On Mother’s Day, R. Krithika celebrates a different kind of maternal relationship.
“So, have you had your first fight with your mother-in-law?”
Faced with this question in the first few weeks of my marriage, I had no idea things were about to get worse.
Within a couple of months came “How can you call your m-i-l amma? That’s only for your mother!” And this in extremely outraged tones.
I had to bite my tongue hard to not let my instinctive “none of your bloody business” escape.
A few years later, I was gobsmacked to hear “I’m sure no woman can get along with her m-i-l as well as you seem to. Are you sure there’s nothing you’re hiding from us?”
And finally, more recently, advice from one friend to another about to get married: “Learn from her (a disdainful hand was flipped my way) how to bully and harass your m-i-l and keep her in her place.”
Sixteen years after marriage, I have learnt to shrug or laugh these remarks away, but I never stop wondering why we seem hardwired to see the saas-bahu relationship as only adversarial. Never one that could be based on mutual love, trust and respect.
The spark that lit this particular tinderbox was Shinie Antony’s recent article about the perils facing a daughter-in-law calling to wish her mother-in-law a happy Mother’s Day.
Yes, I know there are mothers-in-law from hell, who cannot let their sons go, who see their daughters-in-law as interlopers. But I’m sure there are also women like my mother-in-law, who means as much to me as my mother.
I recall the first morning when I surfaced at an unearthly hour, having been brainwashed into believing that this was de rigeur for a new bride. Instead of the bustling household I had been led to expect, I found one that would have beaten a graveyard at midnight in the quietness stakes.
As I stood there wondering what next, a dishevelled figure came barrelling out of her room and shooed me back to bed. Later she explained that, in this house, the rule was “go to bed when you like, get up when you like.” I think that’s when I fell in love with her.
So, on this Mother’s Day, here is my paean to the mother I gained from marriage:
The woman who was strong enough to let me be me. I don’t have to censor my language, treat her with deference or watch how I behave around her, even if people accuse me of bullying or being disrespectful.
The woman who taught me that, no matter how often your dreams come crashing down, you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and climb back into the saddle; that you can pick pieces from the rubble to use in your next dream edifice.
The doting mum and grandma who listened sympathetically as, pregnant and distraught, I poured out my negative feelings about motherhood. Who accepted that, yes, it was possible to feel this way and helped me look at what was happening to me in a more positive light.
The woman who stood like the proverbial rock as the storm of my temper raged around her only to end in the shelter of her arms.
The woman who offered unconditional support as my husband and I struggled with what it would take to raise a child with ADHD and told the world off for questioning our efforts.
The woman I know I can call at any time of night and day just because I want to talk now; who will be my sounding board when I need one.
I know some are going to say that this sounds a bit cloying and unreal but, as she once said, “Let people say what they want. You and I know our reality.”
This is not to say that we never disagree or fight. Of course we do but we ensure that it does not end in rancour and bitterness. Where possible, we find a common meeting ground; if not, we agree to disagree. She is strong enough to accept that my views need not necessarily mirror hers.
On this Mother’s Day, I have a suggestion for both mothers-in-law and daughters-in- law: Forget all that you’ve been told about how your relationship should be and will be. Instead take another look at the other woman in your life and think about what you like about her.
Who knows? You might find a friend that you never knew existed. If you’re truly lucky, as I have been, you might find a woman to fall in love with.