe that’s just how it’s supposed to be.

A confused mother-in-law

To be honest, I don’t like my daughter-in-law but I also know that I will have to find a way to like her because my son’s life is tied to hers now. The reason I don’t like her aren’t serious ones. It’s not like she is rude or anything but she refuses to get along with our family. I understand that it’s hard for someone who’s recently been married to open up and be comfortable with her husband’s family but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid all get-togethers and only say hello and then disappear into your room when a relative comes home. You have to be willing to make an effort. It’s like my daughter-in-law expects us to be very understanding while not caring one bit about our feelings. And I don’t like it at all.  It’s a give and take relationship and you will have to meet us half way.

Almost angry mother-in-law

My daughter-in-law doesn’t like me. I can tell by the way she avoids my eyes when we speak and doesn’t answer my questions sometimes. This saddens me because when my son decided to get married, I was elated. I thought I would finally have a daughter I had always wanted but in my case, I didn’t even get a daughter-in-law. Now a stranger lives in my house. A stranger I don’t know how to behave around. I think I must have said or done something to make her behave this way because I have seen the way she behaves with other people. I sometimes try to crack jokes and speak to her like I would with a friend so that she opens up but she doesn’t reciprocate. There’s only so much you can do when the other person isn’t receptive and keeps shutting you out.

A mother-in-law who is lonely 

I admit I was mean to my daughter-in-law when she first came into the family. I tried to get her to listen to me and do according to my wishes. And she did initially. But I should have known it was too good to last. Girls these days have a mind of their own and they don’t want to follow the traditions and rules, not if it gets in the way of their lifestyle. My daughter-in-law didn’t want the handing down of responsibilities from me to her. And I was keen to do just that and kept insisting, all the while getting angry at why she kept refusing because aren’t all daughters-in-law supposed to help their mothers-in-law run the household? I had taken all the responsibilities of running the household from my mother-in-law, and now wasn’t it my turn to hand them over to someone? Someone younger. It was mine turn to rest. I thought a daughter-in-law would lighten my load. I have never been so wrong,

The quintessential mother-in-law

I get along just fine with my daughter-in-law. I know many people will be surprised to hear this but we don’t have any problems. I don’t hesitate to take the credit here because I knew from the start that many things could go wrong in this relationship so I made the effort to stay involved in their lives yet stay out and give them space. This way there is no room for tussle. I think all mothers of sons should understand that your daughter-in-law isn’t trying to snatch your son away from you. She doesn’t want a big baby all to herself anymore than you do. Mothers-in-law also need to understand that your daughter-in-law will definitely take time to open up and think of her husband’s family as hers. Give her some space, don’t inundate her with rules and chores, and let her be. Ultimately you will benefit from this too. I know I have.
The cool one

BY Isha Bista