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Mothers in law are human too!

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Mother-in-law troublesMuch more money has probably been made, at least on the small screen, in recent times, by programmes that revolve around the mother-in-law daughter-in-law conflict, than programmes around any other topic, including love stories. It seems as if the tensions that arise in a household because of this relationship are a source of eternal fascination for us Indians.

Of course, if life were to seriously resemble the stuff we see in movies or on TV, we would all be in big trouble! But there are enough gory stories even in the daily papers, about confrontations between mothers in law and daughters in law. The truth is, realtionships with mothers in law are always difficult, even for men. Why else would former England cricketer Ian Botham have got into such trouble for his remarks about a South Asian country? When speaking to a reporter, Botham is said to have trashed this particular country, calling it a place to ’send your mother in law, all expenses paid’! Obviously, even sons in law have less than cordial feelings about their mothers in law.

Why do mothers-in-law have such a formidable image, and why do they excite such extreme emotions? 

Simply put, a mother in law is always a person you have mixed feelings about because:

She knows your partner better than any other human being on earth, and has seen him or her through sickness and health, through childish ignorance and later wisdom.

As a member of the family, she holds an advantage in the balance of power due to her age, standing and position in the family hierarchy, even if you fell her actual ability or knowledge does not match yours!

In the traditional society in which we have lived to date, women have not enjoyed too much success outside the home. Which means that their fulfilment has lain in what power and influence they could wield among their family members. A mother in law is often a very intelligent woman who could have been a business magnate if only she had had the opportunity!

All this still does not make it easy for men and women to get along with their mothers in law, specially when such a person has a very dominating, forceful and demanding personality. Maybe some spiritual wisdom can be applied. An old Chinese tale speaks of a woman who went to a medicine man to ask him for some poison to kill her mother in law. The old man looked at her with a lot of compassion, then said that she could not risk coming under suspicion by directly poisoning her mother-in-law. He would therefore give her a slow acting poison that would act over a number of days, and not raise any suspicion. His only condition was that she should daily mix a drop of this poison in her m-i-l’s food, and serve it to her as lovingly as she would to her own mother. He also asked her to behave at all other times as if the m-i-l was her own mother.

The woman went back and did as she was told. Three weeks later, she was back, crying bitterly. Now she asked the medicine man for an antidote to the poison. “You have to help me save my mother-in-law!” she wailed. “I can’t bear the thought of her dying.”

The medicine man smiled and said, “Don’t worry. I knew this would happen. What I gave you earlier was not poison at all!”

Sometimes what a troublesome relationship is looking for is a softening on our part - a return to compassion instead of anger or expectation. It is also very important to remember that a mother-in-law, or any other authority figure, remains a threat to us just so long as we have not completed our own process of personal growth. As we become more secure and mature, the actions and reactions of others cease to bother us in the same way.

As for your troubles with your own mother in law, also remember - she is after all much older. EVen if she appears a dragon in a particular phase, this cannot last forever. One day, she too will wilt and become more bearable. In fact, as she grows older, she will require more love and understanding from you. If you have always loved her anyway, this will become easier to offer. 

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Responses to Mothers in law are human too!

  1. 1 Reshmi

    Hi! No words to express, how you have changed the perception about MILs and every married person should read and understand it and should get it to their heart.

  2. 2 Sylvia


    I conduct research in the field of communication on the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. Presently I am focusing on the mother-in-law perspective, specifically the emotional experience of being a mother-in-law. Research on this topic is limited and I am always looking for mothers-in-law who are willing to participate in either on-line or hard copy surveys. If you or anyone you know is interested in contributing to research on the topic and letting mothers-in-law have a voice, instead of being defamed, please visit my website

    Thanks so much.

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