Sitara tells her sad story
“I remember that day, the day of the month when I got my salary. As I walked in the door and hugged my daughter, my father-in-law, seated at the dining table, told me to resign the next day and give a one-month notice. “Ma is sick and you have to sit at home and look after her. Enough is enough now,” he said. I was perplexed, as my father-in-law went away to his bedroom. Devan, my husband, said nothing and he followed him to his parents’ bedroom. I asked the domestic help what had happened. She told me that Ma fell in the bathroom and there was no one to help her.
On hearing this, I went to check on her. “Had you been home nothing would have happened to her. Now look at her,” said my father-in-law. My mother-in-law didn’t look at me as I spoke to her. I immediately got the feeling that something was being schemed against me.
Even Devan seemed upset with me. He told me that Ma was old and she needed attention full time; therefore, Papa had decided that I quit my job and stay at home to look after her.
Where was I? Ma was sick, Papa decides that I quit my job and look after her and my husband okays the decision and asks me to comply. Nothing asked and no explanation sought, I just had to resign and stay home.
We had never got on together
Ma and I had a cold war soon after I returned from my honeymoon. She’s narcissistic, self-absorbed, dramatic and always plays the victim. She made the rules at home and she even assigns tasks accordingly. I respect the fact that it is her home and she is the decision-maker, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to make decisions about my life without my consent.
It’s basically just a fundamental clash of personality, opinion, lifestyle and values between Ma and me. I understand her values and the era she belongs to, but the same understanding I don’t get from her. Thus, we have always been living with a ghost between us. She has planted a ghost permanently between my husband and me also.
I told my husband my point of view
I told my husband that I was not quitting my job and that we have to find alternate options for caring for Ma. I’ve been raised to treat people with respect, and am totally a people pleaser, often to my own detriment, but my career is not a pastime for me, and the decision is solely mine.
When it comes to his parents, my husband leaves me to support myself. After several hours of discussing boundaries with my husband and agreeing that he would broach the topic with them, we had a truce for that day.
Unfortunately, he failed to approach the topic for several days and my father-in-law asked me if had submitted my resignation. So I had to step in and draw the boundaries. I did it in a direct and assertive way because the family doesn’t understand subtlety.
This was a big deal for me and I was totally stressed out, as it was a three against one battle that I was fighting. My husband was upset with me for discussing this topic without much emotion. He thought it was unfair I don’t treat his parents equally to my own. I would talk to my parents about any issues we had; therefore that’s what I did with his parents. Wasn’t that equal treatment?
If my parents are my responsibility, aren’t your parents yours?
My husband then asked me the most pertinent question: “If your mother was sick, wouldn’t you quit your job and look after her?” That’s when I had to set matters straight. I told him, “First of all, in my family, there would be no forcing of decisions on anyone. And if at all there was a need, I would make a choice to quit my job. If I am willing to quit my job for my mother, you should consider quitting your job for your mother.”
“If I am willing to quit my job for my mother, you should consider quitting your job for your mother.”
I was aghast that I was the first choice. Papa and my husband run the business together, so they can take turns to be home. I work as the VP HR of an MNC, and I can’t quit such a lucrative job that I have worked my way up to. Even when I was pregnant and nursing my daughter, my husband and I had planned so I could keep my job. I toiled it out but managed both so well. So why is there a compulsion to make me quit my job? I could not understand.
My mother-in-law then told me that the daughter-in-law should be staying back home to look after the family and she was being nice by letting me work. So she told me that it’s my time to sacrifice for the family.
We are so different, I find it tough
She’s not really a bad person, but maybe because of our differing values, I found it difficult to understand her. After that incident, it got to a point where I felt a huge amount of stress and adrenaline when I see her, and I started questioning all the decisions in my life that made me stay in the joint family. She is a passive-aggressive person so I just learned to deal with her. Unless and until she openly told me she had a problem, I assumed she was okay. So by this, I began an open dialogue.
I was clear that I was not quitting my job and also that supporting one family member was the equal responsibility of everyone at home. I told my father-in-law that all of us together can find a solution and we could take turns with the caretaking. It was not well received and I was called selfish, but I knew I had to draw boundaries and keep them.
My problem may seem very hairy for some people. I need some perspective in my life.”
This was the narration of Sitara. She had made a decision on her career but her family made her feel like a selfish person. So she wanted some perspective.
The counsellor advises
You need to accept that your mother-in-law is a package deal with your marriage. She is going to be part of your life as long as your husband is. You are not going to convince your husband that his mother is evil and terrible and he should declare emancipation because her values and yours don’t match. So just say those two things out loud and clear. Your mother-in-law is not going to change nor is she going away.
Take a few emotional steps back and realise what she’s doing to you is, for the most part, not personal. She probably behaves this way with everyone when she is upset. It could also be a cold power struggle because she feels she has no power or wants to retain all power at home.
Mentally distribute power. Let her keep what she feels strongly about, but you need to keep the power where you are concerned. Both of you should make the needed sacrifices and compromises for the happiness of the family.