Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for February, 2022 is Redefining Love. We invite submissions on the many layers of love, throughout the month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to email@example.com
“I don’t want my daughter to go through what I had to, because I was taught to be submissive towards my mother-in-law. I want my daughter to be for herself, stand for herself.” These are some common remarks that my mother has always reiterated.
In 2014, Veena Venugopal published Mother-in-law: The Other Woman in Your Marriage, in which urban English-speaking women elaborated about their mummyji making their lives miserable. But for some, that has never been the case. They never had to tell such things to their daughters.
An example was the relationship between my maternal uncle’s wife and my maternal grandmother. It’s not a common occurrence when such a relationship can also be described as healthy and in which both uplift each other. When grandma passed, my aunt lost her dearest friend, the one on whom she relied for decisions from pursuing her career, to motherhood, bringing up her grandkids and grieving the loss of the person whom my aunt loved the most, her father. It is a rare affair to see two people in such a relationship make so much space for trust, respect and individuality.
They had their share of arguments and misunderstandings just like any other close relationship but they never spread word about it to anyone, which showed their maturity towards preserving the relationship.
Keera Allendorf in her essay “Like her own: Ideals and Experiences of the Mother-in-law/ Daughter-in-law Relationship” elucidates how the existence of the joint family system that is both patrilocal and patrilineal suppresses women and facilitates mutual rivalry. But my maternal household had it different. Being a joint family was never the cause for a rival relationship whether it was my grandma’s relationship with her mother-in-law or with my aunt. It positive and affectionate.
The day would always start with both my aunt and my grandmother sitting at the dining table and talking about a spectrum of things that they would normally not talk with anybody else, then both helping each other in the errands. They had a mutually supportive attitude. My aunt never had to worry about her child’s upbringing as my grandmother was there to pitch in.
My grandma’s darkest days were when she had to fight her dreadful disease and my aunt took the best care one could possibly ask for, whether it was diet, emotional support or taking her to the doctor. The ironic part is that my aunt belongs to a different community, a community that is deemed very different from ours but that was never the reason for any kind of contention.
I learned that even the most impossible of relationships can sail through without the rough waves if there is understanding, communication, and an empathetic understanding that everyone is a product of their own experiences and the proximal culture that they were born into. Audre Lorde aptly puts in her essay “Poetry is not a luxury” that “the quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized.”
My grandma loved her kids and she always held herself as a pillar of strength after my grandfather passed away. She was a dynamic woman. She learned her finances, gracefully pursued her responsibilities as a mother, contributing to her immediate circle as a pillar of support for her sisters and her grandkids. For her grandkids, she was the go-to person.
Even though she loved her son it was never a reason for competition and jealousy between her and my aunt, because sons are not people a mother ‘owns’. A bad and a rival relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law is not just difficult for them to deal with but also for the entire family. It can make even mundane matters difficult and toxic. When children at home see such circumstances as normal, it also scars their understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like.
This reminds me of a nostalgic moment that my mother shared with me. It has been twenty five years of togetherness for my parents. Staying in a new state and a city was both my parents’ first kind of an experience in their life just after their marriage because my father’s job took them there.
My father, in an unknown place learned driving with his tenant who belonged to a different religion and community, while my mother found a ‘home’ far away from her own home in this family. Love, respect and belongingness can always be beyond what we are taught by the society to consider as our ‘own’ and what we actually experience as our ‘own’.
Moreover, it is the subtle acts like asking how one is doing, giving assurances if one is unwell, and so on, that make any relationship hold firm beyond constructed differences to become healthy and meaningful.
Featured Illustration: Ritika Banerjee for Feminism In India