Mother & Daughter-in-Law Syndrome
By Saaleha Bhamjee
[Saaleha Bhamjee is a mother of four and a writer based in South Africa. She is a regular columnist for The Muslim Woman, a magazine in South Africa. She is an Islamic Writers Alliance member and can be contacted at email@example.com.]
A world at war! No doubt George Bush has propelled himself to the top of the Most Famous Villain of All Times list. But for the South African Indian Woman, Georgie Boy takes second place.
So who is more villainous than villainy itself? You've guessed it! First prize for the Most Famous Villain of All Times award goes to none other than the Oscar-winning Frankenstein's monster impersonator — The Indian mother-in-law.
She's mean, even spiteful; finicky to the point of allowing the kitchen tap to face one direction only. She loves her sport (especially the kind that involves a screaming match between you and hubby); she's the unrelenting captain of the ship. Why, even your father-in-law quivers in his boots each time she bellows. She's nosy, sometimes snoopy; in fact Inspector Gadget could take some pointers from the skillful manner in which she searches your cupboards and interrogates your children in order to extract "classified information."
She tells you how to pack your fridge, look after your children, cook a curry (even without you asking). She is jealous when her son buys you a gift. She competes for your husband's attention and will do anything to ensure that Mummy's Little Boy never cuts those apron strings. She's mortified by the thought of you receiving a compliment. Compliment you herself? Why, Doomsday is closer!
No one would dare breathe a word about the stunning meal you have prepared without expecting a disparaging remark from her acid tongue. Even though you know that she'll never whip up a spaghetti Bolognaise to rival yours, no matter what you do to convince her otherwise, she's determined to believe that you are clueless. "Can't cook, can't bake, is lazy, and can't look after her children (her son/your husband)." And then —Even though she may never say as much to you, she certainly goes out of the way to give that impression.
Oh yes, lest I forget, her my-way-or-the-highway policy is nonnegotiable and she is prone to referring to you as "she," almost as though your own mother was negligent in her duty of giving you a name.
Now, STOP! Before you run off to my mum-in-law and tell her that I've called her Frankenstein's monster, understand that most of what you have been reading is very much tongue-in-cheek; although the crimes attributed to mothers-in-law are very real grievances aired by one too many daughters-in-law.
And yes, dear mother-in-law, I know your son's wife is no angel, but does it really always have to be this way? Is there potential for peace in a situation that for far too many families is just too volatile? Is there a hope that somehow, just somehow, we may be able to enjoy Peace in Our Times?
Hope on the Horizon
Certainly, Naseema, the mother-in-law of two "good daughters-in-law" (as she calls them), believes that there is hope, something that she has most ably demonstrated. Naseema and her sons' wives enjoy a relationship that is as mutually rewarding as it is peaceful. They maintain a healthy respect for one another, and Naseema is determined to ensure it remains that way. But how does she do it? What is her secret? Here is her advice.
1. Think Before You Speak
What you can say to your own daughter you cannot possibly say to your daughter-in-law. Your own daughter will be comfortable telling you when you're wrong, but a daughter-in-law might be offended and unable to say so. Sometimes even a wrong word, however innocent it may have been intended, can cause misunderstandings and problems. It's a very delicate situation. I always maintain that a daughter-in-law is someone else's daughter. She needs to be treated very well.
2. Never Discuss Your Daughter-in-Law With Your Sister or Best Friend
My sister always says that if something can't stay in your mouth, don't expect it to stay in someone else's. Discussing them with others is just looking for problems. Always ensure that if there is a problem with your daughter-in-law or any of your own children, speak to the person concerned, rather than discussing it with others. Good communication is a must.
3. Learn From Your Mistakes
If you have said something that created a problem, make sure that you never repeat it. Even though I've never had a problem with any of my daughters-in-law, I can't afford to do so, either, because we all live together and are all together in one business. I definitely wouldn't want to upset my sons.
4. Be Simple
Unless you as a mother-in-law are perfect, don't expect your daughter-in-law to be. Don't be unnecessarily fussy about things that aren't life-and-death matters.
5. Be Honest and Generous With Praise
Everyone needs to be told when they are doing a good job. We all need to feel appreciated.
6. Never Drag Your Daughter-in-Law Into a Disagreement Between You and Your Son (Her Husband)
It really is not her problem, and there's no reason to force a fight from her in a situation that she was not a part of in the first place.
The recipe for success? Whatever the case may be, it works for Naseema. So give it a whirl; it may just work for you too. And maybe, just maybe, the civil wars that are tearing so many homes apart will end, and abodes will truly become the sources of Sakina (calm) that Allah intended them to be.
" Do not make your houses into graves. The Shaytan flees from a house in which Surat al-Baqarah is recited" (Muslim 1 # 539)
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