Author of The Mother-In-Law, Veena Venugopal on how to deal with the other woman in your marriage
She’s the most important woman in your marriage, so, sharing a tricky relationship with her can spell trouble for wedded bliss. But how do you handle your relationship with the mother-in-law?
With extreme care, caution and strategic planning, advises journalist Veena Venugopal. The Delhi-based writer spent the last year meeting women across the country, especially those locked in prolonged conflict with their moms-in-law.
Eleven of them, with names changed to protect their identity, have made it to The Mother-in-Law published by Penguin. What started out as an exercise to listen to and share funny stories about the mother-in law, quickly mutated into a platform where women, protected by anonymity, shared their anxious experiences and lessons they learnt on the way.
Venugopal -whose own MIL was “sweet enough to pitch in by searching for case studies” says the most effective advice she can offer is keep your distance.
“Research has proved that with every yard between you and your mom-in-law, the chance of your relationship with your husband lasting, improves,” she says.
The first meeting
Venugopal’s first story is of Rachna, who met her mother-in-law at a wedding sangeet. Noticing that she had ordered a non-alcoholic drink, “Auntyji” asked her about it, to which Rachna lied saying, she didn’t drink.
“This right here,” points out Venugopal, “is the first wrong step.” While there was of course, no way Rachna could have foretold that this woman was her future mother-in-law, far too many women try and project a different personality the first time they meet their in-laws. “We wear a salwaar kameez or act demure, tailoring our responses to match what we think our MILs would want. We want to be accepted at that point,” she adds. The other mistake young women make is to hope the blow will weaken over time. In the case of Anshika, who was told by her mother-inlaw what to expect in her marriage (she couldn’t work, she agreed to it all.
“We think the mother-in-law will go slack over time. But that doesn’t happen and when you try and assert your self, she feels cheated because you are no longer adhering to her rules,” she adds. The only way out, says Venugopal, is to assert yourself from day one and be true to who you are. “You need to let them know what you are capable of doing.
Gently, but firmly, lay down your own rules.”
Venugopal shares the exchange she personally had with her mom-in-law over the issue of wearing a mangalsutra. “`My own daughter does not wear one, how can I ask you to?’ was her standard strategy. I suppose a `better’ daughter-in-law would have immediately slapped on the mangalsutra and demonstrated how she was better than the daughter…I just smiled in agreement,” Venugopal writes.
This, she suggests, is a good strategy to tackle emotional blackmail that’s bound to come your way at least once.
“You either ignore her or agree with what she’s saying so that there are no arguments. If the relationship is an equal one, you could also be pleasant but offer a tongue-in-cheek reply that sends her a message to back off,” says Venugopal.
Talking about Supriya, whose story makes its way into the book, Venugopal says it took a family tragedy for her to clear a misunderstanding with her momin-law. “Now, Supriya says she is in a position to point out her mom-in-law’s flaws. It may be simple things like saying, `Mum, that’s not a nice thing to say’ etc. But it should not take a tragedy for that to happen. If you haven’t changed the equation yet, now is a good time to start.”
The guy is not his family
The most important lesson to remember for those dating a man they plan to marry, is that his family needn’t be like him. “Just because the son is liberal doesn’t mean his parents will be cool. It’s a good idea to check the lay of the land when you are in the courtship stage,” she says.
Go over to his place as a friend, and observe the parents and their marriage.
“Your future spouse is likely to demonstrate their traits, and possibly reflect a similar equation in your marriage. If you don’t like what you see, have the courage to ask yourself if this is what you want,” she adds.
Isn’t it asking for too much -the perfect guy with the perfect family?
Venugopal says no family is ideal. “But think about what you are willing to compromise on. If you are going to be locked up once the ring is on your finger, will you make peace with that? Is the guy worth it?”
The question of kids
You are married, it’s four months and here comes the question you have been dreading: Now that you are settled, when are you gifting us grandchildren?
Not only is the question awkward, but an honest answer is fraught with the possibility of throwing up further complications. What if you don’t want a child at the moment, or for a few years or ever?
“I’d say, immediately blame the son.
Tell her you are fine with the thought but he feels we should wait. The motherin-law is likely to fall in line. Parents don’t tend to exert as much pressure on the man,” she adds.
The prerequisite here of course, is that the man is on your side. In fact, says Venugopal, you must wisely choose a man who will always be in your corner of the boxing ring. “That’s the sort of marriage that has a happy ending.”