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.