5 tips to deal with your Indian mother-in-law

“How long you abused me!”

“What abuse? I never abuse.”

“You didn’t let me enter your kitchen when I hadn’t taken a bath. And how would I bathe with two kids to manage all alone? So I never ate!”

“I did nothing wrong. You shouldn’t enter the kitchen without a bath, it’s a sacred space!”

“So I should starve instead?”

That was an explosion I heard between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law twenty-six full years after the two became family. After they were forced to become family. A good example of what happens when hate and frustration festers. Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi. Does she remember that? Probably. Is she doing it because she wants someone to get back at for the injustice done to her? Again, probably. You’ll have your chance, if you give her grandsons who get married who have wives who you’ll hate.

The cycle has to stop. With you. Here are things you should do if you don’t want to end up like that MIL-DIL up there in twenty-six years:

1. Don’t try making your husband choose between the two of you.

Who do you want, me or her? That’s never something you should say. By all means, go with you-don’t-support-me-when-she’s-wrong or it’s-my-house-too. But you’d never want to become mommy-substitute, so don’t ever give him the chance to think so!

2. Be who you are the first time you meet her.

Don’t wear a saree and serve chai if that’s not what you’re like everyday. Talk to her about your job, what you like to do in your free time, what your idea of life is. Give her a good idea of who you are, so she won’t have to be disillusioned later.

3. Damage done?

Maybe you already wore your saree and served her the chai. So what do you do now? Don’t tell her you’re not that person. Just show her. Every time she expects you to do something that you don’t want to, be upfront. She might not like you for it, but she’ll resign herself to the misfortune of an unruly bahu soon enough.

4. Don’t let things fester.

If you don’t like what’s being done to you, tell her right away. It could lead to a couple of fights, and if your husband is a sitter-on-the-fence who won’t take either side, tell him you don’t give a damn, you’re still not going to tolerate behaviour that borders on abuse.

5. Distance helps.

Live away from the in-laws. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable, if they’re helping you with the kids (when both of you are working), or if they’re too old to manage on their own. Even then, set boundaries. You don’t interfere in what she does, and she doesn’t in what you do. If the kitchen belongs to both of you, come up with a timetable so that the two of you don’t use it together.