Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Monster-in-Law

“ 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.


BK Chowla, said...

Having written on this subject only proves-----You are brave man

KParthasarathi said...

The relationship between a dil and mil have proverbially been fragile and most often break within a year.The man like the drum is caught betwwen two sides and a few adroitly manage to maintain peace oof sorts.With aged parents mostly staying away , the friction is reduced.The dil always regard fil as lesser of the two evil and maintains a reasonably good relationship.Fil also pose no threat to son-in-law though many feel that their daughters could have made better choices.
All said dil as a wife to the man has the decisive edge in any argument.

Meera Sundararajan said...

In Indian society a woman's status is defined by her associations. If she is married to a rich man she is considered to be "someone" though none of the property that he owns may be registered in her name! So what is the ultimate thing that really gives her a status in society - BEING THE MOTHER OF A SON!! She therefore cherishes him more than a daughter. In many traditional families where the wife holds her husband in awe and fear the son is the person to whom she relates most. Then there comes a day when a girl who is young and attractive becomes more important to him. So you can imagine what happens to her... The girl on her part resents the bond her husband shares with his mother. And in joint families they have to live and function together- often the kitchen being the war zone..About fathers in law and sons in law I can share a family experience of my father's oldest brother who is a bachelor but is very close to his youngest sister who is over 17 years younger than him and therefore treats her like his daughter. My aunt on her part is also very close to him. This caused a lot of problems in the initial days of her marriage where he felt that his brother in law was not "looking after" his sister properly!!! So there!

rama said...

It is indeed a fact that MIL never ever gets along with the daughter in law. And I have seen it happen so often, even when the newly wed daughter in law is very affectionate, loving , caring and respectful to the PIL.
FIL in most families are never a problem, they in fact would be very supportive of the DIL, of course only behind the back of his wife, and often counsel the DIl to ignore her harsh words, take it from one ear and release through the other.
I had a gem of a FIL, and a real monster in law, who of course of the years has been put in her place, when the TLC I gave her never worked, Now she has become mellowed, and doesn't bother me.

Insignia said...

Oh! This is a sticky path Anil and as Chowla sir says, you are a brave man :)

anilkurup said...

@ B.K.Chowla,

Do you really think so? Why? A subject like other . isn't it?

@ KParthasarathi,

Torn between two lovers the fellow will shed his hair. You are right about the last sentence too.

@ Meera Sundarajan,

Umm, exceptions to the rule MS. don't you think?

The MS in law syndrome is not confined to our society but is universal. don't you think?

@ Rama,

Yes I see the point you have. Fortunately the MS-in-law syndrome is alien in my immediate surroundings. Thankfully to my spouse and my mother. Good for you for your endurance .

@ Insignia,

B, again what is so brave about this ? I do not understand.

Insignia said...


Its easy to write about a sensitive subject as Iran but not about in-laws; a mother in law in particular :)

Haa, with people gauging every word you write. Dont take my comment too seriously.

....Petty Witter said...

Not something I've ever really considered before but you are right when I think about it, the 'monster-in-law' syndrome does seem to occur no matter what ones background is.

Not something I suffer from now though in the beginning my ma-in-law did make my life a misery, I have however always got along with my pa-in-law who has always considered me the daughter he never had.

Betty Manousos said...

great post! to my opinion, that the mil/daughter-in-law relationship is one of the most complicate connections.
it comes with a built-in conflict before the relationship even begins.

it is indeed a fact, but of course there are exceptions to that statement.

Happy Kitten said...

Brave indeed :)

MIL's shall be MIL's.. and who knows how worse or better I shall perform if the good Lord gives me a chance!

Mine was okay but very possessive and I did not mind a bit....I let her have her son as much as she wanted but at times their nature can tire you.. but then will I learn a lesson and be a better one myself? Can one overcome human frailties which can become worse when age takes over?

anilkurup said...

@ Petty Wiiter,

Good that you had the old man.
But when I mean Monster-in-law, it can be either the wife or the mother. There are often cases where the ma -in-law gets flailed by the alien entrant.

@ Betty manousos,

Yes there are exceptions to the rule. But relatively few. Thanks for appreciating the post.

@ Happy Kitten,
Human frailties!
Pretty frail indeed. It takes a canny woman ( be it ma-in-law or D-in-law) to reverse the natural rule of Monster-in-law. Don't you think so?

Happy Kitten said...

Anil: By frailties, I meant weakness... yes a canny DIL can become the monster.. have seen it myself.. she can act like an angel to her husband while being a monster to his parents. She can spin tales that never happened and make a son hate his parents.. oh they are not frail in that sense :)

anilkurup said...

@ Happy Kitten,

I agree with you.
D in-law can spin and spin doctor she can be , to enrage the son against his parents. Have seen that happen.

kavita said...

Somehow I just can't imagine my life without my mother-in-law , we have been living together for so many years .She is one of my best friend and a great guide.

anilkurup said...

@ Kavita,

K , you are fortunate . As I said exceptions to the rule .