The Mother-in-law Question

Mansi, one of the readers here, asked the following question:

“We all know that in almost 100% of the cases:- mother in law and daughter in law clash – why is this?  Please do a post on this.”

Mansi’s question appears as a comment in this post:

https://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/relationship-with-mother-in-law-an-email/

I will answer the question the way I see it.  I would welcome others’ thoughts, experiences, and perspectives.

——————————————————————————————————————–

In a patriarchal system, women take up positions of inferiority.  The girl child, teenager, and the young woman is taught or coerced into the following during the formative years(the opposite traits I’ve listed in parentheses):

  • unquestioning obedience (versus reasoning, questioning, analysis)
  • acceptance of fate or destiny (versus proactive problem solving)
  • a sense of weakness, vulnerability (versus strength, confidence)
  • inferiority (versus a sense of equality)
  • shame in one’s body (versus seeing it in neutral, biological terms)
  • shame in the pursuit of pleasure (versus seeing it as a natural human trait)
  • no personal interests or hobbies or achievements (versus encouraging personal accomplishment)
  • assigned pre-ordained roles (versus having choices)
  • constraints on the smallest things (versus having daily freedoms like going for a walk safely, taking the city bus safely, going to college safely, going to work safely)
  • constraints on life decisions (choosing whom to marry, choosing whether to marry or not, choosing not to stay in an unhappy marriage)
  • permission seeking fit for children (as opposed to adult freedoms – permission to visit parents after marriage, permission to work, to not have kids yet, or to not have kids period)

——————————————————————————————————————-

Some of the above have changed with times, primarily:

  1. education and careers – girls and women now pursue these – but even here the context remains vastly patriarchal – do they have control over their paycheck – do they know how to spend, save and invest their money – do they have the freedom to work where and when they want in a field they choose, the freedom to travel for a job – do they have the supports needed at home to succeed at work or do they carry the triple burden of work, home, and kids
  2. some of the other factors mentioned above have changed for some families (who raise girls as humans that are allowed human joys and weaknesses, and granted equal rights) but remain true for the vast majority to different degrees.

——————————————————————————————————————–

So, what happens to girls and young women raised with these traits?  They develop low self esteem.  They have been constantly told of their lack of worth and they begin to believe it.  Not just about themselves but about all women.  Their gender is the dreaded gender, they are the unlucky ones.

The all-pervading misogyny is internalized by women.  Different women react to this in different ways.  They develop coping mechanisms such as –

  • judging other women (partly because they genuinely believe women should be judged, society has given everyone the right to judge this group of human beings, but partly because they see themselves in other women.  “She is a lazy stay at home mom who watches TV all day.” because they’ve heard this comment over and over again and unthinkingly repeat it.  Or, “she is too selfish and not a good mother, look at her, travelling so much” because this is another stereotypical comment that they’ve heard over and over again
  • petty competition – women in a patriarchy must compete for male attention to win a few crumbs of freedom – putting other women down has a concrete advantage
  • becoming a martyr – in a patriarchy, you can either be a Goddess on a pedestal or evil incarnate – ordinary human traits like ambition and pleasure in women become evil – self-sacrifice is considered virtuous.  Some women engage in self-denial and sacrifice to feel rewarded by the families and societies they live in.
  • passing the baton – the teaching of these “feminine” rules and traits strangely falls upon women – victims create more victims in the process – women are taught early on “to be a good example to their daughters”.  Every time a woman doesn’t toe the line, her parents and her upbringing are blamed.  There is an entire cannon of virtue that needs to be passed down the generations – and some women assume this role whole heartedly.

——————————————————————————————————————–

All of the above come into play in the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law situation.

The mother-in-law belongs to a generation of women that have been denied an education, the right to work, the right to choices.  They have been raised with low self-esteem and their most ardent sacrifices have been barely acknowledged.  They have never enjoyed the companionship and respect of their life partners.  Rather they served their lords and received nothing of worth in return.

The typical difficult mother-in-law is not an evil woman – she is an ordinary woman reacting to the above factors related to her upbringing.  She is coping in her own way, trying to find in her own distorted, sad way – some kind of path to perceived happiness.  All her life she’s been controlled by other men.  So she sees control as the singular thing absent from her life.  She tries to exercise control over the one person who is in the lowest rung of the patriarchal ladder – the daughter-in-law.  She fails to realize that genuine happiness comes from control over one’s own life, not control over another’s.

That said, there are mothers-in-law who understand where the problem truly lies – with the patriarchal set up (and not the “bad” daughter-in-law).  Even if they did not live a life of fairness, the better adjusted women (those who’ve developed a healthier response to a difficult life) may obtain happiness by breaking the cycle and treating the daughter-in-law with fairness.  They may themselves have more freedom in their later years – having developed an awareness of their rights and an assertiveness that comes with age and experience.

The mother-in-law versus daughter-in-law problem is not a women versus women problem – it’s a problem created by patriarchy.  The need for male privilege creates the need for female inferiority.  When inferiority is made systemic right from birth and reinforced right through old age, it breaks the psyche and can have extremely unhealthy emotional consequences resulting in unhealthy coping behaviors.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Here are 2 posts that may shed further light on this:

https://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/the-men-in-our-lives/

https://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/a-woman-is-not-a-womans-worst-enemy-patriarchy-is/

Postpartum Depression: Break the Silence

Guest post by: Purna K.V., Blogger

(Original Post appeared on her blog here: http://koumudi.blogspot.co.za/2013/10/post-partum-depression-yes-i-faced-it.htm)

Post-Partum Depression. Yes , I faced it and No , there is nothing wrong in talking about it.

Those of you who see my pictures on facebook and think that mine was a happy pregnancy and a perfect delivery and everything was a perfect little dream-come-true…… are wrong. It was actually far from it. I had suffered from a severe prenatal depression in my last trimester and an equally severe postpartum depression after delivery.

It took me a long long time to come back to normal and start living life normally. It took me a long long time to actually come to a conclusion that I should write about it. Yes, there is no need to be ashamed of it. It can happen to any other woman on this planet and it comes without a due notice and we are far from being prepared to face it. Knowledge is wealth and I thought I should provide awareness about PPD ( Post Partum Depression ).

All was well until the starting on my last trimester ( 7th month ). I was working as well in Johannesburg , South Africa, and didn’t have any problems. I moved back to India during the same time to rest at home and deliver in Hyderabad. Ravi came just to drop me back home , had a brief holiday and went back to wind up things at Joburg.I thought this phase would be the most relaxing time of all and was really excited with it. But the travel from Johannesburg to Hyderabad left me with swollen feet and a tiredness which didn’t go away for as long as a month after that. Even my swollen feet took a lot of time to get back to normal. And it is when I was staying at my home in Hyderabad , that depression set in. It started with lack of sleep and a frustrated mind as to why I am not able to sleep. I was bored at home and didn’t have anything to do. I couldn’t travel outside , because I didn’t know driving and the weather change between Joburg and Hyd traffic left me nauseatic. It was better to sit at home rather than travel outside with all the pollution and traffic. And above all , you know what elders say , you are pregnant so don’t do anything without out help. My stamina kept decreasing and so did my appetite. But I thought it was all normal and definitely hormonal. Yes , it was hormonal , but it was not normal and I realised this only in my 8th month. It was the first case of PPD in my family and nobody knew about it.I started imagining all kinds of things and was not happy about it. I always felt that , whatever came into my mind didn’t at all leave me and it only started creating deep impacts and craters in my mind. The ability to control my thoughts was absolutely gone. I felt that my mind was not in my control anymore. I felt that I was some other person and this person is nowhere near to what I am. I felt that something was happening to me and I am not able to stop it. Lack of sleep , lack of appetite , restlessness , no peace of mind and always sad about something which I was not able to apprehend properly. I also had insecure feelings about staying away from my husband and when it was un-bearable , I contacted Dr Vijaya and told her briefly about my situation. It was not only psychological and emotional , it was physical too. I had nervous weakness in my hands and legs , and I was not able to stand and do things properly sometimes. I never felt like waking up from the bed and do something to kill the boredom.

In our society , giving birth to a child and all the pregnancy and delivery phases of life are supposed to be “happy” things. And if it is anything different from it , nobody would want to talk about it. It is all hushed up and the fear of the society seeing you as a “bechara” makes us hide things. But I did no such thing and walked straight into Dr Vijaya’s office and spoke to her. My scared mother accompanied me. I am thankful she did.

May be Dr Vijaya knew already and was suspecting the worst. But she was kind to me and comforted me with her words. She appreciated my outward thinking and the boldness I had to come and talk to her. Because , she said , most women wouldn’t do it. She told me that PPD is a spectrum kind of a thing and almost 80% of pregnant women experience it but at different levels. Some are tolerable and some are not. But mostly , women don’t express it to the gyneac or the midwife. So most of the society doesnt know what’s happening on the inside.

My mother was totally unprepared to face all this. And she never felt or knew that all this was due to hormonal changes or due to changes in pregnancy. She thought I was saying and thinking about issues wantedly .She was scared with the way I was thinking and manifesting things in my mind and her being scared , made me even more timid and frustrated as to why I was like that. After going to Dr Vijaya , we concluded that it might be the mood swings and depression kinds and was normal and a part of pregnancy sometimes. This comforted my parents and husband… but not me. Because it did nothing to my mind so that the pain and everything could go away. I wanted to be happy and welcome my little child. And the fact that some other things were taking precedence over it made me guilty and that guilt started killing me from inside. I couldn’t ignore it and as it was physical too , I was even more scared as to how I would be able to take care of my baby if I was not even able to walk properly and do things normally.It was pure hell. Ravi pre-poned his trip and returned early. But no matter who was beside me and what they had to say to me , the suffering didn’t go away. I had erratic fears over silly things coming into my mind and it scared the hell out of me.I had frequent fear and panic attacks. My brain would be blank and cold for a few minutes.  I knew that my family was putting a brave face outside but were equally concerned and scared from the inside.

Finally , when I delivered , I wasn’t scared of anything in my life , except the “thing” that I was going through. I gave birth normally  and very boldly. Because I wasn’t scared anymore. I had something else to be worried about. Physically , mine was the perfect delivery that anyone would want. Not a single medicine given to my body and not a single prick from the midwives. But psychologically , I was somewhere else. Nothing gave me happiness , expect for pure and intense sense of care towards my child. I took care of her to the core. May be the guilt that built up inside was coming out in this way. My physical  and psychological symptoms remained , even after delivery and then Dr Vijaya suggested me to a clinical psychologist. She spoke to another lady who gave birth in the same center and also a psychologist. Unfortunately , she was out of town , so she referred me to another elderly man in Sweekar-Upkaar , Jublee Bus Stand , Hyd.

I was breast feeding and my body was in the process of healing. But I had to go to consult him. He listened to me and referred me to take some tests. Not lab tests. Some written tests ( I thought they were like some tests to determine my concentration and mind body co-ordination ) which took a lot of time. I had to leave my baby in the car and go to take the tests , occasionally coming back to feed her. There is a phrase in telugu……….. “ Idemi kharmamooo” anipinchindi. I don’t know about the cure , but the visit to the doc itself can make you feel so low and less of confidence , as to something is seriously wrong with you and you need somebody’s help to fix it. It makes ourselves feel like yuk.  Finally , he told me that , I didn’t have any previous mental disorders and this was something that had popped up only in and around pregnancy and hence will be termed as “Post Partum Depression”. He gave me 2 sessions of relaxing my muscles as I was constantly complaining about the nervous weakness in my hands and legs. I almost begged him to give me a medicine to calm me down and make me peaceful. But he denied it as I was breast feeding. He said , treat it as a punishment from God and bear it for 6 months. My duty as a mother was more important than what I was going through and he asked me to come back after 6 months , if I felt it didn’t go away.

He told us a lot of things. He said that , in pregnancy , a woman’s body undergoes a lot of changes.Some are physical and some are psychological. Some are good and some are bad. Now , we the people , miss the bad part. We always think that having a baby only brings joy to us. Ofcourse it is a happy thing………. But it doesn’t always bring joy to us. It also makes us nervous and all the emotions around taking up that responsibility and doing our part correctly. So , “pregnancy and delivery is a happy thing” is highly overrated. It can be the opposite also and there is nothing wrong with it. Sometimes , the wiring in the brain changes permanently because of pregnancy , he said. And I am unfortunate that I have had the bad effects of pregnancy. Having a baby is a very big change in life and different people react in different ways to it, consciously sometimes and sub-consciously sometimes. Nothing is wrong or right in it. And if the pressure on the brain becomes un-bearable , then it translates into physical symptoms like the ones I had. In the spectrum of PPD , may be I fell into a “more and intense” scale. It happens to everybody and not everybody are vocal enough to go to a doc and express that something is wrong. Because we are bound by families and society. And this insecurity and the “unhappy” part are buried under the name of society and the family’s name in the society.

It took me an year and half after delivery to completely come back to normal. And I didn’t take any medicines. It was long , hard and a challenging journey and at the end of it , I guess I have turned out to be a lot more tougher than before. I was sceptical about writing this post from a long time. But finally could muster the courage to put it in words and provide awareness to others. PPD in a severe way happens only to a very very few people. But we must be prepared to face it J.

Hobson’s Choice

Guest Post by: Jenny (https://jennysreflections.wordpress.com/)

Hi All,

Please meet Jenny, fellow blogger and friend.  I find her writing refreshingly honest and straightforward.  This guest post of hers made me reflect on the choices I’ve been offered, the ones I eventually made and the process it took to go from the “destiny” handed to me to making conscious choices to finding freedom.  It is never simple and clear cut and I continue to learn.

– Priya
Hello,
Jenny here. I am so excited to write a guest post for IHM. I am an ordinary Indian woman who one day took a look around the world I was living in and began questioning questionable things. I am an avid reader and started to write mostly out of frustration with this thing called life. I try to write often at my original blog https://jennysreflections.wordpress.com/.
Thanks to Priya for encouraging me to write this guest post.
Hobson’s choice is almost an illusion as it is choosing between something and nothing.

When I first stumbled upon this term on Wikipedia, I hardly could wrap my head around it. Choice between something and nothing huh… how can that happen I wondered? Yet, on further contemplation I realized that my whole life has been a series of Hobson’s choice.

At the age of 15 choosing a group void of math and science was never an option. I was told either choose one without biology or computer science. Leaving out Math, which I hate was definitely not in the cards. Deep down, I knew that I would end up studying math, physics chemistry, and computer science, when all I wanted to be was a writer. So you see I never did really have an option. That very choice pretty much sealed my life as a don’t-wanna-be engineer.

At the age of 21, when I didn’t even know what life was all about, I was married. They said you don’t know how the world works, so listen to us and get married. I had rejected the first guy I saw, using the silly reason that he didn’t look good (Secretly hoping they won’t pressure me to get married). Ironically, using that same reason against me, I was told I couldn’t say no to the next guy, who did look handsome and met all the standards set by my family.  I had to marry a guy when there was only one option and at a point where I had no clue what marriage was all about.

Hobson’s choice is my case was the absence of a meaningful choice.

When I, who grew up well educated in an upper middle class family, can come up with 2 major illusions of choice, I shudder to think of all the women in various strata of the society who completely have no choices in front of them.

It has taken me years to undo this – to understand what it means to be an adult, to reject other people’s warnings and protection, to have the confidence to make my own choices.

Every time someone says with a sneer – so you are a feminist, I have the immense urge to sit them down and tell them: FEMINISM GIVES WOMEN CHOICES.  DO YOU WANT TO LIVE YOUR LIFE WITHOUT CHOICES?

As women in today’s world, we have the choice to live where we want, marry or not, work in any field, wear what we find comfortable.  We have the choice to make decisions that affect us.  Those decisions may not make sense to others.  They don’t have to.  As adults, we get to choose.

So dear reader – think about your life and those around you.  Choice is the most precious thing you have.  It will often be denied to you.  Know that you are born with the right to it.  Ask for it.  Exercise it.
➢ What choices do you have now that you didn’t have a few years ago?

➢ How have YOU changed on a personal level?  What choices do you make despite criticism, condescension, or emotional rejection?

➢ What kind of changes do you wish for, in terms of the specific choices that YOU should have?

Relationship with mother-in-law (an email)

A letter from a reader – I’ve asked the LW if I can share her letter as so many women find themselves in this situation and the discussion could be helpful to many women if it happened here – the LW agreed to share –

As you read the below, ask yourself:

  • what was my experience and how do/did I deal with it
  • what can I suggest to the LW that could be helpful
  • what are some things we should be doing as friends and family of someone in this situation
Dear Priya,
I like reading your blog and your posts on IHM’s blog. I have found myself nodding to almost everything you write and have found strength in your words to listen to my inner voice, to be assertive in order to keep myself happy and content.
I’m a 34 year old woman living outside India with my husband and 4 year old son. I had a very difficult childhood growing up in a sort-of broken household with a non-existent father who emotionally abused my mother every chance he got. My mother( who got married young without much skill or education but a sharp brain) stood her ground and put up with him to give me and my 2 sisters and one brother the best education she could(I’m now in a position to financially support her and help her start a small scale business all because of her stubbornness to not let her girls end up like her).
I got married to a wonderful man who is nothing like my father and has helped me a lot in letting go of the bitterness I have bottled up in my heart.
However I’ve had a very tough time integrating into my husband’s (very educated and status conscious) family following my marriage and have had conflicts with my mother in-law on more than few occasions in my 9 years of being married. She was against her very intelligent son getting married to me at such a young age (we were both 24 and just out of college with our first jobs) without going for higher studies as she had planned. I understand her disappointment but the taunts that we were subjected to went for far too long. I don’t look back to my marriage or my short stay at my husband’s place with any fondness.
Fortunately my husband got a better job offer outside India and we moved out. After struggling for two years we found our footing and got better off financially and things improved considerably between me and them.
This year when my brother-in-law was about to get married in a ‘proper arranged marriage'(unlike ours) to a bride of respectable profession ( read doctor) I voiced out some of the glaringly obvious double standards at display which again took our relationship back to square one. Having learned to be more assertive of my choices over the years, I spoke to them at length and cleared misunderstandings and brought things from the past to a closure (or so I thought). I kept in touch with them and helped them with the wedding prep, had them come over and stay with us for sometime all happy and merry.
I found out that I am pregnant recently and my mother-in-law started giving me well-intentioned but unsolicited advices about how to go about it. I told her very politely how I think I should be left to deal with it as it is not my first time going through the experience. She has been giving me the silent treatment ever since. I tried reaching out to her once but got no response. I would be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt me because it does as I thought we had reached a place where we could have genuine conversations.
I wanted this relationship to work for the sake of my husband who is a great son-in-law himself and my son to whom they are wonderful grandparents. But now the efforts are weighing me down. I’m having some trouble at work and have the additional pressure of this pregnancy plus my regular life that I don’t have the energy to deal with my mother-in-law anymore. Is giving up on this relationship the right thing to do? I would want my children to have grandparents and my husband to continue to have good relationship with his family. I just don’t want to be the only one putting in all the efforts anymore.
Best regards,
A
Repeating questions from above
  • what was my experience and how do/did I deal with it
  • what can I suggest to the LW that could be helpful
  • what are some things we should be doing as friends and family of someone in this situation
  • please share any other relevant thoughts not covered under the questions