Tied in knots: The problem with mothers-in-law in India
In India, in the majority of cases, after a couple ties the knot, the daughter-in-law moves into the husband’s house to live with his parents. But a recent study conducted by the online marriage portal, shaadi.com, suggests that this tradition is slowly changing. These days, an increasing number of women (almost 64.1% of those polled) are choosing to start nuclear families, away from their in-laws.
Privacy and compatibility issues with in-laws have been some popular reasons for this development for a long time. However, when we spoke to a few newly-married women, we discovered that a common grudge they all had revolved around how the behaviour of their mothers-in-law had changed drastically after they got married. These same mothers-in-law were apparently extremely good to these women earlier.
Before Nimisha Kadam*, 28, a telecom professional, got married to Prasoon Kadam* (28), she regularly visited his house, and maintained an excellent rapport with her to-be in-laws. But, she says that a couple of months after her marriage, her equation changed with not only her mother-in-law, but also her father-in-law. “They started asking me to dress in only Indian outfits, and even eat only what they liked. I enjoyed cooking, but they didn’t let me cook, even for my husband. When I refused to do what they wanted me to, they started ill-treating me. I felt suffocated, and my husband and I moved out eventually,” says Nimisha.
Thirty-year-old Chaitali Shirgaonkar’s* mother-in-law had problems with her office timings. Even though hers was an arranged marriage, Shirgaonkar’s in-laws knew everything about her, including the fact that she worked with an advertising company. But once she got married, their attitude transformed completely. “I would often come home late from work. Though my husband never had any problems, my mother-in-law didn’t like it. Suddenly, one day, my in-laws ordered me to leave my job, because they felt that it wasn’t good for a woman to come home late,” says Shirgaonkar, adding, “Then they started asking me to help with the daily chores. They said the house help had quit, and they were finding it difficult to find a replacement. I couldn’t cope with this daily routine.” Shirgaonkar and her husband, too, now live separately.
Tanya Bansal* (28), a media professional, not only had to deal with unrealistic expectations, but she was also blamed for “influencing” her husband, by the mom-in-law. “Earlier, I used to be treated like a VIP, but I don’t know what happened after marriage. Suddenly, she wanted me to do things that were definitely too old-school for me,” she says, adding, “While my husband was always an introvert, and would take his decisions on his own, after marriage, she started assuming that I was the one influencing him, and that I was trying to ‘snatch her only son away from her’.”
Psychologist and relationship expert Vidya Bansode feels that while the conflict between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law is an age-old one, the difference in the outlook of the young, progressive woman has added another layer to this problem. “Initially, a mother-in-law is happy to see her son married. But after a while, insecurity creeps in. The mother-in-law is used to running the house in a certain way, and feels threatened if the daughter-in-law wants to make changes,” says Dr Gittanjali Saxena, relationship expert.
Bansode adds, “It’s frustrating for the mothers-in-law to see that the new-age woman doesn’t sit at home like, perhaps, she did when she was a young daughter-in-law. The new-age woman works and contributes to the household’s earning.”
On the other hand, the daughters-in-law, too, might not be used to taking advice from a new matriarchal figure in their lives. “A daughter-in-law becomes part of a new family. So, the mother-in-law advises her in the way she would advise her son. Often, progressive women have an issue with that,” says Bansode.
Ask if it is a good idea for the husband or son to get involved in such situations, and Saxena suggests otherwise. “Husbands should make sure they don’t hurt both the mother and the wife,” adds Bansode. Having said that, several times, striking a balance can be tricky, as Nimisha’s husband, Prasoon recounts. He says he knew about the issues between his mother and wife, but he didn’t know how to deal with them. “My wife wanted me to ask my mother not to interfere in our matters. But I didn’t know how to go about doing that. Finally, to save my marriage, I had to shift out,” he says.
A careful move
Although moving out of one’s parental home may have been the solution for the Kadams, it is not a course of action that should be taken lightly. Shifting out shouldn’t have a negative effect on the in-laws. “It’s important that people who move out of their parents’ homes continue looking after them. The elderly can get insecure about a lot of things, and losing a son or a daughter-in-law adds to that fear,” says Bansode, adding that warring mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law should discuss their issues in the presence of a third trusted person, and attempt to reach a resolution amicably. “The in-laws should realise that the times have changed. Instead of asking the daughter-in-law to change according to their liking, they should try to come to terms with her outlook,” says Bansode.
(*Name changed on request)