What is your most memorable or heart-warming moment with your daughter-in-law?
Archana: I remember about three years ago, four years after my son’s wedding, I had gone for a Valentine’s Day lunch with my daughter-in-law. We were both slightly consumed by emotions and she said something that moved me to tears. She said, “When I say the word ‘Maa’, I can envisage my biological mom and you standing on the same pedestal.” That was heart-warming and I felt so content, like getting a priceless remuneration for all my efforts.
Baba: The most precious and cherished moment that my daughter-in-law Richa and I have shared would be her wedding day. As per the Newari ritual, I had to give her a special key that was brought from a temple. Holding one end of the key, I had to take her around the entire house while being showered with flowers and rice. It’s a very symbolic, meaningful tradition and a special way to welcome her to the family. It was a heart-warming and overwhelming moment.
Rita: One of the most heart-warming memories I have with my daughter-in-law is from a Mother’s Day celebration. She made the day incredibly special by showering me with love and thoughtful gestures. It was a moment that touched my heart deeply, and I couldn’t help but shed tears of gratitude.
Sangita: The moment my older daughter-in-law told me she was pregnant. I could not hold back the joy. That memory even today gives me that surge of dopamine. With my younger daughter-in-law, I love the way she scrambles up into my bed, crawls in, and either chats or watches a movie with me. I cherish these moments with her.
Can you share a piece of advice you received from your mother-in-law that has influenced your approach as a mother-in-law?
Archana: My mother-in-law taught me bit by bit about the family traditions, foods and beliefs particular to this family, as every family is different. At that point, I followed her instructions by compulsion and fear rather than choice, but now I think, she was instrumental in carving me into this almost perfect homemaker.
My mother says, believes in and practices two things. First, she says, your daughter-in-law is your daughter born from your heart, so give her a spot in your heart that is most comfortable. The second invaluable piece of advice is to loosen your grip on your son.
I have tried to walk in both their footsteps and these are pearls of wisdom.
Baba: My mother-in-law strongly believed that building strong and supportive relationships with family members is important for creating a happy and harmonious family. As a mother-in-law now, I am open to change and adapting to different family dynamics which I understand could evolve with time. I embrace these changes with flexibility and understanding.
Rita: My late mother-in-law, a truly remarkable woman with a heart full of kindness, imparted a valuable lesson that continues to shape my role as a mother-in-law. She emphasised the importance of prioritising family above everything else. I have strived to carry forward her legacy by making my sons and now my daughters-in-law feel cherished and valued within our family unit.
Sangita: My late mother-in-law often advised me to take good care of my husband and that everything would eventually fall into place. Over the years, I must say, everything has fallen into place, but I don’t know if I have taken good care of my husband.
what qualities or traits make for a great mother-in-law?
Archana: The first few years are really important and you need to tread softly, gently and lay a strong foundation – brick by brick – to build a sturdy, ever-lasting relationship. If I need to spell out three traits or rather the three basic ingredients to make the best mother-in-law, they would be:
A patient listener, who listens with an open mind with no mental block and without judging. Being an articulate speaker is also just as important. Being able to be soft yet firm. Being able to put your thoughts across without being mean. Healthy communication is the key to a healthy, happy relationship that is fair and impartial.
The young couple is bound to have teething issues at the beginning of their relationship. If a mother-in-law is unbiased and fair, she wins over the girl forever. No one forgets how they were treated in the first few years of entering a new home.
Never compare her to anyone. People tend to compare her to other daughters-in-law or their daughters. Appreciate her strengths and assure her you shall help her overcome her shortcomings. Acceptance and appreciation are magic wands.
Baba: A great mother-in-law shows respect for her son’s or daughter’s spouse and their relationship. She treats them as equals and values their opinions and decisions. She promotes open and honest communication and is willing to listen, understand, and respectfully communicate her thoughts.
Rita: A great mother-in-law is characterised by qualities such as acceptance, fairness, tolerance, forgiveness, generosity, effective communication, respect and support. These traits help create a loving and harmonious family environment where everyone feels valued and included.
Sangita: I cannot be definitive here. The qualities are relative, a mother-in-law can be great if the daughter–in–law is great.
How do you balance giving your child space in their marriage?
Archana: Only give advice when they ask for it. If you feel they are traversing a path that has pitfalls ahead, just warn them softly what your experienced eyes can sense, but let them make their own decisions. Don’t reprimand or be in the quintessential ‘I told you’ mode.
Baba: Both my son Avant and daughter-in-law grew up in a joint family. So, they are used to having people around the house. They value communication, consultation, mutual respect, doing things together, sharing and caring which are a part of a joint family. They have their apartment in the same house if they want privacy, but they prefer to be together with the whole family including the fur babies. At the same time, I do understand the importance of boundaries and respect them. I give them space to make their own choices and decisions, without intruding or being overly involved.
Rita: Balancing the desire to stay close to your child while respecting their space in their marriage is essential. Our family values boundaries and encourages our children to nurture their marriage and personal growth. We cherish family gatherings and special occasions which allow us to strengthen our bonds without intruding on their married life.
Sangita: Not interfering. Sometimes it is very difficult to follow that rule when things go astray. Over the years, I have learned to practice selective hearing. So, their space is theirs.
What are some ways you have found effective in building a strong and positive relationship with your son or daughter-in-law?
Archana: One thing that I did from the onset of the relationship was, I told my daughter-in-law, “Sweetheart, I am not perfect, neither do I expect you to be, but we can both try to build a close-to-perfect relationship.” For this, I had one rule or promise to begin with. We promised, if and when we had a miscommunication or misunderstanding, we would speak about it to each other before we spoke about it to anyone else. I have tried my best to be on the same democratic ground where regardless of our hierarchy, we have equal rights to expression of our emotions. Secondly, I have always supported her dreams and aspirations and made her an active partner in my journey, whether it’s my plays, retreats or anything.
Baba: To build a strong and positive relationship with my son and daughter-in-law, I have been open to changes. I understand family dynamics evolve and I embrace these changes with flexibility, encouragement, understanding and guidance when needed.
Rita: Building a strong and positive relationship with your son or daughter-in-law can be achieved through respect, open communication, support, inclusivity, and appreciating their presence in your family. These principles create a foundation for a harmonious and connected relationship.
Sangita: Well, the thing is if they want to talk, or rather vent, lend them your ears. Do not advise them unless they ask for it. Free advice is often not appreciated. But I think if they are allowed to vent their thoughts, plans, ideas, discomfort, toxins, it’s easier on them than you. And over time you can work on those words and thoughts, and build on your relationship.
How have your relationships with your children evolved as they entered marriage and brought in a new family member into your life?
Archana: It does change. You have to enlarge your heart to encompass a new member. This innocent-looking frail being has immense power. You are overthrown from the place of being the most important person in your son’s life. You may no longer be his most trusted confidante or best friend. But then, isn’t this what we always wished for our son? Isn’t history just repeating itself? Accept the change wholeheartedly and feel happiness in their happiness.
Baba: I feel blessed to have an additional member in the family. Richa brings additional joy to the family, and I can talk girl stuff with her that I can’t talk with my husband or my son. So, if things have changed, it has been for better, much better.
Rita: Seeing my children grow into mature and responsible individuals as they entered into marriage has filled me with immense pride as a parent. It’s a joy to witness their ongoing growth and evolution in their relationships with their spouses.
Sangita: Life is so fast-paced, that we barely have time for ourselves. But again, my generation, we are the bridge between tradition and our children.
Are there any cultural or family traditions that you’ve introduced or adapted to create a sense of unity and togetherness with your son/daughter-in-law’s family?
Archana: We make sure to eat together, especially at festivals. The men wait until very late to serve the ladies on special festivals like Teej or Karwa Chauth when we fast for their well-being. Another tradition that a lot of people who are close to family appreciate is that whenever anyone comes back from travel, I make sure they are given a special welcome. The meal comprises their favourite dishes, the sheets in the room are changed, and when my daughter-in-law comes, the celebrations are grander like taking flowers to the airport and putting a basket of goodies at her bedside.
Baba: We are Newars and are associated with a guthi. Guthi is a Newari social system that is family or community-based, and provides religious, social and cultural support to constituents. Richa comes from a Newari family where guthi is also a part of her family tradition. So, she blended in beautifully, creating a sense of unity and togetherness.
Rita: As a spiritually inclined person who places faith in prayers and believes in the power of a higher being, I have encouraged my children to connect with their inner spirituality. This shared belief has become a unifying tradition that promotes positivity and faith within our family, helping us foster a sense of togetherness and unity.
Sangita: Dashain is one tradition that reiterates the family bond; reminds us of who we are.
What’s an absolute relationship NO – NO as a mother-in-law; something you wouldn’t compromise on or will not tolerate?
Archana: I would be shattered, feel hurt and betrayed if my son stands against me for his wife, especially because I have tried to keep my doors open to communication.
Baba: Family happiness, health, respect for elders, love and understanding for younger siblings, and religious beliefs are values I hold dear in a family. Any conflicts that imbalance this harmonious and loving family environment will be hard to tolerate. But communication plays a crucial role in uncovering the root causes, addressing misunderstandings, and finding solutions that align with these values, ultimately promoting a stronger and more unified family bond.
Rita: I believe that maintaining a harmonious family environment is of utmost importance. Thus, I have a strong stance against any form of disrespect towards anyone within our family. Mutual respect and kindness are fundamental in nurturing positive relationships, and I am committed to upholding these values.
Sangita: There have been a lot of compromises, but one thing I would never compromise on is my independence, my freedom. And that independence is also important since I am financially independent.
Can a daughter-in-law ever become the daughter of her new family or is it just a cliché?
Archana: This is an overrated cliché. I fail to comprehend why we mix relationships or seek other relationships in the existing one. Fusion creates confusion.
Baba: Whether a daughter-in-law becomes the new daughter of the family depends on the cultural norms within the family. In some families, she is warmly embraced forming a close bond with her new family. However, in other cases, there may be a more traditional or distant relationship between in-laws. It’s not necessarily a cliché, but rather a reflection of how each family chooses to approach these relationships. Communication, understanding, and respect are key factors in determining the dynamics between a daughter-in-law and her new family.
Rita: A daughter-in-law can indeed become like a daughter to her new family, but it’s not something that happens automatically or overnight. It’s a process of mutual understanding and building a strong bond over time. I wouldn’t label it as a cliché, but rather as a gradual journey of getting to know and appreciate one another. With patience and effort, the relationship can grow and deepen organically.
Sangita: It’s a cliché, a myth. It’s easy for someone to say, “You have a daughter-in-law, she is your daughter.” A bond, a real strong bond can be created and strengthened over the years between the two women, of love and friendship. She can be a great daughter-in-law, having all respect and tenderness for the family, she can love and be equally loved back. Yet she cannot be the daughter. Remember a woman carries her daughter for nine months, and a bond is formed then, even before the infant is born. That infant would have basked in the sense that she was loved. Her needs would have been huge and non-negotiable, only fulfilled by the mother. Each daughter grows out into the world in this way. Each daughter can only be her mother’s daughter.
Do you ever feel like you have to choose or take sides between your daughter-in-law and son?
Archana: Whenever such a situation arises, I try to be as just as I can though I must confess, my emotions are slightly tilted towards the girl for more reasons than one.
Baba: Playing the role of peace mediator can often be more constructive than choosing sides. A mother should prioritise fairness and understanding between her children and their spouses.
Rita: I firmly believe in maintaining neutrality and not taking sides in my children’s private affairs. We respect their autonomy and privacy, only offering guidance or support when they seek it. This approach ensures a healthier and more balanced dynamic within the family.
Sangita: I love taking sides with my younger daughter-in-law. It irks my younger son. She and I, both enjoy this.
Is it harder to forgive a daughter-in-law when she makes a mistake?
Archana: Yes, it is for both.
Baba: Forgiveness is an essential part of maintaining healthy relationships, including those with daughter-in-law. It is important to remember that everyone makes mistakes, and forgiveness, understanding, tolerance, love, and communication can help prevent the repetition of errors and foster a more positive harmony in the family. Holding onto grudges can strain relationships further.
Rita: I have an easy-going nature, and I don’t hold grudges against anyone, including my daughter-in-law. We all make mistakes, and I believe it’s important not to dwell on them but rather to move forward with understanding and forgiveness.
Sangita: It’s hard to forgive both, the son and the daughter-in-law, depending on the gravity of their offense. I forgive both but you forget the misdemeanour of your sons, but it is difficult to forget those of the daughters-in-law.
How do you think this relationship has evolved with more and more parents choosing to stay separately from their married kids?
Archana: Sometimes I strongly feel, given to changing times, this is a better arrangement. The co-existence of different generations can get very challenging, confusing, and conflicting sometimes. My sincere advice would be, if you see red flags of discontent or bitterness, take immediate action and part ways before it’s too late and hostile. Try to set rules to meet mandatorily for celebrations, crises, happiness, or pain. Breathing space sometimes pumps more life into relationships. It is better to stay apart physically and close in spirit than vice versa.
Baba: The evolution of family dynamics, including the choice of parents to live separately from their children, can vary greatly depending on cultural, economic, and societal factors. Many factors influence the decisions parents make regarding living arrangements for their children, such as work opportunities, education, and personal preferences. While some families continue to prioritize joint family for the benefits of support and harmony, others may opt for more independent living to accommodate modern lifestyles and individual aspirations. For me, the tradition of joint families and the value of togetherness have been deeply ingrained. But ultimately, the choice should be based on what works best for each family’s circumstances. Open communication and understanding among family memberscan help ensure harmony and a supportive environment, regardless of the chosen living arrangement.
Rita: I believe that the practice of parents and their married children choosing to live separately can be a healthy and beneficial choice. It reflects the independence and autonomy of each family unit. We remain there for one another in times of need, fostering a strong and enduring bond while allowing each family to live their own lives. This evolution in the relationship dynamic highlights the importance of both independence and interconnectedness in modern family structures.
Sangita: I have seen that a lot, even with my generation. I think it’s good on both sides, in terms of freedom and privacy. I feel that by staying together, as an individual, you learn, you grow, you suffer, you unlearn, and all that is an experience of motherhood and mother-in-lawhood. If I could turn back the years, I would not. Not for any reason, but that, my grandson grew before my eyes. Saw all his firsts, which I never would have had we lived separately.