“ I,…….. , take thee,….. , to my lawful wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.”
The vow of fidelity pronounced, the priest declares the couple “Man and Wife”. This is in true Christian fashion. Though the mutual plight is not necessarily pledged in weddings in other traditions the conduct is such that mutual acceptance as man and wife or woman and husband is emphasised.
But where in these vows or rituals can we find the reference to the “mother- in- law” inserted? I once heard someone (a woman) assert that when a girl marries a man, she also marries the mother-in-law! Hear hear the ones among women who are liberated! Surely this must be a chicanery of male chauvinists in cahoots with mothers in law!
I would not be hurt if fathers- in- law were given similar consideration and importance in matters, because I may be one, one day and then to feel the relegation from priority would be disheartening. But alas that is the way the world has been made- pardon me if I believe it is a woman’s world!
However all is not quite well on the western front. Perhaps it is lucky to be a father-in-law and consequently be ignored. For, the wedlock between a bride and her mother in law has not often been proved an aid to world peace and stability.
I have been trying to keep my eyes and ears well overhauled to see or hear about a fascinating episode somewhere of a son-in-law – father-in-law affaire in the mold of the typical daughter-in-law – mother-in-law affection that we often hear of. Why it is the in-law syndrome seem to be endemic to women? This happens irrespective of culture, education and grooming. It is often that more defining the education and status, miserable is the relationship of the woman –in law.
I know of this woman hailing from a respectable family in Tamilnad and, she is a senior secretary in the government from the Indian administrative service. However she is perhaps the meanest of women, I have known of. She would probably address a social gathering about the responsibilities and family duties of a woman, then go home and banish her mother-in-law to bed without dinner. Then keep the little sister of the man in the kitchen throughout the night doing chores. These may be simply the pig tail ends of the real life conduct the IAS officer indulges with pleasure and satisfaction.
This does not always mean that the poor mothers-in-law are the offended lot piled over with misery and injustices. Every mother- in- law has once graduated from being a daughter- in-law. And the pendulum swings both ways. In such situations, often than not, the man is not to be seen as absolved, but is pliable, acquiescing and imbecile. Either the fellow is impotent or ductile to the whims of either his wife or the mother. This should not mean that there are no miserable fellows who are caught in the crossfire .
Psychologists explains away the syndromes as possessiveness of the mother for her son and her subconscious mind dictating that she refuse to share the affection, attention and care of her son with another woman, an intruder, stranger and an alien. And, alternate cases, the wife feeling exasperated and disturbed by the intrusion of the old hag, the mother-in-law into her privacy and lone moments with her man. I would rubbish this like the predilections Sigmund Freud was said to have in identifying most thoughts and notions with sex, (It is said that he even related a mother's feelings while she breastfeeds her infant to that of what is akin to sexual pleasure). I wonder if there are any mothers out there who would not ridicule this as Freudian nonsense and obsession.
The panacea perhaps lies in a bit of understanding by the man that after all the good Lord made “woman”- harvesting rib from his rib cage. And he better watches out and let her/them not pick at the remaining ribs!
An exception to the rule of the “monster –in- law syndrome” is the comedy film trilogy- “Meet the Parents”, “Meet the Focker’s” and “The Little Fockers”, wherein the story revolves around a father-in-law in the monster-in-law mould and the son-in-law at his nadir end.