Part of the package

Part of the package

Her presence irks you. More than what she says, what she doesn’t say bothers you. Her presence, her absence... everything about her troubles you. She is ‘the other woman’ in your life. No, not the woman your husband has taken a fancy to. But the woman you are forced to get to know. The one you are pushed into proximity with, as customs dictate. She is a major part of your marriage package. Yes, she is your mother-in-law, who comes with the ‘handle with care’ tag on her.

Many a time, the dynamics of the relationships we share with people of our own gender is more complicated and intertwined than any cable running across the city's landscape. Comparisons, competitions, prejudices abound in most woman-to-woman relationships. A
newly-married bride at her in-laws’ place is somewhat like a smartphone. The day it enters the market, comparisons, right from its weight to its features and functionalities, are chalked out loud and bold. Every woman of the extended family gets into a mad race. From acquiring new skills, to style, to even getting pregnant, they’ve got to do it better than the other women in the family.

Says Asha, “I still remember days when despite all the drudgery that my homemaker mom had experienced taking care of her MIL, who was recuperating from cancer, all she later acknowledged was how generous her other working daughters-in-law were, as they gifted her a saree everytime they met her.” Being impartial is a tough job and MILs,
especially, need to undergo a crash course on managing their relationship with their daughters-in-law.

Life coaches suggest communication and compromise as the two key components for a win-win situation to keep any relationship strong. But somewhere, somehow, things start falling apart. Most of the time, no amount of scurrying through voluminous self-help books nor seeking answers from Google can help. Women like Shilpa know exactly where the bone of contention lies.

“Nuclear families are the norm these days, yet there is a definite need to have cordial relations with the extended family. Women always have complex relationships with other women, and a lot of times the source of tension is expectations,” she opines.

Sometimes, if you make a little effort, it could be a bond worth having. If you are keen on building a good relationship or mending ties, one way to do it would be to let the other woman know you inside out. “A rule of thumb I follow is clear communication of my limitations. I cannot do traditional daughter-in-law duties like pooja, cooking alone for the entire family, staying home with my kid, and the like. So, she can choose to either be content with what I am or stay unhappy about who I cannot be. At least, we both can be happy in the knowledge that there are differences and we agree to be cordial,”
maintains Shilpa.

It’s not just the MIL. Often, there’s the sister-in-law, too. Taking undue advantage and shrugging off responsibilities is something many of them, apparently, do with élan! Sharing her woes, Ritu recounts, “Everytime my family stayed over at my in-laws’ place during holidays, my SIL and MIL would go shopping, every single day, leaving me behind to do the household chores. As a member of the family, I took it in my stride to help them. But later, it got to me, when they didn’t even ask me to join them, day after day! They would leave the house in such a hurry, making it look as if it were some inevitable duty they needed to attend to. It isn’t nice to be taken for granted.” However, for Shilpa, gelling with her SILs is easier, she says, as they belong to the same age group and are
“mature enough not to get into silly squabbles”. But, not everybody is lucky.

Severing ties is, undoubtedly, easy; all one needs to do is let out a string of expletives, shout, rebuke and rebuff. Even plain indifference works wonders in ruining a relationship. But handling the differences amicably can go a long way. Sheela reckons, “My funda is: If I am good, then my MIL, too, will be good. It is a give-and-take relationship, like any other.” But every relationship has a Laxman rekha.

Sometimes, you may need to put your foot down and stand your ground. “If your
in-laws are nasty, then give it back, as they deserve. But don't be the one to start; it might prove too expensive, as undoing damage is a herculean task. So, the mantras for peace with in-laws are non-interference, avoiding negative comments and having little to no expectations,” advises Kruthika.

From Krishna's open-air lecturing to Arjuna, to Buddha's doctrines, all pin down expectations as the cause for doom. But rubbishing all such theories, Ritu maintains, “As humans, we want to be loved, cared for and paid attention to.

Therefore, being responsive (replying to emails, phone calls), loving (wishing on birthdays, anniversaries), and genuinely caring (not taking the other for granted) are a few baby steps that can keep the relationship going.”

Getting along with another person - male or female - is often tricky. And the in-laws are rarely an exception.

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