#Opinion

Dear Mother-In-Law: I Wish You Hadn’t Said These 7 Things To Me

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Indian mother-in-law has a unique place in the life of her bahu. While daily soaps and films want us to believe that this relationship is either modelled on the one shared by a mother and daughter or the one flourished between Mogambo and Mr India. The truth lies somewhere in between. No matter how hard she tries not to, a daughter-in-law always has some regrets and grudges directed towards her saas, and surely, the same holds true for the other person involved in this equation.

But since I can share only from my perspective, I feel that there is so much that an Indian mother-in-law can choose not to do or say, to make her daughter-in-law’s life and marriage more sorted. She could start by not picking up her son’s dirty socks off the floor, when he comes back from work, or not fussing over him, if he has to fetch a glass of water, or worse, cook a meal for himself. Also, it is never just about what you say or do (or don’t) but also about your intentions behind the actions, that could end up having long-time repercussions on a bahu’s life.

So here are seven things I wish my mother-in-law hadn’t said to me:

1. Take care of my son: Perhaps the first thing a bahu hears from her mother-in-law after her wedding, this sentence is said both as an instruction and a plea. But does it need to be said out loud really? The problem is that in Indian homes we don’t know where care stops and slavery begins. Does caring for a husband means cooking for him and being a supportive partner? Does it also mean cleaning up after him and never holding him accountable for any household chores. If so, then is your raja beta keeping his end of the promise in our marriage? What about him caring for my well-being, did you give him a pep-talk about that?

2. I know my son better than anyone else (where “anyone” specifically mean you, daughter-in-law): Correction, you know a version of your son, better than anyone else. You know the obedient kid who would take your permission every time he wanted to go and play video games with his friends, who selected his subject and career based on his parents’ expectations. But are you sure you know the man that he became after he went to off to college? Do you know what kind of a colleague or a boss he is? Then how can you say that you know him better than anyone else? There is a version of him that you know better than me, but the same holds true for me too.

3. My son is a good man, it’s just that…: Dear mom-in-law, being a good son to you, doesn’t make your child a good man by default. Each one of us has our own set of faults, and as a couple we bring them to our marital bed with us. So when I complain about something that he is not doing right, I expect a sympathetic ear from you, or a word of advice to your son. What I never asked for, but got anyways, was provision of a character certificate your grown up ward.

He may be a good man, a great father and an exemplary son, but if I feel that he is not being a good husband, then don’t I have the right to point that out? Should my grievances be overlooked, because they are not a priority to you, or to our society? Or because a wife should always count her blessings if she is married to a “good man” even if her marriage is a loveless one?

4. He works so hard, he deserves to be comfortable when he is home: Guess what, even I work hard, and so do you. I admire how you spend the day cleaning the home, managing so many chores and running a yoga class. You deserve comfort too. But you put your comfort last and never ask your husband or son to help out with the household chores. It doesn’t just stop there, you expect me to do the same. So why does his comfort matter, but not yours or mine?

5. The rules in this house are different: Rules? What is this, 18th century? Are we convicts living in a jail? And who set these “rules” anyways? It is a common misconception that women mould according to the rules and customs of their marital homes. They don’t. Us women are patient creatures. We gradually introduce new practices and rituals into our household, as per our liking and  persist till they grow on members of our family. You know that too. So now that am here, does it make uncomfortable that I will try to “change” things around the household as per my liking?

Yes, there are many regressive patriarchal practices that are part of Indian household even today- men eat first, women clean the kitchen, women cover their heads or face in front of elders. I can’t even image what you went through because of these. But then instead of making me go through the same practices, shouldn’t you release both us from these trappings, as much as it is in your power to do so?

6. Family always comes first, for women: Family should come first, but for both men and women. Similarly a woman’s career aspirations should be valued as much as that of her husband. Please don’t expect me to decline that promotion at work, because baccha kaun sambhalega. My husband can very well take care of his child, all you need to do is show some faith in his capabilities. No woman can be successful without a support system to back her up. It would mean so much to me, to have you in my corner, helping out, rather than holding me back from achieving my potential.

7. Don’t you trust my judgement? Be it child care or husband welfare, us bahus have no shortage of instructions that we are expected to trust blindly, because badon ka experience is always greater than your experience, modern sensibilities, access to internet and practical approach all combined. Agreed, your experience brings a lot to the table, but please don’t expect me to trust it blindly.

I value your advice, but there never one way of doing things, I want to develop my own experience, that’ll only comes from doing things my, failing miserably, and learning from my mistakes. Let me make mistakes, it is not a sign of failure, after all, its just me trying to figure out life on my terms.

Views expressed are the author’s own. Contributor preferred to stay anonymous