A Guest Post by wordssetmefreee
Lately, we seem to be discussing a lot of situations regarding dil-mil issues. In India, I’ve commonly heard this advice being given to dils: “C’mon, cut your mil some slack. Wait until you become one. Then you will feel the same way. Understand her insecurities. How would YOU feel when your son gets married and moves away?”
But these are not dil-mil issues. At the root, these are husband-wife issues. The mil is not a monster (am not referring to exceptions here). Some mils are good people and some are not. They are human, like everyone else, and come in many shades of goodness/badness. The average Indian mil is not inherently evil. Rather, the husband is being an escapist and is reaping a double advantage here.
The previous generation mil is not evil, she is feeling insecure because
– she’s never been given an education (in many cases) or even if she’s educated, hasn’t been given an opportunity to pursue a career or interest, or even if she does have a career or an interest, doesn’t have true autonomy in her life (all financial and other major decisions were made by her husband)
– in most cases, she’s never had hobbies, interests, or passions, these were seen as an inconvenience to the family who would rather be served hand and foot and adults in the household would rather be babies than do their own laundry
– she’s never had any friends or time to herself to go for a walk, read, see a movie, or just chill
– she was never allowed the right to her own feelings, she MUST always feel a certain way (loving and giving to the family and completely selfless), she is not allowed to feel irritable, impulsive, angry, or disappointed at the way she gets treated by her own husband and in-laws. (imagine how unhealthy this is for the mind and how it begins to distort someone’s thinking) She must always serve with a smile. She couldn’t do anything on a whim. She couldn’t even visit her own parents without permission.
– she was not allowed opinions of her own. If she disagreed on what should be done about a piece of property or how the money should be invested, she was seen as controlling.
– she did not receive much love or affection from her husband (this is downright cruel to any human being). Whatever little warmth she received was very much conditional. If she did an outstanding job of cooking for 20+ guests, he would be nice to her in a pleased sort of way (without her realization, she got “trained” to “earn” love in a very specific way – through cooking and cleaning mostly, and giving up on her ‘self’).
(At this point, if you are a dil, you must be thinking, ‘So what? Just because I was abused doesn’t mean I will go and abuse someone else.’ And yes, there are always exceptions. Some mils who themselves suffered constrained lives could be happy for their dil’s opportunities, freedom, and happiness. But, I’m not referring to exceptions here. In many cases, the mils feel like they’ve finally been given a little bit of control – what they don’t understand is that to be genuinely happy, what we humans need is control over our OWN life, not SOMEONE ELSE’s).
– So, the previous gen mil began to look to her son as the “man” in her life. At least the son is more openly affectionate – even if he is being a big baby and wants his shirts ironed and his meals cooked just so (nothing wrong with affection between mother and son, but in many Indian families, it takes on unhealthy nuances).
– Now when the son gets married she loses this little piece of warmth that sustained her and made all the trouble worth it. Imagine giving up everything – your feelings, opinions, dreams, basic rights. There’s only one last straw you are hanging on to – your children, or more precisely your son that society allows you (even approves of) to hang on to and get unhealthily attached to.
– The daughter-in-law comes into this complicated, messed up situation, rightly expects her husband to value her, but realizes she has to contend with someone else (mil) who is entirely unhappy about her happiness.
– Dil immediately starts seeing the mil as the ‘enemy’.
But there are 2 men lurking in the shadows that are responsible for this commonly unfortunate situation.
– One is the f-i-l who never treated his wife (the m-i-l) as an adult, as an equal, as a person with a right to her own feelings, opinions, desires, and dreams. As someone who needed love and affection and emotional support from him. As someone who needed him to share household and parenting duties. As someone who could have achieved her full potential (as a writer/artist/teacher/banker/engineer/entrepreneur/blogger/chef/etc) if he had supported her education, her growth, and her talents. (Even in the older generation, I’ve seen a few exceptions of loving couples and in these cases, invariably, the mil is a better person, more reasonable, generous, loving to her dil)
– The second male lurking in the shadows that is responsible for all the drama is the husband (the m-i-l’s son). He has never been an adult. He doesn’t like picking up after himself. His mom has done it for him all his life. Now, he expects his wife to take over mom’s role. If the wife complains she is working a full time job like him and can’t baby him, he pouts and conveniently let’s his mom take up this issue with dil.
– I’m not implying that all men are evil. Some are genuinely good men, but deeply conditioned and trapped in guilt. For many sons, it’s psychological – they are good men, genuinely trying to break out of this Oedipus complex type of situation and trying hard to have a healthy, guilt-free relationship with their wives. But it’s hard and they’re struggling. Any attempt they make at bonding with their wives is accompanied by labels that imply that they are lesser men and tremendous guilt. Move out of parental home? You are deserting parents! Guilt! Buying a car for your wife and yourself? You are splurging while parents are suffering! Guilt! Taking a vacation? Putting off having kids? Visiting wife’s parents? Guilt, guilt, guilt!
– And then there are sons for whom it’s convenient to not acknowledge that they have a role to play in this conflict. It’s convenient to not take responsibility. It’s convenient to dismiss the whole thing as a “women’s problem”. They’re simply being selfish. They shift the blame on to the women (“women are women’s worst enemies”) and reap the benefits of being fought over for attention, and being served, while also being amused at the “silliness/pettiness” of women and allow themselves to feel superior.
– Regardless of whether the men are good (struggling to break out of conditioning) or selfish (and acting in ways that are convenient to them), ultimately they MUST hold themselves responsible and the wives MUST HOLD THEIR HUSBANDS RESPONSIBLE – for both husband and wife to be happy.
– What Indian women REALLY need to do is change the expectations they have for their husbands, rather than seeing their mils as enemies.
And now the answer to the question that is commonly asked of women of my generation: “What will YOU do when you become a mil? When YOUR son gets married and moves away? Will you not feel sad and insecure?”
The answer would be a ‘NO’ from most women who HAVE been given an education, and the opportunity to pursue a career, who were allowed to have control over their own lives and destinies. The answer would be ‘no’ from any woman who’s been loved and treated as an equal by her husband. Such women can love their sons but also be happy for their sons when they find love (and not feel insecure). In fact, they would WANT that for their sons. So, yes, it IS possible to both love your children AND set them free.
In fact I’m seeing this all around me – with my sister who is 10 years older to me and has married kids, with friends in their 50s who’s children are beginning to meet and date people. The mothers are no longer jealous or insecure. They have a life. They have interests. They have friends. They have a more fun, enriching relationship with their own husbands. The cycle IS breaking. We are the in-between generation. We ARE breaking the cycle.
Yes, women need to be assertive – but Indian men need to change as well. That change won’t happen unless we expect it or demand it. If we keep blaming the mils, there is no incentive for the husbands to change. Secondary relationships can sometimes be draining on the primary relationship. It is up to the 2 people in the primary relationship to prioritize their relationship. For that to happen, we Indian women need to start having higher expectations for the men in our lives.
I want to know how readers view this stance – that the responsibility for making a relationship work belongs to the 2 people involved and cannot be assigned to extraneous people or factors. Specifically I want to understand the challenges –
- Do you and your husband consider your relationship the primary one (please know that this does not mean we stop loving our parents or our children, it just means that it begins with US – the biggest decisions will be made by US – our life and it’s direction will be defined by US)
- Do you make all major decisions that concern each other by yourselves (and together) or do parents play a role?
- Do you feel the need to constantly explain your choices?
- Have you tried to assert yourself , and create your own space?
- What is getting in the way of asserting yourself?
- Do you live in your own space or with the husband’s parents? Do you think this arrangement is working? If not, why not? What would you like to do about it?
- Have you tried to set boundaries, and if so, how?
- What is the one thing you would like your husband to do? Are there more things? (here I’m talking about significant human needs like emotional support, a sense of belonging, avenues for fun. I’m not referring to how he loads the dishwasherJ)
- Finally, and most importantly, was your husband able to overcome his Indian culture conditioning (guilt, unhealthy attachment, etc.) and does he now have a happy, guilt-free fulfilling life with you? If so, how did he get from A to B?
- And readers who are not married, please feel free to express your views based on what you see in your own families – siblings/cousins/aunts/uncles or among friends.