An email: “We dont want our sons to suffer because there will saas bahu drama in the house do we?”

An acquaintance was upset because, she said, her friend’s mother in law was ‘harassing her’. She described the situation in detail. The daughter in law seemed to be going through a difficult time, and it seemed that it was only going to get worse.
IHM: She could tell her, very politely ofcourse, to stop interfering?
The acquaintance: That would be disrespectful!!
IHM: But this would continue if she doesn’t.
The acquaintance: She can’t be rude to her mother in law – saying something to the mother in law is totally unacceptable in their family!!
IHM: But then how is she to deal with this? Spend days and nights plotting counter attacks in the same indirect ways, like in saas bahu serials!!?
The acquaintance: Her husband respects her because she is never rude to his mother. She has his support, she will have to show courage and fortitude.
IHM: She has his support? Is he going to talk to his mother then?
The acquaintance: He can’t discuss such matters, or talk back to his mother!
IHM: But you said that he does see that the wife is being harassed?
The acquaintance: Yes. He understands. She has earned his love and respect with her forbearance.
IHM: So she can’t talk to the mother in law because the husband would not allow that? And the husband also can’t talk to his mother?
The acquaintance He can’t get into women’s squabbles.
IHM: What if she decides not to ask for his help, and deals with the matter in her own way?
The acquaintance : That’s unthinkable!! He would not tolerate that.
That’s how Patriarchy works. 
I remembered the conversation when I read the email below. How can their be harmony, when those who supposed to create harmony are not permitted to choose who to harmonise with and how? 
How would you respond to this email?
Sorry I don’t know much about you or your website. Just know that it is a sort of advice center were some sensible people give solutions to Indian type problems.
I don’t have a problem just wanted to say I am getting married soon. To the person I love for the last 4 years. (I am 23) but I can see that my future mother in law will be hell with her attitude and other nonsense as well my sasurals constant nonsense but I don’t care about that since my would be husband is a very loving man and will get our own place soon after marriage in a few months.
All I wanted to see that we all ladies are going to be future mother in laws soon. (Well maybe in 30/40 years time)
Are we going to treat aur daughter in laws the same way that most MIls torture their DILs? I hope not…
We dont want them to be treated the way we have or will be treated…right?
We dont want our sons to suffer becuase there will saas bahu drama in the house do we?
I dont want them to be my bhuddape ka sahahary as I very well can support myself in coming 50 years. I will respect each and every decision of the future couple.
I will want to respect my dil and she will respect me back and I hope we will having a loving relationship.
I just want the opinions of your advisors to see how the the future generations of mother in laws will be like.
Can we expect a better future ahead with no constant bricking in each household?
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32 thoughts on “An email: “We dont want our sons to suffer because there will saas bahu drama in the house do we?”

  1. Hmmm….

    All the LW will get is some ideal answers to her questions. I don’t think anybody can say how will they behave in situations. One can only tell “how we should” or “how we think we will behave” and not “how we will actually behave”. Mind you both of these can be very different.
    And anyway most people have different set of rules for themselves and others. Haven’t you seen enough ILs treat their DIL badly but curse when they see their daughter being subjected to the same treatment.
    For all you know when the LW becomes an MIL, she might behave the same way as any conventional one.

    Note: I am not saying she will. Just saying she might. Behaviours aren’t an exact science. Same situation – two people can react differently. Same person can react differently at different times and so on…


  2. “Yes. He understands. She has earned his love and respect with her forbearance.”

    So, basically, he’s a wimp and he loves and respects his wife because she’s also willing to be a wimp and a doormat. I understand that these people are socially conditioned to be this way—but, they’re also adults. At the end of the day, if they don’t stand up for themselves (and they sound like educated individuals who are capable of being financially independent), then they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.

    “I just want the opinions of your advisors to see how the future generations of mother in laws will be like.”

    I’m not exactly sure we’ll ever have children (and even then there’s no guarantee that my future/hypothetical children will ever get married) so I can’t speak for myself as a future hypothetical mother-in-law. From my experience, my Indian mother-in-law is nothing like what I read about in many emails that come here. To give you an example, we played jenga (with shots) on her birthday. I can get out of bed at 11 in the morning and eat breakfast in my pajamas in her house, laze about the entire day and maybe go shower at 4, and I think I’ve become comfortable enough to do that now.

    Where I’m going with this is, you don’t have to wait for future generations—start with now. Instead of asking whether the bickering will continue into future generations, maybe we should say the bickering should stop now. Sometimes, people seem to accept the ‘this is India and that’s how things are here’ argument for so many injustices faced by women (or daughter-in-laws). I think it’s important to realize that there are many people in India who are not like this. So the whole ‘this is India’ excuse to justify someone’s awful behavior is not acceptable.


    • **wanted to add–as much as I’m comfortable with my MIL and (step?)FIL–I’m not sure that my husband and I can/should live with them in the long term for the very same reason why I wouldn’t want us to ever live with my parents long term.


    • ” I can get out of bed at 11 in the morning and eat breakfast in my pajamas in her house, laze about the entire day and maybe go shower at 4″

      Me too. Completely agree that this attitude of ‘this is India and we must accept our fate’ helps no one. It’s passive acceptance of injustice. This martyr attitude is part of the problem and ultimately leads to ‘in my time, I had to go through x y z and you want to complain about your little abuse?’.


  3. I could not wait until I became a MIL, I see the chances to be very bleak as I am in love with my single life. But as my part I made sure my mum would not turn out to be a typical “Serial Saas”. Me, my dad and my brother equally shared responsibility to make sure that the new family member is treated no differently than the others. My new sister(in law) sees no difference between her old home and new home (Touch wood!).


  4. It’s a decent rule of thumb to let people deal with their own blood-relatives as often as practically possible, because that tends to lessen conflicts. But this, of course, requires that they actually do so.

    Thus, I think it’s a good idea that the husband should deal with it – when the problem is the behaviour of his mother. If he is unwilling or unable to do that, then the wife has no choice other than to deal with it herself, whether or not that is “rude”.


    • You are right each one of us has a history with our birth parents/primary caregivers and we know them inside out thus it makes more sense for each spouse to deal with their own parents when they harass the other. But that possibility is culled by the ideal unquestioned generational reverence.

      Not all women are powerless at all times and not all men are powerful at all times. The ideal of unquestioned generational reverence is one of the ways to maintain hierarchy within families and allocate power to women over other women and younger men. This anticipated power at certain age acts like a carrot for women to strive for becoming a mother-in-law.

      Desi Girl


      • Agreed. That’s why I said that if the husband is “unwilling, or unable” to do that, then the wife has no other choice than do it herself. This is suboptimal, but still a whole lot better than not doing anything.


        • We’re not talking about a random stranger here. We’re talking about the person you’re married to.

          You bet I expect my wife to insist that her relatives treat me in a acceptable manner, and you bet I’ll do the same for my relatives. In fact that goes further than just my relatives.

          People who are unwilling or unable to treat my immediate family (wife + kids) in a good way, are not welcome to be part of my life at all. It’s that simple.

          People who act as spineless squids are not suitable as partners, you’d be better of alone than together with such a person.


  5. “We dont want our sons to suffer becuase there will saas bahu drama in the house do we?”

    So, let’s assume that we will all have sons (who would ever assume that they will only have daughters anyway?). Then let’s agree that the son’s minor disturbance at saas bahu ‘drama’ is the problem, rather than the emotional/ physical abuse of the saas or the bahu. Then let’s stop causing this disturbance. Only if the bahu ‘will be respect me back’, of course.. otherwise all bets are off. This will an improvement, right?



  6. A MILs response in a similar discussion I was a part of :
    we can only give what we received, and when this generation (us/all DILs) question authority and defy we feel wronged because we feel we were dominated by the previous generation and now by the next one too, isn’t this unfair?”
    This is a s good as saying because I was blinded I will blind all the others. is this the case?


    • That comment is quite telling. I’ve heard this line from several mothers in law. As bad as I feel for them for having been dominated by their elders and not being able to live that “elderly” type life now, the cycle must be broken. Someone has to be the bigger person and decide to do the right thing.


  7. I don’t see how this is related to patriarchy. I had a difficult MIL, a European feminist, and her son (my ex) would never talk up to her, in the end when she visited us he would find something to do outside the house and let me deal with her alone. Once I dreamt I slapped her and felt so ashamed… It turns out now her own daughter is not on speaking terms with her.

    My own mother, another European feminist, is so terrible my husband never visits her house.

    So basically, for me this is more a problem of personality disorders. And in a way, I think there is progress, because all the DILs who feel miserable because of theses dragon MILS, are feeling miserable because they want to resolve conflicts in non-violent ways rather than start a war. And it is also a problem of generation gap, because youngsters (men and women) don’t know how to set up boundaries in a firm but peaceful way. These are social skills to be learnt. I’m still learning 🙂


    • Not related to patriarchy? Why then is the DIL-MIL relationship so much more fraught than the PIL-SIL relationship?

      Europe is also patriarchal, granted this is followed more closely in some parts (like Itay) than others (like Sweden). It has not nearly rid itself of all effects of patriarchy yet. I don’t think being European or even being a feminist automatically means that you are not affected by patriarchy.


    • There are excellent and horrible people in all cultures. Individual variations are huge. But that by itself does not negate the fact that there are large cultural differences in *average* behaviour. Very few european parents intrude into the lives of their adult sons and daughters to the same degree as many indian parents do.

      For example, I’ve never once met a married couple here in Norway that lives with his parents.


    • I think the problem in India has more to do with the problem of unquestioned generational reverence than the personal eccentricities of individual MILs.
      The Indian MIL will dominate because she feels it’s her right after decades of subservience to her own husband and in-laws.
      It’s a toxic cycle that leaves nobody happy; neither the MIL, nor the DIL nor the husband.
      Respect is a two-way street. It’s wrong to expect unconditional obedience from the DIL just because she married your son and got the MIL as an in-law.


  8. So basically the girl who emailed you is very happy with her life so far
    While the other girl is miserable because of her MIL

    The girl is willing to be a doormat since her idiot of a husband knows about it and not doing anything to reform his mother. That is a very sad case in life

    I think A.K that you mean that we should all change society now for the better so there is no conflicts in each household in the future by being better mother-in-laws then our current MILs can be. That is wrong that you said why involve sons in the saas bahu nonsense. They have to be involved since it concerns their better half and the one who gave birth to them. I don’t think a husband should support only one person in this conflict. Why did he marry the wife then? to give her disrespect and just use her?

    But by being better MIL can we definitely change the future of Indian society?


  9. “We dont want our sons to suffer becuase there will saas bahu drama in the house do we?”
    First of all, women should stop feeling apologetic about standing up for themselves. The son is not the one who is ‘suffering’ in a saas-bahu drama. If he is a mute spectator or has washed his hands off “women’s squabbles” – if he does not stand up for the party facing injustice, he is a wimp – why should he get any sympathy?

    “I dont want them to be my bhuddape ka sahahary as I very well can support myself in coming 50 years. I will respect each and every decision of the future couple.
    I will want to respect my dil and she will respect me back and I hope we will having a loving relationship.
    I just want the opinions of your advisors to see how the the future generations of mother in laws will be like.”
    Any change for the future begins with us. If every girl/woman who is not a MIL yet, but sees herself being one in the future, decides that she will not be a ‘saas bahu serial MIL’, that itself would be a huge thing. I feel like empathy, sisterhood and an objective mindset play a very key role in avoiding repeating the follies of past generations of MIL-SIL relationships.
    One of my friends (a SAHM) used to crib to me occasionally about her in-laws with whom they stayed in the past in India, but no longer do so. I would lend her a sympathetic ear. Then one day she shocked me by bitching about her brother’s wife – a lady who has a job – the fact that the brother’s wife was not paying enough attention in the upkeep of the household, taking good enough care of my friend’s mother, not doing enough ‘aadar bhav’ for visiting son-in-laws etc – all because she had a job. She even blamed the brother’s wife for causing her brothers to argue amongst themselves about who would be the next one to take their mother to the doctor. I was so disgusted to hear his. I gently tried to make her see how irrational she was sounding, but it fell on deaf ears. I decided I was no longer going to be a sympathetic listener to her in-laws cribbing, because she failed to see that she was perpetuating the problem too.


  10. Ain’t life easy for Indian husbands!
    a wife who doesn’t stand up for herself, nor expects her husband to stand up for her..

    husbands – either you stand up or let her stand can’t have it both ways, you see.
    wives – you don’t have to earn anybody’s LOVE and RESPECT.. don’t put up with crap!


    • It sure is. An Indian husband gets the royal treatment from HIS in-laws. Yet when his wife is treated badly by HIS parents, all he needs to do is wring his hands and enjoy the show.


  11. Yes, we can….the cycle stops with us. And when saas-bahu drama affects the entire family, the men don’t get to just “opt out” because it is “women’s issues”. When these issues affect the ENTIRE family, then everybody needs to help resolve it. Everyone needs to work together, be equal members of the family, to help with fights when 2 members are at a stagnant standpoint.
    I have an Indian MIL, and we have had lots of bumps in the roads, as well as many cultural differences – but I love that woman. I love her for so many reasons, but the main being she respects me.
    A while ago, I got a comment on my blog from an Indian MIL reader, who said, “the foreign DIL is always at fault for splitting the family because she wants to be equal to the MIL” and I said, “what’s wrong with wanting to be equal?”
    Equality is key, respect is key…..all family members need to work together, both men and women, for the ship to sail smoothly… is not THAT hard.
    You can’t be expected to “respect the elders” if their behaviour is atrocious. One’s behaviour ought to be respected, regardless of age.

    And……the kids are watching us….they learn more than we think….


  12. Happiness is such a easy word to toss around isn’t it. I am not sure if many of us even understand what it really means. The girl is happy in her marriage BUT her MIL gives her grief, The girl is happy with her husband BUT he cannot stand up for her.The girl has to respect the MIL BUT is not able to bear the torture.

    Once again where is the Happy quotient in this. My motto in life is to live and let live. So if I ever become a mother in law and the chances of that are very bleak I would expect them to live their lives while I live mine.


  13. Can we expect a better future ahead with no constant bricking in each household?
    The short answer is yes.
    The reasons –
    – many people of this generation who are getting married are choosing to create nuclear families (out of necessity or choice or simple economics) – in a joint family, even the best of people will fight because how can Person A who’s a party animal coexist with Person B who prefers peace and quiet? Neither of them is wrong, but one of them is going to be unhappy if they live under the same roof.
    – the wives of this generation (20s to 40s) who will become future m-i-ls have a much better relationship with their husbands (than the m-i-ls of the older generation), hence they have less of a need to cling to their sons and take over their children’s lives.
    – the d-i-ls of the future (who are currently in their teens or still children) will surely stand up for themselves more and will tolerate interference to a much lesser degree than their mothers’ generation.
    Of course, all of the above are generalizations and can vary with the family. For instance, interference can still be a problem for nuclear families, some women will continue to be door mats, and some husbands will continue to conveniently not take responsibility for the whole situation. But if you look at overall trends, things do seem better (at least to me) than a generation ago, and it will continue to get better for the next generation.
    The degree to which each family will be better depends on how much the parents can see their son and d-i-l as being adults, capable of making their own decisions, and with the right to pursue their own dreams. It will also depend on how well the sons and their wives can build a strong relationship with each other.


  14. “We dont want our sons to suffer becuase there will saas bahu drama in the house do we?”

    When there is saas bahu drama in the house, far from suffering, the son is conveniently staying out of it. How patronizing and hypocritical it is to say, “these women are making me miserable” when in reality, the son is not taking any ownership/responsibility for the problem.


  15. Pure desi pukka passive-aggressiveness. Outward harmony, seething underneath the surface.
    Why is it that it’s some kind of “women’s fight” when the men (husband and father-in-law) in the situation have more agency in arranging the setup in the first place? It’s especially telling since before the marriage everyone keeps yammering about how you marry a family. How much of that is displaced aggression (on anyone’s account)?


  16. Pingback: Not touching feet after a year of marriage is disrespect to MIL? | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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