“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Much has been said about THE South Asian mother-in-law (MIL), when there’s really no singular all-encompassing description of her. First of all, South Asia is just too vast and culturally heterogenous. Even in a small country like Nepal, MILs come in all shapes and sizes.
I’ve mentioned this before, and I want to reiterate it now, I have no intention of invalidating other people’s experiences. Obviously, articles that portray the South Asian MIL in a negative light abound because many people can relate to them. And that’s why it’s a stereotype. Many people find it to be true. I’m just not one of them. One of the reasons I started this blog was because the stories I read about cross-cultural relationships did not quite resonate with me, and I wanted to add nuance to the prevailing narrative. The same goes for my experience with the MIL narrative.
So I want to write about MY experience with MY mother-in-law. This relationship is unique to us simply because I am who I am and she is who she is. If she had another daughter-in-law, their relationship with each other will not be the same as ours. It’s just a simple case of different people, different dynamics.
I have thought about writing this post for quite some time, but deferred doing so until now because I felt that I haven’t spent enough time with her to write about our relationship. For the sake of context, I first met her and my father-in-law two years ago, when Scott and I were seriously committed to each other, but were nowhere near marriage. And as of this writing, we have only been around each other for about 6 weeks, and living together in the family home for about three. So it hasn’t been that long. But relationships change over time. So maybe in the future I’ll write about what our 2-year old relationship looks like. But for now, I just wanted to document what it is in its infancy.
My MIL and I have similar temperaments. We have an easy and comfortable relationship, but I would not call it fun and light-hearted. We’re both straightforward people, and our relationship with each other reflects that. Maybe in time we’ll share more light-hearted moments, as we grow more comfortable with each other, but we’re not quite there yet. I just got myself an additional mother, and she just got herself a new daughter. And then we have to live with each other, at least for the time being, and probably in the long term too. Having in-laws is unusual because it’s like meeting someone for the first time and being expected to be close to them right away. And I tend to a bit slow in warming up to new people. It’s definitely daunting, but we’re both trying to deal with it in the best way we know how, and it’s going well so far.
Even if we have a language barrier, I know how she feels about me because it shows in the little things. She made yoghurt because Scott bought jeri, which I find too sweet to eat by itself but love when paired with yoghurt. She told me to wash the dishes but leave the pots and pans to her so that I won’t get my nails dirty. I mean, whaaaat?! And this is coming from a woman who lived with a very strict MIL. Every now and then she asks Scott how I’m doing, if I’m having a hard time with the move and everything that I’ve had to adjust to. She’s kind and considerate. Maybe she remembers her own difficulties from years past, and she doesn’t want me to go through them too. My MIL is kind to me. I acknowledge that not everyone gets a chance to say that, so I’m extra grateful to be able to do so.
She’s not perfect. But my only “complaint” for now is that she tends to be a micro-manager. Scott is like that and it was very interesting to discover where he got the trait from. I feel like she’s constantly breathing down my neck, even over the simplest of tasks, but that’s a really minor thing and it hasn’t driven me crazy just yet (and I hope it never does!). She also talks about how Scott and I should be this and that by this time, but I realize that parents imposing very specific expectations on their children is not a trait that’s unique to her. It’s not even unique to Nepal but I definitely experienced it more often here just within the past few weeks than with my own parents.
I’m a newbie at this but here are my tips for dealing with the MIL
1) Grace, grace, and more grace. Be gracious with each other. I probably make bad tea, and I don’t speak Nepali. My MIL offers dishwashing tips to me (I am a grown woman!) and she doesn’t speak English. We are imperfect people raised in vastly different cultures who are expected to get along with each other. It’s very important to be able to extend grace, as well as receive it.
2) Put yourself in her shoes. It’s human nature to frame events based on your personal view point. That’s why it’s easier to arrive at the conclusion that “my MIL is competing with me for my husband’s attention and affection” than at “she’s probably just worried that we’re not going to take care of her in her old age, and she just happens to have a passive-egressive way of expressing it.” Insecure, mean, selfish, and scheming MILs do exist. But she’s unlikely to be the one who raised the person you loved enough to marry. I think most actions that you perceive as targeted against you, really have nothing to do with you. So even if you think your MIL is being mean to you, or she’s doing things to spite you, it probably isn’t about you.
Also, Nepali tradition places a major role in the MIL in the choice of a bride for her son. We obviously did not go with that route, that’s why I’m keeping this blog. So inasmuch as I am adjusting to a new culture, my MIL is also having to adjust to me. Partner choice in marriage is a personal choice that has far reaching and long lasting impacts on others, MILs included.
3) Give her the benefit of the doubt. So this is related to the previous point. And this is something that applies not just to my relationship with my MIL, but in my interactions with other people in general. It’s highly unlikely that my MIL keeps a list of ways to push my buttons. So if something doesn’t sit well with me, I have to stop myself from thinking that her actions came from a place of ill intentions. When Scott explains things that I bring up, it’s really just nothing. For like…100% of the time.
4) Choose kindness. Because…why not?
How is your relationship with your own MIL? How has it changed over time? Whether it’s good or bad, let’s focus on the positive, so I’m just going to ask…what do you love about her?