Life Second-Class – The Mother-in-Law

Exploring Patriarchy – Chapter 22

MM loved her mother-in-law (referred to later as MM’s MIL) for many reasons I’ve mentioned before in Exploring Patriarchy Chapter 3 – Equality at Home | A Wonderful Woman. A separation of living spaces goes a long way in helping mother-in-law and daughter-in-law love each other.

And there’s one more important factor we often under-value, namely, the role of the Indian man.

Now MM’s MIL was a second class citizen in her own home. She’d embraced the idea that men are more important than women and had enforced it within her home, with food. So men ate first, and women had to serve themselves after the men had been served.

This worked out okay because they had enough, so unlike in homes with less, even the last to serve herself ate well. What’s surprising is that MM’s MIL had still managed to raise a son who noticed what went on at the dinner table. A son who cared for his mother enough, that he didn’t like seeing her treat herself this way.

Now, whatever a son might feel, changing one’s mother’s attitude is hard and often impossible. Especially when one lives in a society where self-imposed martyrdom, with no real use, but with the sole purpose of creating or perpetuating a hierarchy within the family home, is praised and rewarded.

They lived in a society which did, and still does, foster a culture where foolish young boys write poetry praising the suffering of their mothers. And turn a blind eye to the role of their father and his silence. Possibly, because the helplessness of a son and his lack of real power within the family home is so deeply acknowledged, that it has become the structure around which many build their reality.

MM’s MIL had broken some rules while raising her son. She’d taught him to care. And he’d payed attention to her teachings. He’d noticed her self-imposed servitude and battled it many times, asking his mother to sit down and eat with him.

The nuclear family, which was much a part of their family traditions, gave him the space to shape his life the way he wanted. It made some things harder, because there was a lot more running up and down when parents needed support. But this was a price he (and MM) were willing to pay, even when it got really challenging.

MM’s MIL moved closer to them because she was getting older. She wanted the support of her son. Very minimal support as compared to other elderly Indians, because she liked her independence and her space.

She’d raised her son well. And he, MM’s husband, felt that both parents, that of the wife and that of the husband, are deserving of equal time and support. He also knew that this system of men leaving their responsibilities of elder-care to their wives is wrong.

It’s wrong because it makes it necessary for a woman to abandon her parents during their time of need, because she can’t cope. Elder care, like parenting, takes time and patience. And it’s a job for a man and his wife to do together. One person can’t do it all on her own.

So, unlike many Indian men who shirk their responsibility to their parents, and leave all the care to their wives, MM’s husband made time for his mother.

And he cared for his wife in the same way that he cared for his mother. Stepping in at mealtimes during family visits, and ensuring he and his wife served themselves together. This was a thought-out and planned act of caring that took away much of the discord that is a part of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships in many homes.

MM’s husband had a home with traditions that were very new in their society. He liked the togetherness that these traditions gave them. And he felt it was his role to step in when it came to his family. And teach his mother to respect his ways.

And later, like she did with many of the changes he’d made, MM’s MIL embraced these new ways. And made them her own.

You must remember that she was a forward thinking woman for her time. And that many customs were for her, just habits that served no real purpose. Habits that she wasn’t invested in for any other goal.

And she saw too, that embracing change brought her much love. And a kind of happiness that is not the norm for an elderly Indian woman who has a married son – the love both for, and from a daughter-in-law. A love that she knows and experiences, because she knew how to bring up a caring son.


I invite you to read all chapters of Exploring Patriarchy and walk with Microwave Madam as she explores the impact of patriarchy on her life and on society. And looks for solutions.

Published by Anitaelise

Anitaelise teaches piano lessons at Anitaelise Piano Studio and writes poetry and essays at The Relaxed Housekeeper. The blogs - therelaxedhousekeeper.com and anitaelise.com are written and owned by her and published in accordance with the copyright notice at the footer of each blog.

8 thoughts on “Life Second-Class – The Mother-in-Law

  1. Loved this Anita ❤

    Best Regards/ Mittra

    On Thu, 23 Dec 2021 at 10:50, the relaxed housekeeper wrote:

    > Anitaelise posted: ” Exploring Patriarchy – Chapter 22 MM loved her > mother-in-law (referred to later as MM’s MIL) for many reasons I’ve > mentioned before in Exploring Patriarchy Chapter 3 – Equality at Home | A > Wonderful Woman. A separation of living spaces goes a lo” >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love love this!!! Such a pleasant change from regular Indian households.
    I wrote a post not long ago about how it totally annoys me that in Indian households the women set the table and serve and then join the men to eat. It’s such a weird tradition.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks do much Happy Panda, yes it is a weird tradition and I think it comes from control issues. Indian TV and cinema portrays problems with no solutions very often.

      I hope this set of posts on patriarchy reveals the knowledge of men and women who have broken barriers in other to bring happiness to all and found better ways to live.

      This topic is important to me, so thanks again for commenting.

      Like

  3. My mother lived with my sister and her husband (he was orphaned at the age of 5 and raised by his older sister). She became like the mother he never had. It is extra nice when the husband loves his wife and extends that to her mother to the point of even cooking for her and taking her to doctor appointments! My sister is blessed…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes she is!! That is so nice, have seen that with sons-in-law here too.

      With daughters-in-law I have only seen caring with strings and a very high balance of reciprocation, but thats also because many families here have women doing the bulk of elder care.

      Like

    1. Yes she is 🙂 There’s a skill to creating conditions that push change and MM seems to have that skill. Her family is lucky because chickens always come home to roost and the God’s always have a way of showing us the truth about who we are.

      Liked by 1 person

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