In-laws are a matter of grievance among many women in India and rightly so. But how do things change with a supportive mother-in-law? To go and live with another set of grown-up adults, who are used to of doing things their way is easier said than done. Women in India are expected to adapt to their matrimonial household, unconditionally. Seldom do people, even women themselves, talk about how unreasonable is this pressure to adjust according to a culture and lifestyle that you are not used to. But another unreasonable thing is the generic portrayal of in-laws as oppressive, regressive and hostile. Are all in-laws conservative patriarchs who want their bahus to pull a ghoonghat up to their chin, every time a stranger walks into the house? Are all mothers-in-law secretly setting up their bahus for failure, by mixing extra salt in their dal, to remain the favourites of their sons? Or is it just something that films and daily soaps have set them up for?
As a working woman, who has been living with her in-laws for close to three years now, I can vouch for the fact that this portrayal is very far from our day-to-day reality. My mother-in-law is the reason why I have a full-time career today. Some four months after I became a mother, I moved back to Pune with our baby. I barely had any help with childcare during this phase of motherhood. Aside from a lady who would do the dishes and cleaning the floor I had no help whatsoever. My husband helped out as much as he could after his office hours. It was difficult but I was a full-time mom by choice, but then came the time when I wanted to start working again.
Supportive Mother-In-Law Is The Reason Why Women Have A Career Today?
Only when my in-laws moved in with us and my mother-in-law began shouldering household and childcare duties alongside me, was I able to take up a job. I think a lot of working women will nod in approval when I say that modern mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship goes beyond the saas-bahu saga that we have grown up watching on television, where either party is projected as a predator and other as a victim. Pop culture has played a big role in twisting the narrative here.
Recently, I was in conversation with Alka Joshi, author of the best selling book The Henna Artist. When asked what are the stereotypes that we need to get rid of while writing women characters, she said, “The one theme that I definitely try to break in this book is the idea that mothers-in-law have to be mean and evil people,” further adding, “I have a great mother-in-law, my mother was a great mother-in-law to my husband. I think it is important for us to break these cultural stereotypes that we have. If we model more good relationships between the in-laws (and women), then we can make it happen.”
This is exactly why women need to share positive stories of support and sisterhood they share with their sasu-maas. It not only breaks the stereotypes that have burdened this complex relationship for centuries, but also encourages women to be kinder and more supportive of each other, no matter what role they have in this equation.
A modern mother-in-law knows why it is important for a woman to be financially independent, and how the entire family stands to gain when it is not the men of the house who have to shoulder the financial responsibility in a family. The contribution these women make, in the well-being of their family, by being open-minded and hands-on, is something that needs to be acknowledged so that we have more positive role-models for such complicated relationships.
The views expressed are the author’s own.