Brides-to-be of Indian origin (and perhaps the South Asian community at large) are typically instructed on how to handle the domineering mother-in-law. She in turn will be receive plenty of advice from her experienced peers on ways to prevent the young one from upstaging her and taking over her home.
The relationship is virtually doomed before it even begins and the poor son and soon-to-be-husband can expect to be caught in-between the two women for eternity.
If he tries to reason with his mother, she will see him as being the wife’s messenger and under her thumb.
If he asks his wife to compromise, she will brand him as mama’s boy!
No doubt the situation is fraught with challenges for both women.
The wife must quickly adopt the ways of her husband’s family with a smile on her face. In many traditional families, her best shot at a happy married life is to play second fiddle to the mother-in-law.
The mother-in-law now finds the attention and loyalty of her son is divided. Accepting that the new woman will now take prominence in his life is a bitter pill to swallow. After all she’s raised him and been his go-to person for everything from food and clothing to work and relationship advice.
When the husband compares his wife’s capabilities to his mother’s, the tension worsens.
In many situations the source and cause of marital conflict is without a doubt, in-law troubles. The mother-in-law feels the daughter-in-law isn’t doing enough while the latter complains of constant interference and swords are drawn.
In most cases the new wife looks to her mother and family for advice and support.
Will a matriarchal society, where the woman remains in her home and her husband comes to live with her instead, put an end to this constant conflict and struggle for control then?
Since men rarely seem to have trouble dealing with their in-laws, I’m tempted to say it might work.
Also, I’ve rarely heard about bride-burning and abuse in Kerala and Meghalaya, both of which followed the matrilineal system. Women enjoyed a higher status in society and consequently at home as well.
The few families that I’ve known where a woman continues to live in her maternal home after marriage seem to have less strife. But I’ve never asked the men about their experiences living with their in-laws. I’m sure they’re under constant scrutiny but appear to either shrug it off or take it in their stride.
Propagators of this system believe that aside from the fact that there would no longer be a battle for supremacy, the support a woman would receive from her own family with regard to home and career would be extremely beneficial. But could this mean more dependence on the part of a woman? I’ve heard more than one man complain about his wife being too reliant on her family.
It is also not uncommon for men to suffer abuse from their in-laws. Two divorces I just learned about were caused by the fact that the men could no longer tolerate their in-laws (especially the mother-in-law) berating them. Since they had moved in to their wives’ maternal home, they were seen as losers. Perhaps because this is largely a patriarchal society where the man is expected to be the home builder and main provider.
Or is it human nature for people to exploit what they deem a position of power?
As I asked people for their views, the responses were mixed. Some men and women presented glowing accounts of mother-in-law-daughter-in-law relationships. This doesn’t say much except that there are exceptions! Many of these happy stories also came from couples who didn’t live in a joint family. Or, from women who extolled how well their parents treated daughters-in-law. Was it because they weren’t treated as well? The fact that we don’t commend the norm but exceptions is self-explanatory!
We must also accept that since humans make up both systems, the outcome largely depends on the personality of the people in a particular household or relationship.
While we are privy to many horror stories, some families are able to make it work.
Most couples are in agreement that the husband or wife (in whose house the couple is living) must set ground rules that will help all to live in harmony! In a perfect world… perhaps!