The Men in Our Lives

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.

 

If we could see the future…

My daughter, when she was ten, once got me this doll as a gift. When I teased her and told her I was going to gift her sarees and perfumes, she had looked taken aback. She hadn’t liked the joke.

She really did think I would love the doll (and I did of course!), “It has chubby cheeks like me, I thought you could hug it when you missed me.

And I had hugged her and teased her further asking why won’t I just hug her instead…

Why I liked ‘Rabbit Hole’.

I don’t know how I would have found this movie if I had seen it before August 2010.  A scene I found heart rending was described by a reviewer as so hilarious that it ‘left the audience snickering’. In the scene, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Ekhart) who have lost their four year old son in a car accident eight months ago, are meeting other grieving parents at a ‘Bereavement Support Group’. A couple talks about how they were fine with their child being with god. I have tried to believe this too. I felt the parents were struggling to find solace in an impossible, senseless  painful situation . Nicole Kidman couldn’t bear to hear it – she felt god was all powerful, and could have created as many angels as he needed.

Her anger wasn’t funny, it was sad. It really is difficult to understand why the entire universe did not conspire to help you the one time you really wanted something.

And then there’s her relationship with her mother,  the one person who hopes to, and is expected to, magically comfort you, and to always know exactly what the child needs.

During one of the worst and the most painful moments two months after my daughter died, I told my mother I just couldn’t bear the pain. She stood up, looking lost and  uncomfortable and said, slowly, “This is something you have to learn to accept.” I tried to explain what I was feeling, but she looked still more uncomfortable. She stood staring for a while and then went out of the room, and returned with a glass of water. She had the same look on her face that I saw on Becca’s mother’s face (Dianne Wiest). My mother, like Nat, had looked frightened, even guilty, just how could she as a mother, not know how to make it better? It took me sometime to understand. Maybe I too had stood and stared at my daughter in the ICU with the same expression on my face.

Another scene that struck a strong cord was at the store, when Becca sees this child asking for something and the mother refusing it.

We were at Om Book Stores and I saw this little boy asking his father for some books which his father refused. The child continued to ask and it really troubled me. Tejaswee did the same in book shops and I didn’t always buy everything she asked for. But watching this child, I wanted to tell the father to buy him whatever books he wanted. It was difficult to see the child’s disappointment. I couldn’t understand Becca’s violent reaction though, either it is a flaw in an otherwise brilliant movie, or I have just not met enough grieving parents to know if such violent reactions do happen.

The movie began with Becca refusing an invitation by her neighbours. I could relate to that too. I feel it would be sometime before any real celebrations would be possible, and it’s fine to take one’s own time.

Also since all acquaintances can’t be expected to understand how one feels, it’s fine  (if one can) to interact with those who do understand. For as long as needed.

I watched the movie with Sangeeta, and walked out of the hall feeling positive and somehow, comforted. Read how she felt  here.

Two photographs in an email.

Let me just share the photographs… of my favorite cake in this world.

Baked by Saritha, a blogger from Hyderabad. (Hugs Saritha!)

And cut by Varunavi!


I could imagine Tejaswee grinning from above. Pallavi is right when she says,

Daughters assume they are the ONLY thing important in their mums life :-) Daughters expect their Mums to be very very excited on their birthday. Daughters want Mums to thank God immensely for having been blessed with wonderful kids :-)

Most importantly, Daughters keep close watch on their Mums on their birthday, to make sure they are following all rules above :-)


“The pain will never go, but you will smile again.”

Since I want to remember my daughter’s life and not her death, I try not to think about the time she was in the ICU. I try and remind myself that the last nineteen and half years were the best years of our lives and such precious memories should make us smile not cry. I also fear that if remembering her causes pain, one day we may not want to remember her.

And then a relationship so beautiful should give us the strength to face what we can’t change.

Last Tuesday, a dear, elderly relative was in the ICU and I felt I would atleast be able to go to the hospital, if not visit him inside the ICU. Just then I got a call from a blogging friend – (for the first time ever) Sangeeta Khanna. She said she knew the moment she heard my voice that I was feeling positive. She sounded so glad, her relief and the fact that she cared  was overwhelming and strengthening.  She said, “I am so happy you are going now, it’s better to confront our fears. You will be fine. Go to the ICU too. You will be fine. I know.”

Reminded me of another friends who had said ‘Just pick it up IHM!”

I did not go inside the ICU but I know I can. I have been avoiding all triggers and reading positive books and it does help… but I am also learning that I can confront some triggers.

I told her, “This week has been easy. I slept well, and one day I  woke up without this terrible weight in my chest…  I blogged. I read. I plan to learn to knit. On easy days, I make plans for what I’d do and think when the pain is intense and everything seems hopelessbecause there is no way to know how difficult tomorrow might turn out to be...

Tomorrow!? …we can’t even tell how we’d feel in an hour.” Sangeeta understood. She knew.

The not knowing is frightening.

All these days I have been wishing I could see a sign, some indication that my daughter is still there somewhere. On the 24th morning I made a cup of tea and spilled some and I picked a duster, and was wiping it. It was a pleasant October morning, and pleasant mornings had been saddening, because everything good seemed to rub in how the world goes on… but this morning I noticed the lovely morning without pain.

And then I noticed, suddenly, that I was humming. I was humming the first song from sm’s video. And I wondered if a stronger sign was needed. I remembered a beautiful email from a mother who had lost her daughter, just after losing her husband to cancer. She had said, “One day you will hear yourself laugh, you will be startled. But know that even if this moment disappeared like it never happened, there will be many more of such moments. The pain will never go, but you will smile again.” And I am sure I will find myself humming on many more such mornings.

I will also smile and remember her like I did on Saturday evening, when I told a friend about how much Tejaswee could talk even as a baby.

Just pick it up…

Yesterday, Son asked me to get him some photographs of the new apartment we are moving into. He had no idea the camera brought terrible, frightening, painful memories.  The last pictures I took were of Tejaswee in the hospital room, before she was moved to the ICU,  when she was sick but when she was still making limericks… When I did not know how our lives were going to change so completely. One is not ready to download or see those pictures yet, even the sight or the thought of that camera  was unbearable.

In Gurgaon, while the Movers unloaded, my friend M. and I sat between brown cartons  and as she told me about PLR (Past Life Regression) and how those who die young have finished their purpose in life and nobody, not even god can stop their souls from escaping and being born again.

M and I met everyday when our kids were young. We took them to the same park, the same swimming pool, and to the same Birthdays and Christmas parties, often together. M. had rushed from her 3rd floor apartment to ours on 7th floor (in Bombay) with paracetamol syrup when Tejaswee had fever, one night in 1993.
Our daughters watched their first play (by ‘Little Actors’ Club’) together.  M’s husband had encouraged a frightened 8 year old Tejaswee to jump from the 5 meter board…

M. knew Tejaswee.

Our new neighbours didn’t. They visited to welcome us and asked very simply, “Who all are there in your family?”

We need to get that photograph enlarged and framed at the earliest.

Later M. remembered Son’s request for photographs of this apartment.  I told her how I felt about taking pictures or even looking at the camera. She said very gently, “Just pick it up IHM. Just pick it up and start taking photographs.” It was as simple as that. I picked it up. I knew where it was. I did want to get over the fear and pain the sight  caused. Looking at the pictures taken in the hospital may not be possible yet, but I realise I wanted one less painful-association. M told me of the time she fell off her two wheeler and somebody advised her to sit for two minutes but she told them, “If I sit down for two minutes I will never ride a two wheeler again.”

So slowly I hope to go through her pictures, her laptop, her old English Grammar Notebooks (saved since KG, because I feel school essays are almost like a child’s personal diary)… because whatever I do, I don’t ever want painful associations resulting in her never being talked about.



Best thing that ever happened to women.

With young kids one had no time even to enjoy a cup of tea while still hot, or to read – one rarely got a good nights sleep.

Later when they were a little older, I remember finishing a cup of tea without having to get up even once. A little later I could read a little or talk to friends without too many emergency interruptions.

Life started getting easier as they grew older. And I thanked god (for the millionth time) I had only two kids and I wasn’t born in my grand mother’s time.

My grand mom had thirteen deliveries and eleven children. Her first child, my dad,  was 23 when the 13th one was born. Eleven survived.  And that is how one counted those days, how many were born, how many survived! :(  I don’t remember my grand mother complaining but could she see this happening any other way?

Everything changed once women could control how many children they wanted to have and when. Or have none.

I believe Contraception is the best thing to happen to women.

1. Contraception gave women freedom to choose.

2. It gave women time for themselves.To read, study, work, travel. To live.

3. It gave women control over their bodies, and improved their lives, and life expectancy. They felt younger and healthier.

4. It let mothers give a lot more to each child.

5. It also gave women some time to question what they knew all along was wrong.

Moral Police everywhere hates contraception because they fear it might give women the choices only men had till now. Most religion and a lot of societies worry about it too.

They are short sighted because they can’t see that happy members make a happy society.

What do you think is the best thing to happen to women? :lol:

Valentine’s Day Difficulties ;)

This 13th Feb, while standing in a long queue at Archie’s I couldn’t resist grinning at a teenager who wished (aloud) she had brought her mother for gift shopping.

Her dad looked lost and helpless, but I clearly heard him comment on the IQ level of the one the gift was being bought for ;)

My Daughter whispered she was glad she didn’t bring her dad with her because she was sure he was not above making such comments.

Another mother ahead of me in the queue, moaned, “Valentine’s day nahi hua, kyaa ho gaya!” (It’s Valentine’s Day or what is it!). I would have sympathised if she didn’t then turn to look adoringly at the two cute looking causes of her sighing and cribbing.

And then there’s this news that some parents have spies to keep an eye on their adolescent children on Valentine’s Day.

Better than mothers?

Sindhu’s post ‘My Dear MIL‘ reminded me of this father in law…

I had not seen men criticise their daughters in law before, so I was taken aback when he started, “I tell my wife in our times our mothers used to control so many daughters in law and you can’t control one? …Our daughter in law can’t look after our grandson, so we keep him with us, our second grandson is with her …she wants the first one to stay with her as well, she says they have better schools there… We have good schools in our side also…” (And lots more)

It made no sense. I wasn’t sure this man cared about the child or the mother, he just wanted to keep the child. That ‘wanting’ was enough for him. Maybe keeping the child was the best way to control the daughter in law ? (That’s the word he used).

If he really thought she was a bad mother why did they ‘allow’ her to take care of the second grandson?

And what kind of  parents were these grandparents? They had taken unwritten custody of their child’s first born, against the mother’s wishes. They did not need to prove that they would raise him better, their word was enough.

Apart from the trauma to the mother, wasn’t this child going to wonder why he was brought up by his grandparents? Seeing the younger brother living with his parents might make him feel rejected by the parents.

The father had no opinion in all this, he should have spoken up for his wife.

The mother should have had the final word, but seemed to have no support from her parents, or her husband, so she was totally isolated. This is common.  Some family members have unlimited power over some other family members’ lives in our system.

I told him, even my grandmother, in her times, did not try to run her married children’s lives. I told him it was cases like this that gave all in-laws a bad name. I suggested they travel, play cards or listen to music, visit friends and let their children live their lives.

But I couldn’t tell him that I knew of their excellent track record in parenting, because I couldn’t look into future. His son was later thrown out of his job, he had a drinking problem. And his second son never settled in any career. Not surprising at all, seeing his attitude towards bringing up children. (Not that it matters. Even if they had brought up their sons brilliantly, they would still be wrong to interfere in their daughter in law’s life, and seriously wrong in taking a child away from a mother the way they did.)

Note: I have also blogged about a friend who was being coerced by her in-laws to give up her second daughter to her brother in law who had no kids.  She was unwilling and strong but made to feel ashamed of her ‘selfishness‘.

…for the welfare of women certain customs were formulated

Part I of a long comment I received, and some doubts I have.

“By the law of nature, the characteristics of male gender is different from female gender. Women give birth to children whereas men cannot. Hence, for the welfare of women certain customs were formulated. It is infact from the mother that any child inherits its good habits or bad manners. Even though Father influences, the mother is the first teacher and the mother’s milk is directly fed to the child. Also, these days so many diseases are considered to be genetic. Diabetes, eye problems, blood related problems, skin pigmentation. So, dont you think the great rishis in those days who formulated certain codes, were right in giving lot of importance to the way in which marriages should be performed or the way in which women should conduct themselves. It is a well known fact that, when one gets angry, there are several hormones are released in the body which are not good. Hence, women are generally advised to remain calm, because you can not just cultivate certain qualities when you need it, like during the time of pregnancy. If the children do not inherit good values, or good culture then they are of no use to the society.”

I have some queries.

1.  Should the children not inherit qualities of courage, confidence, intelligence and the capacity to think for themselves?

2. Are no harmful ‘hormones released’ when a woman is feeling helpless, frightened or resentful or frustrated or outraged at the ridiculous expectation from her in the name of tradtions etc?

Please note: Any anger or violence in a child’s environment is bad, even that which is directed at the mother.

3. What if such customs teach her to timidly adjust to injustice? Timidity is bad. How will she provide a hundred brave, bold and daring sons if she is  timid? (I hope we aren’t already facing the results of this lack of foresight …)

4. In case of the spouse’s death they are made to stop living a normal life- is that also for the welfare of the childen? Shouldn’t women be able to raise them on their own if required?

5. If a woman’s biggest job is to give birth and to raise good children sons, and if they are the teachers of their children,  should they not be empowered, educated, and have a say in how their children are raised?

6. Finally what if she is not able to have children?

I hope our ancestors did not advise us to abandon them, or to bring home another baby-making-machine?

And I hope it was kept in mind that it takes two to make a baby, and  these women (who you say were worshipped like goddesses) were in a position to point this out.