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:

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:

“Why I refused to take care of my grandkids.”

“Whom did we call when we had our sons? You were managing our business with young sons in your lap.” 

Sharing an email and a link by Aditi Madan. 

Why I refused to take care of my grandkids

…my sons needed our help while they took care of their young children and their jobs. But then my husband said the most important thing: “Whom did we call when we had our sons? You were managing our business with young sons in your lap. We did it. Our children will, too.”

When I told Sanket that we would not be coming, he was furious. He demanded to know why we could not help him after helping his brother. I explained gently that we would visit occasionally, but only for a few days. Staying at their homes, with nothing to do apart from taking care of the baby, came with its own problems: we did not have a car at our disposal, so we had to wait for our sons to come home and take us out. There was ample free time but nothing to do.

This decision is great. Do you think it would have been a different case though if the children were not sons but daughters? That help in babysitting might be assumed to be a help or favour for their daughter in law more than for their son (because it is the woman’s job isn’t it), may have made the decision more obvious and easy to make. If it was their daughter and son in law in place of son and daughter in law, things might have been different or at least making this very good decision might have been more difficult… more guilt to overcome. There’s a possibility that the father’s ‘discomfort’ about babysitting  duties that triggered the decision might not have even come up in the first place. Because while for parents of sons in India, after a certain age parents are not expected to look after son but the other way round but for parents of daughters… it’s a lifetime of looking after (and serving) not only daughter but her husband and inlaws as well.

IHM: It seems the grandparents here do view parenting as the mother’s job (i.e. the daughter in law’s job here), the grandfather is quoted to have said: “Whom did we call when we had our sons? You were managing our business with young sons in your lap.” 

Another thought – How would you view the same decision where the parents in law have pressurised the daughter in law ‘to have a baby because they want a grand kid’? Like in this case, An email: Is it selfish to not want to be parents yet? Or in this case, An email: “She is considering having an abortion without telling her husband about it.”

Related Posts:

‘How I am going to manage two toddlers, work, home, chores etc etc without any physical and moral support from my in laws?’

An update: “My friend is having the baby because her mother absolutely refused to support her decision to abort.”

Society benefits immensely from childbearing, childrearing, and caregiving work that currently goes unpaid.

Mere consent to conjugal rights does not mean consent to give birth to a child for her husband.

Why I wanted payment for labour and the associated work. – The Bride

How can the society ensure that marriage (and homemaking) does not result in women becoming financially dependent on their husbands?

An email: “I find it very hard to forgive my husband for all that happened at the time of my delivery.”

A married woman does not have the freedom to spend on her parents and will have to request and hope for her husband’s permission to do so.

“Why shouldn’t we be allowed to continue to love and take care of our parents after marriage?”

Legally, all Indian children – sons and daughters, are required to take care of their elderly parents.

This comment by Sara gives an idea of what actually happens in traditional patriarchal families.

Story of a daughter trying to take care of her parents.

No. Daughters VERY much WANT & LOVE to take care of their parents, since they are more emotionally attached to their parents than their brothers are. But  the husband & in-laws oppose this – they want all of their DIL’s resources (money, work) solely for themselves. A married woman does not have the freedom to spend on her parents & will have to request & hope for her husband’s permission to do so. Sad part is that parents themselves teach this to daughters saying “take care of your marriage – don’t ever cross your husband or inlaws, staying married is the most important” blah blah.

My mother is a widow & I am the only daughter. Inspite of this my mother tried to instill the above said “values” (yikes!!) into me. Somehow thank God my brain completely repelled it – she was such a loving, caring, sacrificing mom, and I simply couldn’t stand the thought of orphaning her because of some stupid “cultural” “values” or any other BS. When I finished my education & started working, she was even suggesting that she can join an old age home (it was under construction then) which was being built by a missionary after getting me married since it was “inappropriate” to “interfere” in a daughter’s husband’s wish (Daughter’s wish is to take care, but that doesn’t figure anywhere). It was APPALLING to say the very very least.

When proposals came, I was frank that I would like to keep my physically fragile (and very docile and soft) mom staying with me. But this sounded like asking for the moon for almost all the suitors. Only 2 families had agreed – I rejected the first one as they kept changing their talks suspiciously and also because I would have to resign my job & relocate. I got married to the second one who was in the same city. Later that turned to be a nightmarish marriage that lasted 5 months, during which he wanted my mom to turn over ALL her saving to him, and also wanted me to give him all my salary, since that is the “norm” and I’m even more obliged because he has “so very graciously consented to allow a wife’s mother to stay under his roof – something which, according to him, even the biggest fool on earth wouldn’t have allowed.”

To cut a long story short, after five months of violence (I mean hitting, punching, slapping & death threats, not just verbal/emotional violence), one sudden morning it took a radical turn, and I had to either slip out & run away from that house or get killed. During the few precious moments I got, I whispered to my mom that he is going to kill me & I’m running away & “stand in the hall near the exit door, and keep the door unlatched, run away if he tries to hurt you or if he is moving towards the door”, and ran for my life with my office badge & bag hoping he won’t kill my mom. By God’s grace a lot of friends helped me & God Himself helped my mom. We are alive now.

Now, that’s the story of a daughter trying to take care of her parents.

Another colleague is an only daughter. Her husband was acting ok for a few years – till she helped him pay off all his educational loans. After all his loans were done, he showed his real colors. Her husband’s words were not much different – he hit her & when her father questioned it, he said “I should have put you folks in your places right from the start. It is my biggest mistake letting you guys in my house. You don’t deserve to stay here.” (If this is how a wife’s father is treated, don’t even imagine how her mother would have been treated if he was not around.)

Not just that, as school kids, me & my friends would occasionally talk about this injustice – Why shouldn’t we be allowed to continue to love and take care of our parents after marriage? Of course, we were kids & we never got any solution for this. We just felt it as grievous injustice against women. (But even our moms shut us up if we asked them about this.. that left us confused & clueless).

Only one of my friends had her mom’s mom staying with them (and that too it was only after her mom’s dad passed away), and her dad used to taunt her mom & grandmom over it. Her mom was a lecturer & was earning more than her dad (who kept switching between jobs & miscellaneous businesses) – 20 years back!

It was a “good family” as per the standards then – which means parents never fight in front of kids (no matter what bruising/bleeding/war-of-words goes on behind the kids backs). Inspite of this, the taunts were noticeable by the child. Imagine what would have gone in between her mom & dad which she did not know then!

Of ALL the friends I ever made since the age of five till I completed schooling (not many close friends in college.. and not much time to chat about this stuff.. but I believe my college-mates would be the same too), only one girl had the view that girls are meant to completely detach from parents & bind with their marital families. ALL the rest were typical loving girls, lovingly bonded to their parents and wanted to take care of them post-marriage too. This includes only-daughter girls, girls who had only sisters, and girls who had brothers too (a few in this category didn’t feel so fiercely like the others.. that probably would have been because of “cultural value” drilling done by the parents.. but still, they sure wouldn’t turn their backs on their parents when they needed them..).

Note: Posting from my mobile. Will add Related Posts and links as soon as possible.

“So I had a fancy wedding and moved to a business family ready to stay with in laws.”

Sharing an email. 

In ‘Astitva’ (a Hindi movie) an Indian woman turned down her would have been father in law’s offer to find her some job in the same family business where the son also worked. What made it possible for her to turn down that offer?

My answer at the bottom of this post. 

Also, what can give any woman the confidence to turn down any such offer that she does not want to accept? What can make anybody trust their own judgement?  

How easy are these choices for most women seeing that getting married, making the marriage work, family and parenthood have traditionally been viewed as almost solely a woman’s concerns? 

What do you think could the email writer have done? What would you recommend now?


I came across this blog a couple of days back. It is funny how I arrived on this page searching for “woes of an Indian daughter in law” on a search engine. Funny because I never really thought I would have to look for a solution to such grievance ever in my life. I grew up in a family where we were continuously taught to focus on how to get a good career which shall lead to an independent(financially and otherwise) life. Never really bothered much about learning to cook or do household chores. My mother was an academician and evidently those values were instilled in me and my sister since a very young age. Both us eventually got through good colleges, completed MBA from Tier 1 school and landed up with good jobs.

My sister went for an arranged marriage settled in a different city with completely non interfering in laws. All these years, I had been dating this guy (who did his courses from the same B School) until last year when I decided to get married to him. By then, I had switched 2 fancy corporate jobs, lived independently, managed my own investments and was fairly satisfied with my life.

My husband decided to join his father’s business in our hometown despite having the opportunity to crack MNCs in campus. It was his decision (not sure if influenced by his parents) and I respected it.

When the time came to discuss our marriage, it was understood that one of us had to quit and move. His being a very established business, I was given an option to join family business (after all they were not asking me to be a housewife). Discussions went on for months and finally I gave in. He has been the best thing to happen to me, I could have made that SACRIFICE and I did for the sake of our marriage.

So I had a fancy wedding and moved to a business family ready to stay with in laws. There were so many who warned me against it but I thought nothing could really impact me as long as I’m working and I have my husband by my side.

Days passed, I joined work but realised slowly how my work is not acknowledged or appreciated as much as I expected it to be. My mother in law is a very quiet lady, does not socialize much and is totally obsessed with her children. She sits at home entire day, constantly seeking attention from every family member and reacts vehemently when others do not reciprocate. I tried to manage her mood swings for months giving her company during the evenings, managing her fights with the domestic help. I was uncomfortable but I thought she does no harm to me, so I should be more considerate.

My father in law is a complete extrovert to the extent of being an absolute braggart, sometimes even lying or creating false stories of his fake glory. It was always hard to digest because I grew up in a completely different environment.

Now months have passed and things have not changed, only gotten worse. They have relatives coming in from the village who would stay for months and comment on the way I dress (Oh, the bahu in jeans or a suit minus the dupatta?), would want to evaluate my culinary skills and also question me on the knowledge of customs/rituals. My in laws are extremely traditional, they never really forced me to follow anything but the expectations are very clear. Both of them are in the habit of chewing tobacco, which I absolutely detest. There are many other things that makes my day to day life unbearable but I have no other option.

Although my husband is extremely supportive, I hate to share these problems everyday with him. He is torn between me and his parents. Another house is out of question as long as we stay in the same city (log kya kahenge?) and moving to another city is very difficult for him since he has been managing the business for 4 years now. Corporate options are limited in this city and even if I move to a company here, it leaves me with the same house and same set of people. My husband and I dreamt of a very different life and I truly feel am transported several decades back in time, away for the progressive world.


Related Posts:

1. A detailed check list of conditions from modern young women of marriageable age.

2. 18 questions for young women (and men) of ‘marriageable age’.

3. What would you not change for love?

4. “I will never live in a joint family, it has its roots in patriarchy and benefits only men.”

5. An email from a Happily Married Indian Daughter in law…

6. Please watch Queen.

7. “Someone ate without showering, someone didn’t bring mithai! These are trivialities, not social problems.”

8. “Although my in laws maintain a facade of being content with what they have and never asking the girl’s side for anything…”

9. An email. Aren’t the sons supposed to have their own family lives?

10. “I had written an email about being a DIL in the joint family, I am happy to share my current state …”

And the answer to the question I asked above: Only one thing – she valued her happiness and freedom more than she wanted to get married.

“I’m baffled that Indians (not just men) truly think that virtue stems from being sexually chaste.”

Sharing an email from Anonymous. 

Subject: Link regarding a wife’s sexual past

Hello IHM,

I am a reader of your website.

I had run across a link that I thought you and your readers would find interesting (maybe). It details a man dealing (badly) with the strong possibility that his wife has some kind of sexual history.

The comments in the article are interesting from both sides of the debate.

I also wanted to include a link to a similar discussion, from a Western point of view. It’s a link to an American sex / relationship advice columnist. I don’t always agree with the advice he gives, and there are problems I have with his point of view, but I do find it interesting that his advice is quite similar to the advice given in the original article.

Incidentally, Dan Savage, the American, has occupied an interesting niche in US popular culture. The US actually has a fairly conservative view of sex; however, Dan has set himself up as a no-boundaries type of columnist. You can ask him literally anything. This has led to some really interesting questions being asked of him over the years. In that time, the questions have evolved beyond technical questions regarding sex, and more about ethics in relationships.


Why in the world am I going on and on about this? Because, even as an Indian female who was raised in an Indian culture, in the Middle East, I never understood the hangups Indians have about sex.

Even so, I tried to be a good girl and never dated, never dressed provocatively, never drank, never smoked or did drugs, and hadn’t even kissed a boy when I got married (I had moved to North America at college age). I got out of my marriage with my virginity intact (sorry for the graphic detail), because my body rejected my husband – I simply wasn’t attracted to him. So much for the rewards for being a good girl.

After my divorce, I thought ‘to hell with this, I’m going to live!’ and I dated and did everything that went with it.

I’ve now decided to put myself on the meat, er, marriage market again, and again, I find I’ll pretty much have to go into that shell: to get married, I have to project myself as a robot, who functions to keep house, make money, and timidly accept whatever her husband deigns to give her, with no reciprocation (because after all, where did I learn *that* from? Answer: the internet, dummy).

I’m baffled that Indians (not just men) truly think that virtue stems from being sexually chaste.


Anyway, the links are below:

(the letter I was referring to is the first one)

Happy Reading!

Related Posts:

“let me ask – how many girls in city remain pure till marriage ?”

Girls morally bound not to have sex before marriage, says fast track court judge

“There is so little conversation about a woman’s desire for sex that a lot of people simply assume it doesn’t exist.”

A tag: But when a woman sees a hot man, nothing happens in her brain?

‘I’m now thoroughly convinced that the entire concept of virginity is used to control female sexuality.

An email: Also this is a genuine question and not a pornographic mail.

“…if this thing comes out my husband will think my wife is after all not that ‘pure’ or is not that ‘untouched flower’”

‘I’m now thoroughly convinced that the entire concept of virginity is used to control female sexuality.

Making Marital Rape a legal offence is the fastest way to make it clear that Rape means forced sex, not lost Virginity or Honor.

Here’s why I think the society should not obsess over a woman’s virginity.

The video is speaking against the acceptance of rape, acid attacks, honor killings, forced marriages etc that are viewed as normal ‘Consequences’ for women.

Madam so many rapes don’t happen in Germany coz girls don’t refuse to have sex.’

Question about Sexuality in Indian Arranged Marriages

‘Rape is theft of the victim’s potential to fulfil her destiny from birth, the pivot of her existence, her marriage.’

If pre-marital sex if here to stay, then so are HPVs and other STDs.

“I am terrified of confiding in my husband, though I really really want to just cry on his shoulder.”

“Girls need to be little bit aware of the consequences. Men – will enjoy …”

“See – UNICEF has figured it out. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out.”

“I have met a lot of Indian guys who say their parents have done a lot for them so they can’t leave them now…”

” …So what about the girls? Haven’t their parents done a lot for them?”


Sharing an email from ‘A born feminist’. 

Dear IHM,

I hope you will post my letter. I would love to read all the responses that I get from the readers and I think it will help me a lot in making my decisions.

I think I am a born feminist. From the time I was a child I was highly ambitious and demanded equality. I somehow had a natural knack of
observing and analysing inequality between men and women in my  surroundings. To my great amazement and frustration this was treated
as something ” normal” by everyone.

I remember seeing when I was 7 or 8, I used to visit my Bua’s (dad’s older sister) place and saw that my bhabhi (cousin’s wife) would finish her job, come home, take a quick shower and help my bua in the kitchen. She then sat down with her kid to help with the homework and stuff like that. I remember her being busy from morning till night. On the other hand, my cousin who had his own business and worked from home most of the time didn’t have to do anything once he was done with his job. He came home and ordered for tea while watching TV. This was considered to be completely normal by everyone.

I think here I got the first taste of my growing feminism when I asked my mother why didn’t my cousin help his wife in the kitchen? Why didn’t she get to rest and watch her favourite shows? What made him special? I was amazed that no one questioned it. I was a little disappointed in my parents for not questioning the inequality. However, I was young and soon forgot all
about it.

As I grew older, I noticed a lot of things around me which just didn’t feel right to me. My mum comes from a small town and I remember spending the best times there with my cousins during my summer holidays. I also noticed all my female cousins helping their mums with housework while my male cousins worked in their shops and hung out with their friends. But atleast my male cousins had weekends off. The town was apparently not safe for young women after 8 pm when all the young boys would go out in their bikes in a big group and create a ruckus all over town. This made me mad because I was not allowed to go out because parents did not have control over their 20 something years old boys.

When I was 14 my mum suddenly decided that it was time for me to learn
how to cook and let me tell you it didn’t go down well with me. There were more tears and clanging of pots and pans in the kitchen than actual cooking. If only my mother had said that cooking was a skill that every individual should have rather than something that a girl needs to start learning when she hits puberty in order to prepare her for marriage. I have no regrets not learning and learnt all on my own when I realised I needed to cook for my own survival as a freshman in a new country.

When I was 25 and decided that I was now ready to settle down with a “Nice, Indian boy” one of my criteria was that I didn’t want to live with In-laws.

I am now 28 and let me tell you, all of the men that I have met over these three years have been utterly shocked by me not willing to live with in-laws. I think they consider me self centered and selfish. Here are the reasons why I am justified in not wanting to live with in-laws.

1) I am expected to not live with my parents so how do the boy’s
parents become more special?
2) I have no intentions of living with my parents either after marriage
3) I am ready to give my 100% to my parents and in-laws when they need
me (emotional support, during illness or disability) and I will be more than happy for them to live with us.
4) I want my freedom with my husband.  I have no issues with them visiting us whenever they like.
5) I have no expectations from my parents or my in-laws to help me out
in any way.
6) I want to create a lifestyle with my husband where we create the
way we want to eat, sleep, travel, decorate our house, watch TV, raise
our kids, use our money
7) I don’t expect my husband to be better in any way. I want us to work
together, save together, make plans together, cook and clean together.
I am ready to work hard with him. [link]

So how do the above seven points make me selfish in any way? I have met a lot of Indian guys who say their parents have done a lot for them so they can’t leave them now. So what about the girls? Haven’t their parents done a lot for them? Doesn’t it then, make the girl selfish to leave her parents who have done so much for her and live with a new family she
hardly knows just for her own happiness?

I clearly don’t understand the Indian marriage system and the rules of
patriarchy. I find them very archaic and suffocating. Even if my in
laws are uber modern and supercool why should I have to live with
them? Why cant my ubercool in laws just visit my new family with my
husband over the weekend? I wouldn’t want to live with my MIL even if
she was Sonia Gandhi or Hema Malini. Does it make me selfish?

Related Posts:

A detailed check list of conditions from modern young women of marriageable age.

Is your relationship healthy?

“I am trying to make a list of soooooooo many advantages a girl can have if she is born in a Western family as compared to being born in india.”

“…it’s better if he is NOT a family guy. Extra points to the one who hates kids.”

“I will never live in a joint family, it has its roots in patriarchy and benefits only men.”

“I thought it would indeed be wonderful to live with my in-laws.”

An email: Salary of the prospective groom must be 3-6 times more than the salary of the prospective bride.

An email: “My in laws want me to stay here with them while my husband works in another city.”

An email: I am 18 year old male from a traditional (read:backward) Indian family.

An email: What worries me is, will we be able to find guys who have a similar thinking process?

“I have no other option than to move in with my very orthodox in laws. I need tips to not get hurt.”

“Practically, what can an introvert DIL do to communicate that she means no disrespect by wanting her own time?”

Patriarchy can’t survive without hierarchy and rigid but complex rules that ensure everybody knows their place. So Indian daughters in law in traditional and patriarchal families may not give their opinion but they are expected to be gregarious extroverts in some situations. 

Reading or quietly listening to music, spending time with their own social circle or not wishing to interact with (and seek approval of) the social circle of those who are higher in the family hierarchy is considered disrespectful and non-sanskaari. 

They are expected to be Sanskaari Extroverts who know how to win the approval of the third cousins, friends and acquaintances of those who are higher in the family hierarchy. 

‘Letter from another Indian woman’ asks  how to deal with this and more. 

Dear IHM,

I have been following some of your recent guest posts about dealing with abuse[link] and manipulation [link], as well as the letters that are often published in your blog. I am 28 years old, and I have been married for about 6 months now. From what I have observed around me, and in my relations with my husband’s family, I have a few questions that I would like to use as topics of discussion.

As background, I married my long-term boyfriend, whom I have known for some years. We met while we were at grad school . I have met and interacted with his parents several times before we got married, and during that period, they seemed fairly normal. My mother-in-law has an advanced degree and was a working professional all her life. His parents often lived in different cities, owing to transfers. My husband was primarily raised by his grandmother, and when he was older, was put in a residential school. Whenever I have spoken to my in-laws, they seemed proud and supportive of my education and career. I found these welcome; I was very clear that I wanted to marry someone whose parents I could get along with, and who would not be unreasonable when it came to my personal choices.

We went back abroad after the wedding. I came to India (without my husband) for a vacation this month, and went to spend some time at my in laws’ place. My husband told me to visit them only if I felt like it – I went because I thought I could get to know them better. I stayed for 10 days. However, I realized to my shock that there were sides of my in-laws that I had never anticipated.

Every day, she had at least ten different friends and relatives over, to ‘introduce’ me to them. She made coffee and snacks (I helped as much as I could in a foreign home), and I was expected to serve it to them and receive praise for being such a ‘good daughter-in-law’ (no, I was just being a decent host-helper). My achievements (education-wise and career-wise) were emphatically repeated to every group. The audience oohed and aahed and congratulated my MIL for getting ‘such an accomplished bahu’, while I cringed with embarrassment, yet smiled politely. It felt really uncomfortable to be made into some sort of a trophy. Their conversations were not something I could participate in: they gossiped about their other friends, their sons and DILs that I was sure the minute they left he house, they would gossip about me as well. And then my mother-in-law bade me to touch the feet of all the women who had come home to ‘bless’ me. Some of us don’t believe in falling at people’s feet. When I expressed my inhibitions to my mother-in-law, she said that this was de rigueur in her circles, and besides, it was ‘good manners’ and ‘polite’ to seek people’s blessings. Some of these people were her bosses at work, so I was supposed to ‘make a good impression’.  Her tone made it sound like she thought I was ill-bred.

Secondly, I realized that she has a temper issue. Whenever she is stressed, she shouts at whomever happens to be nearest to her that she considers her inferior. This includes her household help, people who live in her building and her siblings. I noticed that while they say nothing to her face (they mostly grin and shift their weight), they say nasty things about her behind her back.

I was with them for just 10 days, but I had her shout at me for no fault of mine three or four times. The last time, I lost my temper too and said I had done nothing wrong, why was I being shouted at. She replied saying I was ‘disobedient, talking back to her, had no respect for elders, acting like I was smarter than her, trying to one-up her to gain her son’s affections (!)’ accusations that I now know don’t apply to me at all. However, I was very hurt at that time. I have not been able to talk to her normally ever since.

My FIL took me aside and said that this was normal with her, and ‘if I ignore the temper and harsh words, she is a wonderful person’. He also said that she regrets not having spent time with her son when he was little, and now feels bad that he was not able to get leave and come down to be with her.

When I discussed this with my husband, he said he would speak to his mother when she was in a better mood, and that I did not have to be there any more and go back to my parents’ place. He also said that my MIL had been abused verbally and physically by her father when she was young (they could not answer back when shouted at, or they would be beaten). While I feel sorry for her, and understand where the cycle of abuse began, I don’t think it excuses her behavior.

So here are my comments/questions:

1. I am quite introverted by nature, and meeting lots of people for an extended period of time, gossip and small talk tires me out. However, in Indian families, the DIL is supposed to be gregarious, extroverted and quite the life of the party.While I found it difficult to play this role for 10 days, I shuddered to think of DILs who live with their in-laws and have to face an onslaught of people on a daily basis. In fact, I have heard it said in some homes: “your daughter is not outgoing enough, how is she going to adjust with all the people at her in-laws’?” Why this expectation? Further more, signalling that one is introverted and reserved gets her branded as ‘impolite’, ‘haughty’, ‘thinks too much of herself’ etc. Practically, what can an introvert do to communicate that such expectations are too much for her, and that she means no disrespect by wanting her own time?

2. It appears like most families want a woman who can answer questions in a checklist, fit into a mould that they have crafted of an ‘ideal DIL’, not a real woman. I don’t think any real woman can be all that! And I think this expectation is fairly universal – it is the rare parent who is actually open to getting to know a person, as opposed to a checklist. Practically, what can a woman like me do to convince my in-laws to get to know the real me? Is that likely? Is that even a good idea?

3. When I told my close friend about these incidents, and asked for advice to deal with it, I was told that ‘I should have inquired more’ and absolutely verified they were good people before marrying my husband. ‘Now it is too late, why complain now? Just adjust.’ was the refrain. I found it astonishing, but realized it is fairly common. The narrative that if you have a bad husband, or bad in-laws, then it is your fault is too prevalent today.But that’s not really true! Can one ever know a family so intimately without practically living with them for a month?

4. My in-laws are in their 60s, and getting older. While I don’t foresee living with them since we live abroad, if they are sick and ailing, I would want to take care of them. I want to have cordial relations with them if I can. But I am also sure I don’t want to be shouted at repeatedly for no fault of mine. Practically, what can I do to inform them that while I would like to be cordial, I don’t welcome intrusions and certainly not temper tantrums?

5. The very idea of a DIL (or even the son) negotiating boundaries with in-laws is considered rude, impolite and disrespectful. But I don’t think the MIL-DIL relationship is hierarchical. I am just a woman who happened to marry her son. How do we negotiate boundaries without it coming across as disrespectful? What is the best answer when one is accused of disrespect, when all one is doing is negotiating boundaries?

6. I have observed that my MIL inhabits a very hierarchical society. She fawns over her bosses (she practically sat on the floor at her boss-lady’s feet while she had coffee), and expects anyone younger than her to fawn over her. She takes it lying down when her bosses shout at her, apparently, and expects her ‘inferiors’ to not retaliate when she shouts at them. This is symptomatic of a larger social problem.

I don’t consider myself having significant problems. My husband is very fair and understanding, and we get along well. He protects me from having to face intrusive questions (about kids, etc.) from his extended family. I don’t have to live with my in-laws. However, just going by my experiences, I feel like I have experienced a taste of what so many many women in our country go through every day, and how that wears down their confidence and erodes their sense of self. This is practically human rights violation, it shouldn’t have to happen to anybody.

I request you to publish this letter, so that I can hear from your readers.

Thank you!

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“I thought it would indeed be wonderful to live with my in-laws.”

‘And if you are unlucky, you will get an American daughter-in-law.’

“I thought it would indeed be wonderful to live with my in-laws.”

Sharing an email.


I really wanted to bring up an issue I have been facing since a few months as a topic/post on your so that I get some tips/perspectives on how to handle this messed up situation.

I had an intercaste love mariage 5 years ago and at that time agreed to stay with my in laws. It seemed like an ok thing to do as I had little interest in domestic chores and my FIL had just recovered from cancer. Me & my hubby are only children and hence both sets of parents depend on us for thier emotional fulfillment. My MIL is an educated woman who has been a science teacher all her life. She loves to wear western clothes and even enjoys an occassional glass of wine and beer. I thought that it will be a modern, liberal family. My husband too openly communicates with them. I thought it would indeed be wonderful to live with them. My parents stay in the same city and I see them every fortnight. We had proposed for them to move close to our place, but they have a good social circle where they live and may move closeby only when the need arises. Life seemed pretty sorted.

Then the reality struck. And hard.

My MIL began telling me how bad my dressing sense is and that I should wear brighter colours like her, doll up with jewellery like her and ensure I am the best dressed at every family get together. I laughed it off for a couple of years, sometimes playing along. Then it was about the cooking. ‘This is how it is done’. Then housekeeping ‘Not a speck of dust, not even a handkershcief out of place’. Then the way I interact with people ‘Touch feet, say namaste.’  It was still ok. I did most of it on most days, although it didnt come naturally to me. Then the issues got deeper and the complaints serious. Right from lifestyle choices, to me meeting my parents, to do keeping the house well, to not cooking reguarly,to not respecting them enough (displays of respect) to not spending time with them. If I tried to tell her that I have different views or that maybe her percpetion is misplaces, I was accused of being bad at taking feedback and being too stubborn. Everything we, especially I did was wrong, bad, immature and not perfect. I wish I could get into details and give situations but honestly it is exhausting to even think about it. Lets just say most of the MIL-DIL typical  issues discussed on this blog.And like most modern day DILs, I felt like a badly behaving unwanted guest,who was suffocating every single day.

But that is not the issue I wanted to discuss.

Around 4 months back, my husband and I took the decision to move out of thier house and live close by (precisely 3.5 kms away). This would give us our independence and space as also be close enough to meet them every week and take care of them. I had first discussed this with my husband around 2-3 years back but he wasnt ready emotionally then and we thought things will improve if we just let them be. But the point is, they werent letting us “be”. Moreso me. Because I was the bahu they wanted respect and seva from me, something which didnt appeal to my sensibilities and not sustainable for the long term. My husband and I thought the move will make my relationship with them better as the everyday nitty grittys go out of the way and we can actually spend quality time with them when we do, without a list of complaints. When we first discussed it, they let thier dejection be known, but also said that since you are turning dependent on us, so you should experience living alone.Exact words were’ Wait till you live alone with each other, you will know each other’s bad side. Because of us being around, there was a check.’

But the absolute very next day, the silent treatment began. No eye contact, no words being spoke by my MIL. A frown on face for days. She even gave up eating for a couple of days. FIL stayed glued to TV but at least spoke when spoken ti. This went on for a month. My hubby and I didnt budge and engaged them in conversations to open them up. There were accusations of how insensitively we are abandoning them at oldage (they are 62, active and healthy),how ungrateful we are, ‘humse parvarish mein kya galti ho gayi’ ‘ to all sorts of statements one often hears in TV serials. The most oft repeated one was ‘Log kya kahenge”soceity mein log kya sochenge’ ‘ I dont want to be seen as  a bad MIL’. There were times when we felt incredibly guilty, but then realised that it is only emotional blackmail as when we felt bad and remorseful, they felt better and came back to normalcy immediately. Anything that made us happy,brought back the behaviour. Anyhow, a couple of weekend vacations and many dinners and movies with them later, they seemed to be coming to terms with it. But none of the relatives knew yet that we had moved. My in laws were against telling anyone in the extended family as joint families are the norm in the community, and their izzat would be at risk.

Recently my husband grew tired of leading this dual life and told his parents to tell the relatives about the ground situation so that we dont have to pretend to be living in thier house anymore. We didnt expect support from the relatives, but the least they could do is make my in laws feel better. But my MILs own sister has actually ignited her further and aggravated the situation further. She spoke to us about how bad this decision is. She rubs it in with my MIL every second day as to how her son would never do something like this. How her DIL will never move away (in a seperate one to one discussion her DIL told me that if they had financial independence, they would have probably done it too!Of course this was told to me in confidence so cant disclose it during the family discussions). This has made my in laws feel like they have lost a battle, and moreso my MIL feels she has totally lost her son to me and has turned against us fully. Now every meeting is an emotional episode and a taunt and guilt spree. My MIL even spoke to my Mom and accused her of hatching the whole idea. She was upset with my parents for not ‘stopping us’. I dont know what to talk to them independently anymore and dont feel like it either. But I realise that will end the relationship, so i make some small talks. They only drive guilt in my hubby about being the disappointing son, whereas he is a very loving and kind person.Just that he also loves his wife and ‘gets’ the MIL-DIL conflicts and their implications. He is very supportive towards me and is patient in dealing with his parents, but I know it is hurting and stressing him to hear extremely hurtful and manipulative comments from his own parents everytime they speak. He wants us to make extra efforts to make them feel better about it but it only backfires.

Its gotten extremely messy with relatives calling us and doing the same in the name of love and concern. What could have been simple has gotten very complicated and messy.

So some questions/perspectives i need at this point to tide over this  are:
— Is there anything different my hubby and I need to do to assuage the situation?At the very core of it, is it even required?

— Has someone lived or know someone having in laws in the same city but living in different houses? How has the experience been? Did the relations improve?

— What does a son do when the parents are, to put it crudely, mean to him and use guilt as a weapon? Any tips on how to deal with it?

— Does the cycle of in laws appeasement for a DIL ever end? Can she ever make choices which are truly independent without the burden of guilt or the disapproval of people around her…

– AP

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It is easy to walk out and wish for a nucleated system, for petty squabbles like this.

An email. Aren’t the sons supposed to have their own family lives?

“What is it in a ceremony of a few hours, that makes women fight tooth and nail to preserve the marriage, however unhappy they may be…?”

“…but before marriage it takes lot less for them to walk out of a relationship?”

Sharing an email.

Dear IHM,

I have a question here.

Reading through posts after posts, I see women fighting it out in bad marriages. Quitting doesn’t seem to be an option, at least not an immediate one. And every post from such a troubled woman invariably has an attempt to bring out the positives too – “….but my husband is otherwise very caring and loving” or “….there is no other problem but the in-laws” etc etc. Essentially, these women are consoling themselves and justifying to themselves why they shouldn’t leave such marriages. The attitude seems to be: “Marriages are sacrosanct. You can’t break them.”  Then why is it that pre-marriage relationships are not as sacrosanct?

Let me give some examples before I ask the question that has been bothering me.

Case 1:

7 years old relationship. It was well understood and discussed that the two will marry. Families were aware and were supportive. The guy was 3 years older to the girl and so he was settled in his career while the girl was still studying. It was agreed that they would wait till the girl’s education was over and would marry thereafter. 6 months before the education was over, her mind changed and she dumped him. Her reason – “She wasn’t happy with him”. She could never point a finger at what exactly was making her unhappy. She wasn’t willing to meet and talk and sort out the mess. She just wanted an out. She knew very well how much planning of a joint life had been done. She knew all the marriage proposals that would come to the guy’s parents who would politely turn them down saying our son had decided whom he wanted to marry. The guy had even bought a flat keeping her wishes in mind. She had suggested what kind of a house she would like to live in and the guy bought that, even though financially it was a stretch for him. Now of course, none of this should create an obligation for anyone to stay in the relationship but it only showed how deeply intertwined the two lives were for a long period of time. That there was total faith and trust and a patient waiting for commencement of a new joint life. But within a span of a month the trust of 7 years was shattered to pieces, she dumped him and got married to someone else within next 9 months. The guy is still unmarried today, grappling with the hurt and the inability to trust anyone. A 7 years old relationship destroyed by her based on reasons which even she couldn’t articulate. Not a thought spared on what a mess was being created of the guy’s life.

Case 2:

Girl and guy keen. Girl’s father not so keen. Caste, culture, financial background – everything similar. On paper, there couldn’t have been a better match. And in reality, the couple was as compatible as one could get. Every single person – the girl’s siblings, friends, extended family – all extremely supportive of the relationship. But the girl’s father had a problem with the predictions made by his astrologer. And so he kept on resisting the relationship for a year and made it a huge ego battle, during which several times the girl gave up and dumped the guy saying “I can’t hurt my parents”. The guy stayed patient every single time and supported the girl in her battles at home. After a break-up that lasted 3 months, she wanted one more chance, to which the guy agreed because he did love her and felt the relationship was beautiful enough to be fought one more time for. This time it worked. Engagement date was agreed. A month before the due date, the father threw a tantrum again and she withdrew saying “I can’t do this to my parents. I would rather suffer myself than make them suffer”. So, here was an adult needing daddy’s permission to fall in love and when that permission was denied, she dumped the guy unceremoniously even after the engagement was fixed. Is it that simple to walk in and walk out of a relationship as if it was a revolving door? Is your word / commitment of no value? The girl above, if she now gets as husband a “mama’s boy” who puts his mother before his wife, should she ever complain? After all, she did become a “daddy’s girl” and broke a relationship without sparing a thought on how it would shatter her partner.

I know a few more such instances. Someone wanted to walk out a month before the wedding date (6 years old beautiful committed relationship which involved a very rich guy and a middle class girl) saying “The guy’s family is too rich. I think I want a middle class life” (good sense prevailed and she came back in time. Happily married now, comfortably leading a lavish life, and does admit “what was I thinking then”). Someone else walked out of a 4 years old relationship (great relationship, guy deeply in love with the girl, was a constant pillar of strength and support when the girl’s father passed away abruptly) realizing suddenly that she wanted to be with a more dominating guy (more manly?) and is now in a marriage where she is completely dominated by the husband.

Therefore, IHM, my question is: What is it in a ceremony of a few hours, few perambulations round a fire, a legal certificate, that makes women fight tooth and nail to preserve the “marriage”, however bad it may be, but before marriage it takes lot less for them to walk out of a relationship? After all, no one is perfect and once you spend years with a person, and a rocky patch comes in a relationship (it invariably does), one must at least make sincere attempts to make things work again rather than running out of the door at the first hint of trouble. Shouldn’t commitment be a virtue even in relationships?

Now, of course, both men and women walk out of relationships. At times unfairly. But I am surrounded by so many instances where the woman dumped the guy and I do know both sides of the stories to be able to feel it wasn’t right on part of the woman to not give the relationship a chance.

To be completely fair, I do know of strongly committed women too – the ones who fought their families for years but never gave up the side of the guy. I am attending one such wedding next week – girl’s father resisted for 5 years just because the guy is a Christian and the girl a Hindu. The girl didn’t budge and eventually they are getting married. But so many broken relationships around me have the woman packing her bags and leaving. And I wonder, women are capable of caring only for what they want in their relationships, are capable of walking out unilaterally from a very long term relationship when something is not to their liking without acknowledging the good parts which made them be in the relationship for so long in the first place, then post marriage why do women try so hard to “see the positives as well”, why do they try so hard to “make it work”? What’s in a marriage ceremony that instills so much of commitment in these women? Is it all the fear of society that makes women so sticky in marriages? Of course, I understand those women who do it for the sake of kids or who do it because they are not financially independent. But others, I fail to understand. My own exes, sisters, cousins, friends have walked out of long term relationships for a fraction of what they are now tolerating in their marriages.

Yes this is a feminist blog and so I will perhaps be roasted here for this post of mine. But I really admire the maturity and intelligence of commentators here and so I guess even though I will face brickbats, there will be a decent debate on this matter. For I really need to understand – what is it with women and marriages? Won’t give up easily on marriages but will give up on relationships easily without giving a thought on the impact it would have on their partner?

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“I thought the situation will improve but now my husband started behaving like a remote-controlled device of his mother.”

Hello IHM,

I’d like to thank you immensely for your blog which has truly been the guiding force for the women oppressed by the Indian Patriarchy. I read it daily and I believe you and the contributors can help me with issues pertaining to my married life.

I have been married since last 2 years. It was an arranged marriage and we had met through an internet matrimonial website. The engagement period was 8 months long. Things were really good initially. He was loving, caring and kind. He had mentioned that his family was “traditional”. After two years, I now understand what Traditional means i.e. backward and oppressive. But at that time, I was naïve and had these expectations of happy married life.

My in-laws consist of his parents and a (elder) sister-in-law who is married with two kids. After our marriage ceremony and honeymoon got over, his parents started living with us and the worst nightmare of my life started.

They are really backward with religious superstitions about menstruation, bathing etc. I was forced to take early morning baths and then only to enter kitchen, of course, to cook for all of them. I’m an IT professional and I’m working, so my workload increased drastically. I had to cook twice, daily. His mother is extremely rigid and dumb and it’s impossible to have any rational conversation with her. She is so fixated in her beliefs and rituals that she doesn’t even seem like human, she is rather a patriarchal animal. I was isolated during my menstruation and I found it very humiliating. But for my husband, it was all “normal”. Letting “everyone” know about what is occurring in your privates for few days is apparently “normal” for them! I come from a liberated, well-educated family, so all this non-sense was extremely hard to cope with. I tried to adjust for few months but later, my parents had to intervene. My parents spoke to my in-laws and they finally left to live at their house, which is in another town.

I thought the situation will improve but now my husband started behaving like a remote-controlled device of his mother. He forced me to adhere to the rituals which his mother had designed for our house. I cooked daily, kept the house and I’m working as well but if he got annoyed because of arguments, my failing to call his mother/sister, he started giving silent treatment to me. Sometimes, this silent-treatment used to last for 10-20 days. During this period, he’d cut-off all the contact with me, despite living in the same house. He even refuses to eat meals prepared by me and behaves like a stranger.

The sister in law stays in another town but when she comes to stay at my place or when we need to visit their place, things get really nasty. My husband is very “attached” with his sister, so she brainwashes him over petty matters which result in fights between the two of us and again, the silent treatment starts. After each stay with his mother/sister, I have to tolerate this mental torture for months. Once, their effects fade, he is really nice and caring person but I never know, when his mood might change because of a petty matter.

It’s been 2 years since I have been dealing with this emotional abuse/silent treatment. I’m fed up and I now know that chances of him or his family changing are nil. I’m 33 years old and I have a desire to start my family in future. But considering the sorry state of situation, it seems like a distant dream. Is there anyone out there who is subjected to this sort of emotional abuse? Can anyone guide me? What should I do?

An emotionally abused wife

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