The mother-in law phenomenon is universal. India, the land of the evil mother-in-law, is actually not very different from other parts of the world, despite what the Indian woman may like to believe.
Doris Roberts, who starred in the show Everybody Loves Raymond passed away on 20 April. She played the nosy and overbearing mother-in-law to Raymond's wife in the sitcom and her character is not very different from our own homegrown Indian mothers-in-law. Doris, a fine actor, epitomized the mother-in-law phenomenon. If you're not sure of what that entails, read on.
Here Comes the Son
Rule number one for the mother-in-law is that the sun shines out of her darling son's derriere. He can do no wrong as far as she is concerned. She has this great ability of coming up with the most bizarre and unbelievable excuses for every single flaw (of course she does not think it is a flaw), big or small, that the apple of their eyes is perceived to have. Of course it's mostly the daughter-in-law who is at the receiving end of these mind-numbing excuses.
If the son does not help around the house, she says, "My poor son works so hard, he must be tired."
If the son does not help around the house, she says, "My poor son works so hard, he must be tired." And if the daughter-in-law works too, she says, "Women are the caregivers and they need to look after their men." If this is not enough to put off any daughter-in-law, she talks about how she would stay awake all night during darling son's final exams just to make him hot cups of coffee and massage his head with cooling oil. The implication is quite obvious--the daughter-in-law does not care enough for her man.
One of the most bizarre stores I ever heard was when a friend of mine, trying to gain the upper hand on her mother-in-law (a complete delusion) told her that her son was a complete slob and did not believe in bathing during weekends, not even bothering to change out of his nightclothes. She was trying to imply that her mother-in-law had not inculcated the right habits in her son. But she could not win this round (or any other), because her mother-in-law said, "That's because he is so clean and he does not stink at all. Do you know his perspiration smells so sweet that I can actually make a perfume from it?" My friend realized she was in the presence of a master and it took her weeks to gain enough confidence to play the game of one-upmanship again. And this is a true story!
This one is to be expected. The mother-in -law always believes that she is the best cook and that her daughter-in-law is the worst. She suffers palpitations and high blood pressure every time she thinks about her little lamb being fed all kinds of horrible, burnt and tasteless food cooked by his wife. She has nightmares about her son starving to death and begging for food cooked by his mother. So she often cooks her son's favorite dishes and takes them to him.
Hell hath no fury as a mother whose son is not being fed proper food!
If her son is eating pasta cooked by his wife or they have ordered pizzas, then duck for cover. Hell hath no fury as a mother whose son is not being fed proper food! Different mothers-in-law may adopt different tactics but the aim is the same. To 'food shame' the daughter-in-law and ensure that her sweetie pie would always think of her as the best cook in the world. Some may sweetly offer to cook for both of them every day; some may extol the virtues of home-cooked food as against junk; and some may go as far as to offer to teach their daughters-in-law their sons' favourite dishes. But beware! She will never allow the daughter-in-law to cook better than her. It's the battle of the buns and the mother-in-law always wins.
A Free Bit of Advice
This is the toughest one. And that's because it is constant and always aimed below the belt, albeit surreptitiously. A mother-in-law is an expert in free advice and she believes in doling it out generously. If only she would share her jewellery so generously, the daughter-in law would be her slave forever. But that's not going to happen of course! So going back to the phenomenon, the mother-in-law believes in giving the daughter-in-law a piece of her mind at the drop of a hat. The daughter-in-law can never clean the house right so she gives her some sparkling advice on how not to keep the house. The clothes are never washed correctly, so she piles on some immaculate advice on how to not ruin the clothes. The grandchildren, always providing unlimited scope for free advice, are never brought up right. So in pour huge quantities of advice about how not to bring up children, with many stories about how she selflessly brought up her own so well. Sigh!
The grandchildren, always providing unlimited scope for free advice, are never brought up right.
But the advice giving the mother-in-law revels most in how to look after her dear darling. She dishes out oodles of advice on how to cook for him. She advices vociferously on how to be a good wife to her beloved son; how to take care of him; what he likes and dislikes and it goes on...
Doris Roberts, by her portrayal of the typical mother-in-law, raised awareness among daughters in-law that they were not alone. The mother-in-law phenomenon is spread widely across all cultures and geographical boundaries with the daughters-in-law forming a sisterhood...of course, only till they become mothers-in-laws themselves!
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