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
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27 thoughts on “Relationship with mother-in-law (an email)

  1. You have articulated so well and looks like both sides have tried, or atleast you have. I am not one to tell you what you should do, but I will tell you this – in my own family, very close to my heart is one such daughter in law who has 0 relationship with her inlaws. No visiting, no speaking on the phone, nothing. But, this has not stopped her from encouraging her own children to have a healthy, warm relationship with their grandparents 🙂 Sometimes, people are just not made for one another, and that is okay, as long as it is respectful from both sides, and children are raised in a way to understand this. I wish you luck, and strength to do what you need to do to be healthy, happy, and to help your children understand and respect your decisions. In the end, a decisive and respectful
    role model, is a GREAT thing for a child to see.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear LW,
    You sound like an intelligent, sensitive woman and you seem to have given this a lot of thought.

    I was in your situation several years ago, in my 20s (during my early years of marriage). I really wanted to have a good relationship with my m-I-l. I did everything I could (like you did) while also trying to remain assertive about my own needs. I tried to clear misunderstandings, explained my behavior, really tried to see her side of things. It never worked the way I wanted it to. We could never be friends.

    We settled into a tactful relationship where I do as I please, make my choices, don’t explain them, but don’t try to make her acknowledge when she’s wrong (says something petty). It has worked because we don’t live together, we spend time together during visits, so I figured why make it unpleasant and taking her snide remarks seriously is not worth my time as she has no influence on my life.

    Looking back, I realize the several mistakes I made:
    – why was I TRYING to have a good relationship with my m-I-l? Isn’t a m-I-l like one’s aunt? Either you get along or you don’t. My trying to make it work placed a lot of importance on a d-I-l’s relationship with her m-I-l. It was a result of my patriarchal thinking. After all, my husband never TRIED. If he found something irritating at my house, he had no problem conveying it. My parents stay up late and have late dinners. My husband would tell them he’d prefer to be invited for lunch as he doesn’t like eating late.

    – I was explaining too much, clearing all the misunderstandings, doing all the heavy lifting. That doesn’t work in ANY relationship, not just the one with one’s m-I-l. I did not realize in my 20s that every relationship is a 2-way street and it can remain healthy only if both parties make an effort and both are responsible for the happiness.

    If I could go back and re-do my actions, I would simply do what I felt was right. If she shut me down (through silent treatment), I would ignore it. If she said something vile, I would ask her to please remain respectful or I would leave and refuse to engage. If she said something petty, I would ignore it and not feel bad all day over the unfairness of it (like I did).

    So, please know this –
    – You are not responsible for her happiness.
    – Your husband is not responsible for her happiness. He can choose to go for higher studies or not, he’s an adult and he gets to decide.
    – She is an adult and she must find happiness inside herself, not vicariously through his achievements.
    – You are the parent and you get to decide how to raise your child. If she gives you the silent treatment, she is making a choice. There’s nothing you can do to change her mind. Let her figure it out.
    – This should not come between your husband and his family – he can still visit them, talk to them nicely etc. Since she’s not overtly hurtful or mean, it’s best if he stays out of it and refrain from giving her any advice.
    – Please set aside the burden of trying to change her mind. Detach yourself from the need to make this work. It will work if she wants it to work. You can’t force/persuade/plead change on people, they must do so on their own accord.
    – Instead enjoy your pregnancy, enjoy the little one inside, give him/her lots of love. Give yourself lots of love.

    Hugs and best wishes

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The LW sent this email to me and I could’ve just responded to her directly. I asked her to share hoping it will help someone somewhere. For the same reason, I replied here.

    I must say I’m disappointed at the lack of response ….. IHM has been there for so long for so many people who’ve been helped by her.
    The site has lost some readership due to her absence – understandable.
    But isn’t it our turn to give back? For everything that she has gone through, I think she deserves to take a break if she needs to….. I want to support her in this SMALL way ….. as she made a BIG difference in my life.
    But getting this community back together …… I realize now that it is going to take many more of us to feel the same way ….

    Like

    • Thank you for trying. I am sure somebody will benefit from it being there. And thank you so much for your response. I feel so much better reading it. I was unsure about letting go without trying one last time but I also realize this pattern has been going on for years and is bound to repeat in the future. I wouldn’t call my mother-in-law a bad person but we probably are not made for each other. I have so much to be thankful at this point in my life, this shouldn’t be affecting me so much. It is probably all the pregnancy hormones. Thank you again for the empathy you showed to a stranger on the internet.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Priya, unfortunately when a blog is not active for a long time people give up on it. IHM has not been properly active for two years and although I still check back regularly it’s understandable that people would have assumed that she has stopped posting. Its unfortunate but the way of life…

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hi B, yes I understand completely what you’re saying. It’s the most natural thing in the world.

          I also can’t help trying to get this site active again …. I feel it is a small thing we can do for everything IHM has done despite her personal struggles. I really think it’s possible for readers to keep up the dialogue if they feel it adds value to their lives. I’m asking people to do something out of the box … not just come to a resource when it exists …. but to not leave it up to one person to maintain the resource … to all pitch in and create something together.

          And why bother? Because this is the only blog that focuses on feminism and the Indian woman. On my own blog, I write about a variety of things, feminism is just one of the things I write about. Same thing I’ve found with other blogs written by Indian women. There are some fantastic feminist blogs written by non-Indian women – I love these – but you cannot deny the impact of context and culture. This is the ONLY blog that has both – feminism AND the Indian context – a rare and precious place for Indian (and South East Asian) women to get answers.

          I’m going to work on bringing in multiple voices here in terms of blogging … let’s see where it takes us. I hope readers, for their part, will support the bloggers by participating in the discussions.

          Like

    • Hi Priya,

      I was checking periodically and wasn’t expecting any new posts. Finally, when I checked yesterday after a while, felt so glad to see new posts. Thanks for stepping in and getting the site going once again. I comment here occasionally but lurk a lot mostly because I see the posts like maybe a week or so after and not sure of commenting so late. But anyways here I am.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Priya, I think it’s great that you’re trying to get this blog going again. And I’m sure that the community will get active, it’ll just take some time to gather steam. Like you’ve said, this is one of the very few indian blogs covering this kind of content. Once the activity starts up again, the blog will also start showing up on searches (which is how I discovered IHM, 3 years ago :)).
      Please do keep posting (I really enjoy reading your pieces, they’re so well thought out), there are atleast some of us who will keep commenting regularly.

      Like

  4. Hi,

    1> I think you should stop explaining anything and everything.
    2> Stop blaming yourself or mil for the troubles you are going through
    3> Take care of your health
    4> Make small changes that improve your life
    5> Delegate work

    Mukta

    Like

  5. I wouldn’t worry too much, like one commentator said you are not made for each other thats all. encourage your kids to have a good relationship and leave it at that.
    I was the opposite when i got married i did exactly as, i pleased. no accommodations to any anyone no sweet DIL behavior, didn’t expect any either, of course there were noises of displeasure and comparisons to how DIls should behave but thats normal, thats all they knew. now after 2 decades i can say my MIL is a great friend, my SIL is too and we dont interfere in each others lives yet are a support system. We got here slowly i think but mainly we are all happy to be in this place because we all did and stayed who we were, no one made an effort to please or behave or anything. i consider my MIL a partner in raising my kids, they are close to both grandparents and trust me some things said by grandparents are more palatable to them. 🙂

    You did your part , actually you did more than your share, now leave it at that, life goes on, and no matter what they are your kids grandparents. they will love them, let them bond and it will be fine.

    Like

  6. hiiiiiiiiii priya,
    hope you are doing well.
    i just read your article on indian home maker s website saying if readers have any questions: then feel free to contact you.

    i have one BURNING QUESTION priya:- i would HIGHLY APPRECIATE it if you could do a post on it.

    we all know that in almost 100% of the cases:- mother in law and daughter in law clash.

    after reading indian home maker s articles for years : i have quiet a fair bit of idea why.

    but still i would HIGHLY HIGHLY APPRECIATE if you could write a post on this topic as to WHY mother in law-daughter in law clash.

    hope you have a great day.

    Like

    • Yes Mansi, will do a post on that and try to explain (as I understand it) why we tend to have this clash.

      We have a guest post coming up by another guest blogger, so it will be after that.

      You too have a great day:)

      Like

  7. When I read the letter, I thought someone had actually written this on my behalf. I am of the same age as the letter writer, have a child of the same age and contemplating second pregnancy . It is maddening how strikingly similar these issues seem to be, from this letter and what my friends tell me as well. I have a zero relationship with my MIL and FIL (thanks to the MIL). I tried my bit and have given up now. But the tension when I am around them never dies. I am nervous by nature and the constant worry that MIL will start shouting (yes she shouts and creates a scene at any given time) for petty things makes me more nervous. Once she shouted at me for not washing my hair once I came back from the hair dresser, this was after my hair was all nicely set. And mind you this was in my own place outside India. I figured out the problem is me, I have to work on not being nervous and then she will lose the pleasure of throwing a scene at some point.

    Like

    • I think your situation is more adverse than the letter writer because your MIL is being openly rude and confrontational. Yes, you could just ignore her. But you could just tell your husband that his mother’s behaviour is unacceptable and he needs to speak to her (or if you want, you can tell her yourself, but let him know you are going to first) and if she doesn’t stop, then you cannot have her come and stay with you. If he insists on them staying, you will leave when they visit. I don’t think people should be expected to put up with rudeness from guests in their own house.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks Priya for posting the letter here…
    I get the situation the LW writer is in…at least to some extent. As in, I always felt my in laws were “nice” people… they do not overtly trouble me or make me work unfairly or say mean things to me. (See, how the bar is set for nice in laws). BUT I could see that they were the people who felt their way is the right way. The unwillingness to see different side, or to just ACCEPT that some people have a different way of life… I dont think till date they have taken ANY interest in my life..my hobbies, what I like to do, nothing. Which is fine. But this is definitely not the kind of relationship I wanted with them. I genuinely wanted them to be interested in my life and to be able to talk to them about the same. I did try to show them around, plan nice trips when they visited us in US for the first time, but their lack of interest in anything new did leave a bitter taste. I do understand not everybody likes new experiences but I would definitely have appreciated some level of acknowledgement of the effort I/we put in when they visited us. They never ask me for my opinions (they will ask my husband) on things that affect us (me and my hubby).
    Anycase, due to many such things, I kind of lost the “genuine” interest in connecting with them. After 10 years of knowing them, I am at a point where I dont care whether they are interested in my life or how we connect. After the first few years of trying, I have accepted that we will always share a cordial relationship, but I will not see myself sharing my life with them. Again, it is easier to have this kind of relationship because I dont stay with them.
    That does not in any way affect the relationship my husband shares with his mom. Or my son shares with his grandparents.
    So, in short, not your responsibility to maintain sanity and friendship in the relationship.

    Like

    • Thank you for sharing this Mypunchingbag. I can relate to this so closely … it’s very similar for us …. my m-I-l is not bad or evil (again yes, am setting the bar low), BUT there is no real affection she feels for me, no real interest in me as a human being, no attempt at making a connection, no empathy when I’m struggling …. so finally, after caring too much and trying more than my share, I just stopped caring. Pleasant and detached is as good as it gets with her.

      Like

  9. LW,
    Your story is one I think many women can relate too.

    I am married to a man whose family was against him marrying me. The disappointment from his family was relentless – it was not, we are disappointed but let’s move on because he is happy/it is what he wants and let’s treat his wife well/like a human being, because, well, she is his wife/human being. Instead of seeing supporting our relationship as the easiest way to strengthen their relationship with the son, they go about trying to have a relationship with him by guilt tripping him/being extra nice to him while sort of ignoring me/ acting “normal” when I am not involved/acting super unhappy in my company/excluding me (passively), etc.

    On the few occasions my husband has called out on their exclusion of me, they explain it away to him as an oversight and not intentional and then don’t really bother to fix the situation either. One of his sisters is the only person who has seemed genuine and one I feel I should bother making an effort with, while even she won’t go far enough to stand up for me. At least one on one, her behaviour is fine.

    I have never said anything – verbally anyway – to any of them. They won’t really accept their behaviour and they will make it seem like I am reading it differently than it’s intended. I am very non-confrontational but I also very independent and like to be treated like an adult. And while, yes, there is hurt, in theory I am very much, well if you don’t want me around, I will go find people who enjoy my company to hang out with.

    I don’t live in the same town as them. Both our families live in the same town. When I am visiting, I visit them for a short duration, stay over part of the visit if I am visiting with my husband. I have shared wedding photos, go to family events if I am in town, congratulate them on specific things, wish them well if they are unwell, etc. But otherwise I don’t have much of a relationship with them.

    I have been ambushed in the past about things which quite frankly they should have talked to their son about or accepted that the choices we have made as a couple is as much his decision. My honesty/views was used to tell/bulldoze my husband on how we should live our lives. While it hasn’t had the influence they’d hoped, it made for an unpleasant time and my losing of any desire of honesty with them/expectation they will treat me like a person.

    I have tried in some ways. When my mother in law visited earlier this year, I made an effort (though I probably was not great at maintaining the cool/calm/not bothered demeanour), even though her treatment of me up until that point was such that, with any other person, I wouldn’t have bothered at all. She expected to be served hand and foot and I have never felt that unappreciated in my life as I did by the end of her visit.

    Recently, we announced we are having a baby (our first child). The parents in law haven’t offered any help (except for advice to my husband as I don’t talk to them day-to-day). The nice sister in law asked if we wanted them to come over to help via text. She has three kids under five. I am not sure what help she means by it or who we includes. How long for? Her and the kids? Her, the kids and parents in law? Her, the kids, parents in law, the other sister in law?

    The other sister in law in a different conversation with the husband mentioned that they could help with things like grocery shopping. Again, I didn’t personally respond to this. [I would prefer making other arrangements rather than accept this offer of help]. I brought these questions up with the husband but let him respond, which was, yeah, sure come whenever you guys want to. Then he went on to explain that my parents will be available to help, plus, we are planning a visit within the first six month after birth (which we had considered as soon as we found out).

    My parents’ offer of help was discrete, they outlined what/how much they could offer and what wouldn’t be possible. [Also, my mother might take over my kitchen but my parents would do the tasks needing doing/look after me well.] I checked with the husband on his thoughts. He is keener to accept the help than I am (maybe, perhaps, because it’s not quite occurred to me how difficult it will be).

    I would like my child to have a relationship with the in laws. And I would like them to have access to the grandchild. However, I see the help after childbirth/first few months as my need rather than an attempt to get any set of grandparents to connect with the grandchild.

    I was considering having a conversation with my husband to see if he would like to invite his family for to visit (maybe after 6-8 weeks) to see the baby (so that I am not at the most vulnerable). However, I would want him to take time off during their visit (even if this means less time off right after the child’s birth) and prefer their stay to be a week, maximum. While he accepts that his family’s treatment hasn’t been ideal, he would prefer things were smoother. However, the one issue we have recurring conflict (where we have been the ugliest to each other) relates to his family: their lack of my acceptance, their expectations, their lack of support, etc.

    So, given the history, should I bring it up? Or should I let him deal with his family and the relationship he wants his child to build with his family however he considers fit while stating things that would be unacceptable to me?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear O,

      Think of your in-laws as some people you met through your husband – perhaps his old friends or his current co-workers. (forget for a moment they are his parents). At first, you receive them with an open mind and a warm, welcoming manner. If they are his friends, then you are happy to meet them and get to know them.

      But for some strange reason, these ‘friends’ continue to treat him well but offer you subtle put-downs or diminish you in discrete ways. You then decide (rightly, as you did) to let your husband continue his friendship with them, but you distance yourself so as to not be hurt, and not be a victim to their barbs, however subtle. You also maintain a pleasant, if indifferent relationship, so your husband can maintain his relationship without any unpleasantness.

      So far, so good. But would you ask these ‘friends’ (who have never really been there for you, who undermine you subtly, who make you uncomfortable, and with whom it is a struggle to not resort to conflict) to help you at your most vulnerable time? Post pregnancy, when your hormones are dipping, a baby’s needs are overwhelming, a time when you need extra support and understanding and sensitive, genuine, loving people around you? You must answer these questions for yourself.

      For my first child’s delivery, my mother was able to come and help. For my second one, my father was not well, and my mother was unable to come. My m-I-l offered to come and help. . I have already outlined my relationship with her in a couple of earlier comments. I figured – if I have to work really hard to maintain a pleasant relationship with her when I’m in a normal strong state of health, there’s no way I can do that in the vulnerable post pregnancy state. I would crack under the pressure and that would be unfair to my baby and I owed it to myself too to not put myself through so much avoidable stress.

      So, my husband and I decided this – to get paid help. We hired a nanny for 3 months. She cooked, cleaned the house, and took care of my older son (4 at that time) as needed. She drove, picked up groceries, picked him up from pre-school, etc. We BOTH had our hands full most of the time. If I had the baby, she was either in the kitchen or with my older child or cleaning/washing dishes. Or she took care of my baby, while I did other things. My husband would come home from work a bit earlier so there was an overlap between them, so I could take a break/ take a nap etc. It’s your pregnancy, your body that’s going to be exhausted, and you get to decide what you want in terms of supports. I’d say, if this is indeed how you feel, explain to your husband nicely that you would want them to visit later (after 3 months) but during the 4th trimester, this is what you want to do.

      I’ve never asked for my in-laws’ help in the later stages (when I went back to work, etc.) either precisely because I don’t want their advice/interference. Later, we retained part time help (after the first 3 months, right through the 1st year). Then I was a stay at home mom for a couple of years with no hired help. When I went back to work, we continued to rely on good/reliable baby sitters whom I personally trained and supervised. If my in-laws came for a visit, they were guests, not helpers. And I refused all advice/interference. I would tell them to enjoy their grandkids, play with them, but refrain from giving me advice. And they did develop a good relationship with their grandkids.

      Your in-laws too can have a great relationship with your kids – none of the above impinges on that. I’m curious to see what others will advice.

      Like

  10. Grandkids relationship with parents will develop on its own, this works best if other relationship failures/successes are not thrust on them, leave them be and they will be fine. You cna take the kids to your parents and your husband can take them to his parents.
    As long as everyone involved speak no evil 🙂

    Sure have them visit but when you feel comfortable. having a baby means your have priority its about you , not about them meeting baby or bonding etc., You are no.1 then only baby . if you can stand them sure invite them over. if not let the baby be a bit older and your husband can visit with them and the kid.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you both.

      I am not expecting help from my in-laws. I expect we would need to prep extra if I did ask my husband to extend an offer of a visit ( and they accepted) and I expect to not be very comfortable for that duration just because of our history. I just don’t want to subtly or overtly be accused of favouring my parents if we accept my parents’ offer of help. And, wanted to clear my conscious that I was not being unfair.

      I am going to run with looking after myself and the baby the best and the easiest I can make it at this stage. The rest can be dealt with later.

      Liked by 1 person

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