The other day I met a group of ladies in an informal setting and somehow the conversation steered towards mothers-in-law. I was surprised to see the energy this topic had generated. Within minutes the atmosphere was electrifying. The ladies who were mostly reticent suddenly became verbose, their sparkling eyes turned teary, facial expressions mutated mostly to disgust and anguish. It was as if someone had just stirred up a hornet’s nest. Each one started jostling to tell the group how she was overtly or subtly tortured by her mother-in-law as a new bride and henceforth. They were vying to prove how their story was more devious than the other lady’s story. There was no stopping or breaking – Pandora’s box was open!! Interestingly, there were just a handful of us who did not have much to contribute to this topic.

This kind of toxic reaction for “mothers-in-law” and “daughters-in-law” is a very common phenomenon the world over, irrespective of nationality and social status. There are many well-known families across the world where the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law discord has become the subject of public gossip and scrutiny. The friction between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship has also been the essence of countless jokes, stories, movies, and TV soap operas and is depicted as a tumultuous one filled with conflict. The ubiquitous Indian saas-bahu serials hold the highest TRP ratings and are always telecasted at the prime time on television. These serials are characterized by heavily decked-up ladies, with vermilion smeared on their foreheads, glaring at each other malevolently for a full 10 minutes with villainous music playing in the background.  Whatever may be the storyline, the common theme in such serials is a wicked-looking mother-in-law playing games against her docile daughter-in-law.  Mothers-in-law have been portrayed in poor light in Bollywood movies too, with actresses like Lalita Pawar perfectly playing the stereotypical wicked mother-in-law while Hollywood has touched this topic through romantic comedy movies like “Monster-in-law” and “Dear Mother”.

Illustration by Somya Mathur

Funnily, a plant is also named after a characteristic of mothers-in-law. Did you know that the common Snake Plant or Sansevieria Trifasciata (the botanical name) is also called as Mother-in-law’s Tongue? It has got its notorious name because its sharp and pointed leaves are compared to the acerbic tone of mothers-in-law!! The other characteristic of this plant is that it purifies the air inside our homes as it absorbs all the toxins. Can the same analogy of mother-in-law be applied here too?

Illustration by Somya Mathur

All this sounds like the whole world is conspiring against the mothers-in-law of the world. But have you realized that it is not easy being a mother-in-law and the role is full of challenges? One of the biggest challenges for the new mother-in-law is accepting the fact that the new daughter-in-law will henceforth be the most important person in her son’s life. Also, it is not easy for the mother-in-law to give the reins of the household to a new inexperienced person. There is only a thin line between being a good mother-in-law or a bad mother-in-law.

Not all mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships are fraught with tension and challenges. Women who are able to realize the delicate, dynamic, and complex nature of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships and make efforts to nurture them with care and little diplomacy are successful in creating healthy family dynamics. It is smooth sailing for mothers-in-law who embrace their new role positively and are supportive and empathetic towards the new member of the family. Instead of feeling jealous and intimidated, a good mother-in-law makes an effort to form a strong and close bond with her daughter-in-law, independent of her son. The bond, of course, is not formed overnight but deepens with time and opportunities. A supportive mother-in-law plays a pivotal role in building stronger and happier families. Marriage brings in myriad challenges and adjustments and when the daughter-in-law feels that there is a motherly figure to turn to for advice and comfort, it helps her to navigate through the ups and downs of married life.

I have seen my mother-in-law take up her new role very graciously. She welcomed me into the family with love and warmth and ensured that I was physically and emotionally settled in my new surroundings. She made efforts to understand me as a person – my likes and dislikes, aspirations, values of life, etc. Fortunately, we were on the same wavelength and shared the same set of interests, opinions, and values, in spite of cultural differences.  We developed a deep bond based on mutual trust, respect, and admiration for each other. We overlooked each other’s shortcomings and built up the relationship more on our strengths. Her pearls of wisdom through her years of experience helped me sail through different phases of life.  The camaraderie between us helped in maintaining a healthy family environment. Now she is no more and I deeply miss her presence, support, and words of encouragement.

Author with her late mother-in-law

Nowadays the narrative of the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship is changing. The advertisement of the ethnic wear brand, Sabhyata is a case in this perspective. It has weaved a story that redefines the relationship between a daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law and demystifies the stereotyped relationships. As the social fabric is transitioning from joint to nuclear families, people have started realizing the importance and support of family and how it is a win-win situation for all the members when 3 generations of a family live together. Nowadays the mothers-in-law, especially the urbane and educated class are making efforts and adapting to the new ways of modern living. They understand that the orthodox ways of interference and domination over daughters-in-law lead to conflicts. Modern-day women are widely traveled and have had more exposure compared to the previous generation, this will prove to be a boon in having stronger bonds with their future daughters-in-law. Giving space to the new couple, giving advice only when asked for, accepting the daughter-in-law as she is, and seeing her gifts and talents instead of faults and findings are some of the tips given by a new-generation mother-in-law for a happy relationship with the daughter-in-law. A caveat here for the future daughters-in-law is to have an unbiased image of their future mothers-in-law and not be influenced by social media narratives.

You must have heard celebrating Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Friend’s Day, Women’s Day, etc. But have you heard about the observance of Mother-in-law’s Day? Yes, you read it correctly. Mother-in-law’s Day is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of October every year in honor of the special woman who brought the love of your life into existence. This year it falls on October 23rd. It will be a perfect day to make your mother-in-law feel valued and build goodwill within your relationship. After all, she has raised your favorite person and is an integral part of your family’s life. There may have been times when things between both of you must have gone awry but this is a good time to forgive and forget. This will be a small step towards strengthening the bond and will go a long way. After all, the onus of maintaining a relationship lies with both the ladies. Hope to create a little brouhaha of this day too like Mother’s Day.

Leave a Reply