The saas-bahu relationship in an Indian household is the stuff legends are made of. Hundreds and thousands of movies and television serials across languages have been made and sold to the viewers, solely on basis of the dynamics that a woman shares with her mother-in-law and vice versa. The relationship is often touted to be a doomed one, leading to either rivalry or discord, and perhaps that is the reason why almost all new brides are advised to keep their mother-in-law happy. But does this pressure only worsen the dynamics that the two women share? Must a daughter-in-law always please her mother-in-law, for the sake of a harmonious matrimonial life? Or with changing times, it is valid for her to take a stand and let the mother-in-law tone down her expectations?
- Indian women are expected to keep their mother-in-law happy at all costs.
- The shortest route to be at cross with one’s husband is to stop appeasing his mother.
- Women have internalised patriarchy and feel entitled to be appeased by their daughter-in-law.
- Men are conditioned since childhood to revere their mothers. Thus their happiness and satisfaction become of paramount importance to them.
The relationship is often touted to be a doomed one, leading to either rivalry or discord, and perhaps that is the reason why almost all new brides are advised to keep their mother-in-law happy.
The sense of entitlement for appeasement that many mothers-in-laws feel is yet another example of how women themselves have internalised patriarchy. Being a mother to a son gives women a superior status. Patriarchy hangs the carrot of respect and a comfortable old-age, and retribution for their won struggles as a daughter-in-law, in front of women to lure them into accepting their own gender as inferior, which has no agency. You brought an heir into the family, you deserve respect and comfort. When the son will grow up, he’ll bring home a wife, who will take care of you and for once, you’ll have a higher position in the patriarchal hierarchy that rots every Indian household.
Another aspect of this need to be appeased may be rivalry for the love and attention of the son in question, breeding by the same culprit, you guessed it, patriarchy. Being labelled the inferior gender women have to fight among each other to gain a higher status in the family. Instead of breaking ranks and challenging male dominance, they step over each other to emerge on top, oblivious to the fact that all they have managed to do is to further enforce the archaic norms which pushed them to the bottom of the pyramid in the first place.
But why do women give in to this pressure to please their mother-in-law? Because, often, that is the cost of a happy marriage. Indian men are conditioned to worship their mothers, to put their comfort and wishes above everything else in their lives. What they feel does not seem entirely wrong, especially when you remove the gender dynamics in place and purely see it as a parent-child relationship. Every child wants to give back the love and care they received from their parents once they are capable of doing that. But is it fair to hold your partner accountable to provide it in your place? Should it come at the cost of dignity or mental well-being of your partner?
Instead of breaking ranks and challenging male dominance, they step over each other to emerge on top, oblivious to the fact that all they have managed to do is to further enforce the archaic norms which pushed them to the bottom of the pyramid in the first place.
And yet, the fastest way to cross with your husband is to be at loggerheads with his mother. I am not talking about high decibel full blown revolts here. But even a minor dissent from the mother’s wishes is seen as disrespectful, and eventually, an act that brought unhappiness to her. The extent of what women have to do to keep their mothers-in-law happy varies in each household. In some, women are expected to give up their job and care for the aging parent, or cook three meals a day and do all the household chores without any aid. In others, it may be to dress, sit, or even eat as per her wishes, or it could also be something as trivial as backing out of an argument (or not having any at all!). Modern metrosexual men may not fight with their partners if they take a stand to live their lives on their own terms, and not of their mother’s, but it does hurt them. Somewhere deep down their patriarchal conditioning trumps their modern sensibilities and they can’t get over this compulsion to keep their mums happy.
But alas, every person is responsible for their own happiness. No amount of appeasement can make a woman happy who has made up her mind to be upset and dissatisfied with all the big little issues in her life. This is why one wonders, if the solution to this problem of appeasement could be encouraging older women to stop gluing their existence to their status as a son’s mother. Isn’t it okay to let go and finally live your life as you want, than expect a payback for all that you have done for your family, from a person who is relatively a new addition to it, and oblivious to your pain and struggle?
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.