Monster-in-law

Perhaps he brought her home even as you imagined yours to be a love nest? Perhaps you were assailed by her disapprobation even as you dated — and you married him despite her. Perhaps he turns into a wuss when his mother is around. A pushover, and you resent her for it. (Strangely, not him.) Perhaps he makes it seem that loving her and loving you are mutually exclusive. And he’s torn. Perhaps you carry the baggage of your mother’s suffering and never gave his mother a chance...

His mother. Possibilities abound; the crux remains — you are reluctantly related.

It starts right at the beginning. You love him and in your bid to win his approval on every front, seek appreciation from the one he holds highest in esteem. She, meanwhile, has been a helicopter mom — hovering always, overprotective. Now, he’s “going away” and she’s anxious. That he’s dismissed her naysaying instills in her a nagging fear of being permanently dethroned… Little surprise then that she rejects you. Assesses you continually and conspicuously. Critically, I might add. She feels under attack and acts on the defensive. What’s your excuse?

Look around; the one you are fighting over is oblivious and, for most part, dismissive. The most distinguished men play victims in this domestic dilemma. Unbeknownst to them, in most cases, they cause the crisis. Loving your wife and making her feel needed, and concurrently reassuring your mother and making her feel needed are not mutually exclusive. There is no betrayal in loving both, reassuring both and being sympathetic to both. On the rare occasion that you have this clarity there sits a peaceful home and a strong family unit. But most, if not all, men are inadequate for the task. Unable to balance multiple ‘affection centres’ they cause deepening resentment. And since emotional-conflict-resolution is to stonewall, unhappiness prevails.

And yet, know this: He’s not being aloof. He’s dealing with it, as he knows best. Expressing anything less than laudatory is betrayal in his book. As is participating in an opinionated conversation. So, even if he grew up thinking (suppressing) mother was overbearing, he’d never express it, and if you verbalise it, he’d be hurt. Not because it’s a wanton lie but because it’s a truth he cannot bear. Women, meanwhile, are open to criticism and critiquing. We air opinions without allowing our ‘core belief’ of anyone/anything to get affected. Open to your parents’ “faults”, you’d warn him of oddities. And, if he then cagily confesses to something you’ll probably laugh it off and fuss over him, and even cajole your parents to go easy.

You manage affection centres adroitly; he isn’t wired such. Now what? Isn’t it time you fix this. You caused it; he merely contributed. You chose to fall into the very trap you accuse your mother-in-law of: Insecurity. He married you. You bear his last name. Why then insecure? And that too of the most fundamental relation. If he likes his mother’s cooking, why is it so unpalatable? How about joining the feast… Must every banal detail be elevated to being the Armageddon. Since when did you qualify her a threat? And why is your sense of self so limited it sparkles only in comparison. I raise kids better. I keep the house better. I cook better. I look after you better...

Stop! Why does he love you? Not because his mother isn’t good enough. He loves you for you. And everything you love about him is her upbringing. Everything you don’t? How about dealing with it as you deal with your mother’s tiresomeness. How can you allow something so routine, so easily manageable, to eclipse your life.... Each time you shake your head and say you’ll never be like her, you confirm the reverse. Otherwise you’d brush aside her fears — for she feels replaced — by making her feel relevant. Included. Family?

Let’s go back to the beginning. Plug that dire need for validation. Why must his best friend dote on you or even his mom? Why can he not have a world where you are welcome, but where he can recede minus you — just as you go to your mum’s / your sister’s / your best friend’s place? Why is a girl’s holiday kosher and a boy’s night out blasphemous. Are we this duplicitous? Certainly not (we are worse). But let’s start by pretending. Ship him off to his mom’s for lunch today. And have a good time while he’s away. Help him love you.

Nupur Mahajan is a sum of many parts. Ideas are her business even as her creative streak sees her straddle television, advertising, publishing, radio and brands. Reach her at nupurmahajan@icloud.com

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