“‘Aman, a second child would solve all your current marital problems. Don’t waste your time at night. Keep trying and if Swaroop doesn’t conceive, then you should consult a gynaecologist for solutions.’ This was the last blow in our marital life. I walked off from the dining table that day and I told my wife Swaroop that I would never again join her mother at the table for food.”
It was OK in the beginning
“My mother-in-law had a huge role in our marriage; rather she had a great influence on my wife. Initially after marriage when my wife consulted her mother for recipes and home remedies, it was all within limits and I was fine with it. Swaroop cooked only her mother’s recipes and her mother even decided the daily menu for us. As the months passed by, the interference got into the sitting room from the kitchen. Then all Swaroop’s conversations started with ‘Mama said this, Mama asked me to do it this way, Mama wants us go there.’ I started actually feeling the presence of my mother-in-law in our living room.”
“During Swaroop’s confinement, her mama came to stay with us, entering our bedroom and from then she has been the other woman in our marriage. From looking after the daughter and granddaughter, her mother became part of our every conversation. I was really vexed with the uninvited intrusion. Whenever I raised the topic with Swaroop, she would turn around and say even my mother is interfering and dominating. My mother, however, lives in the US and hardly stays with us, even when she visits India.”
Related reading: Why I became happier when I stopped trying to please my in-laws
We were never alone
“Her mother started coming with us for all our movie outings and dinners. On humanitarian grounds I was initially okay with it; then it came to a point when Swaroop wanted her mother with her all the time. Her mother in turn was ensuring that she was present always. She took charge of our kitchen, grocery and provisions. She would come and ask me directly for monthly expenses and kept the accounts. Even the maid had a problem with attending to two female masters. Many maids left, and finally it was decided that only her mother gives instructions. Swaroop turned to be a lazy wife and mother, with her mother doing the home management.”
Swaroop turned to be a lazy wife and mother, with her mother doing the home management.
“There was no couple togetherness in our apartment and I didn’t have my own space at home. On our wedding anniversary when I booked a candle light dinner in a yacht, I saw that her mother also dressed up to come along. Thus I had to shift the venue to a restaurant.”
“When our daughter was six months old, I thought my mother-in-law would go back home for good. But she stayed on. From then I noticed that her mother would interfere in all our private conversations too. Whenever I spoke to Swaroop in the living room or dining room, her mother also had some inputs and joined our conversation. I broached this topic with Swaroop many times, but it fell on deaf ears. In order to maintain privacy I maintained a communication distance at home and began WhatsApp communication from work with Swaroop. But eventually, her reply came, ‘Mama’s opinion is, Mama says to do it like this, let me ask Mama.'”
Related reading: How my in-laws are trying to mould me into an ideal bahu
She went too far
“One day I asked Swaroop, if my mother was so interfering, would she tolerate it. To which she responded that in Indian families it is always a blessing to have parents’ advice and support. Finally I went quiet on Swaroop and that’s when her mother came up with the advice of going to a gynaecologist to get us checked for fertility. I don’t know what my wife discusses about our personal life with her mother, but from where did she get the idea that she could come and talk to me about having a second child? I have given my wife the ultimatum that her mother goes back home, as I feel suffocated in my own space.”
Not just a daughter-in-law’s sob story
In India it is common to hear the regular saas-bahu saga and most of it from the daughter-in-law’s side with an interfering mother-in-law. There’s a lot written about this relationship breakdown and tips on how to mend it. Here we have an anecdote from a son-in-law and his troubles with the mother-in-law and her interference in his married life. It becomes tougher when only one of the spouses feels the weight of the interference and the other is happy with it. At times the suffering spouse isn’t even able to communicate it to the oblivious spouse.
Involvement by parents to support the couple initially is tolerable, but complete interference is not. Both side’s parents should be part of the children’s marriage to the extent they require. The new couple should always have their own space to expand their marital life the way they wish to. No parent should overstay their welcome, be it either side.
Involvement is concern, while interference is controlling.
Involvement is concern, while interference is controlling. Parents-in-law’s involvement in the life of a couple is invited, but when it crosses the lines and goes into interference, then a boundary has to be maintained. Remember that this conflict is premised in love. But if you are being mistreated and disrespected, then draw the lines.
How to make the boundary
- Take on the situation constructively from a more rational and not an emotional space.
- Marital decision to be finally taken by couples, welcome only opinions from elders.
- Adequately flatter the elderly by giving them due respect, so that they don’t feel the need to cross boundaries to maintain respect.
- Partnership should be strong enough to withstand the in-laws’ storming.
- Discuss with the spouse when the parent interferes, but stick to the behaviour of the person.
- Don’t get personal with character assessments.
- Put the situation objectively before the parent-in-law without being subjective and blaming personally.
- Don’t pick fights with the in-laws. Just stand your ground.
- Address each incident. Do not aggravate and be agitated.
- Be assertive and don’t fake a relationship that’s not there.
- Take the criticism seriously but not personally.
- If the interference becomes toxic then you have to temporarily roll up your welcome mat and take time off from them.
Interference can come from both sides of the parents, but irrespective of which side crosses the border, it is an attack upon the sanctity of the marriage and breaches the ‘leave and cleave’ order for marriage. Parents should be treated with respect without it entangling the harmony of marriage.