Friday, August 9, 2013

Preparing yourself for the Indian mother-in-law

Recently I caught a daytime episode of Dr. Phil (finally I had time to sit down and put my feet up!) and the topic was about dealing with a difficult Mother-in-law. It proceeded to give some warning signs about personality traits that (Western) MIL's have that you need to watch out for.


  • Mother-in-law is insensitive; doesn't respect boundaries
  • Mother-in-law is overly dependent on son for emotional and lifestyle support
  • Partner clearly puts mother-in-law needs/requests ahead of yours
  • Partner talks to mother daily; drops everything when she calls
  • Partner values mother's advice and opinions over yours
  • Partner runs to mother when arguments occur
  • Mother-in-law attacks your character
  • Mother-in-law treats her son like he's still a child/competes with you
  • During family gatherings, you're overlooked or ignored by mother-in-law
  • Mother-in-law actively campaigns against your marriage 

I thought this list was totally hilarious. It's describing a typical dramatic Indian mother-in-law perfectly! So, the Western version of a bad MIL is basically an Indian MIL..? Which is precisely why you can't ask your Western friends for advice on your Indian MIL! They just don't get it...

I have been trying to put together my thoughts on how best to describe insane challenging personality of the traditional Indian MIL, in a way that Westerners can understand. There is so much cultural stuff that comes along with having an Indian MIL that many Westerners can't cope with it. The Indian MIL is even feared by the majority of Indian women! An Indian MIL is basically like having a Western MIL on steroids... I find many typical Indian MIL's to be much more dramatic than Western MIL's - maybe because women of that generation (in traditional India) have had to sacrifice so much of their needs for their duty to their family. In general, Indian MIL's are more challenging in the sense that they like to get more involved in everything, they are quite emotionally dependant, and they loooooove to complain. That, and they are also extremely protective of their sons.

Whenever I say I have an Indian husband, immediately people ask me "How's his mother?" with an awful look on their face. Oh yes, these Westerners have heard some horror stories.

I think the biggest issue in being an intercultural relationship has actually nothing to do with your husband - it's how well you can get along with your respective inlaws. When they're from a different country, and of that generation, there's more conservative values...and Indian moms in particular baby their sons like crazy! Many never stop treating them like an infant, and it is difficult to set up proper personal boundaries within the Indian family hierarchy ("boundaries" is really a Western mentality).

(My MIL & I have developed a really nice friendship)

My own relationship with my MIL has had lots of ups and downs, trials and errors, many cultural faux-pas', but we have slowly grown into a level of mutual understanding and friendship (I think this might be helped by the fact that we're both Libras!). I would say we have a better than average relationship. Learning how to become like mother and daughter was a huge adjustment on both our parts, with the differences in cultures playing a major role. We still have disagreements, but at the end of the day, I can always call her up and confide in her like she's a friend of mine. And who better to help me with her son than the woman that raised him?

An Indian MIL can be your worst enemy or your biggest ally so you HAVE to choose wisely. And IT IS A CHOICE. In upcoming posts I will be talking more about this - how to approach her, how to get to know her, how to develop a friendship with her and co-exist, and how to deal when none of that works. 

Stay tuned!

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14 comments

  1. You can also not take your western friends advice to deal with your Indian mother. D's SIL is a relationship counselor and in the beginning D thought we could ask her advice on how to handle my mom? The advice she gave did not make sense at all and my mom would flip out if I act the way she told me. That would be totally disrespectful.
    I also had counselling with 2 therapist and they were never able to give me an advice. The problems I was having were totally foreign to them. lol.
    -R

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    1. Oh, absolutely! Western family dynamics are completely different especially regarding the elders. Dealing with a woman who is 50+yrs old FROM Mother India is a completely different ball game! Many Westerners don't get it...you can only take advice from a fellow desi or a Westerner who has an Indian elder woman in the family.

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  2. From Grace via Madh Mama's Facebook fan page:

    "Don't mind me constantly commenting on your fb page - iphone won't seem to let me do it on your blog (blogspot/wordpress login for some reason unable to be edited with my keypad.
    Loved Raina's comment as a western approach can be taken as an act of aggression my an Indian!!!
    I feel similar about my relationship with my MIL, sooo many ups and sooo many downs but ultimately though we have a two steps forward, one step back scenario going on we seem to be gradually progressing!!
    We are both bulls her being Aries and me Taurus so that might help too?
    Ultimately I think we are quite similar and over time we have begun to appreciate that in each other.
    My MIL is bold, feisty, a keen bargainer, doting mother and homebody which is so similar to me. We both come from families of five children and like to treat others the way we want to be treated too!
    We get peace from prayer and meditation and while she is a psychologist by qualification I am one by life experience (a very loose use of the word psychologist).
    My MIL longed for her DIL to take the place of her daughter within her home and I longed for the traditional mother-daughter bond that my Mum struggled to give being an emotionally detached person. Slowly, we are fulfilling each other's realities.
    We bitch to each other, laugh with each other, stuff our faces and even through a language barrier we manage to communicate with success. We respect and appreciate each other's time, sacrifices and feelings and always try to keep love in our dealings!
    I eat more rotis to satisfy her desire to be needed, she gives me run of the house and doesn't interfere with my business.
    I just came upstairs from a rather philosophical chat with FIL, MIL, SIL and her hubby where I was the main speaker and I am still surprised at the level of respect I am given at home. It is not often that an Indian FIL likes to listen to his DIL ramble about India, thoughts on family, on life, on his culture but they understand my intentions are pure.
    Peace at home is soooo precious to me and working on my relationship with my in laws is something that has paid off for everyone! We are lucky!! "

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    1. My reply:
      I absolutely agree! It is harder in the beginning but it can turn into a wonderful friendship. I also have a lot in common with my MIL which is why we both get along and butt heads at times. With the cultural misunderstandings, I also feel like it is two steps forward, one step back...but at least it is moving forward at all! I also grew up with a detached mother so it is nice for me to have a MIL who is more involved, I can appreciate it more. But if I had TWO involved mothers...it would be hard!!! P.S. my MIL's cooking has totally made me chubbier too

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  3. Great to hear that you are are close to your mil. Once you get that understanding point it feels really good! I didn't realise how comfortable I was with my mil until another family member pointed out how we behave together.
    Nice pic of you and your mil ;-)

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    1. Thanks for commenting & reading!
      Yes, we are close but we do have our bumps in the road, of course. We have a much closer relationship when compared to the rest of the family's MIL/DIL so I guess that is a good thing! It is nice to have an elder woman in the family who can explain the traditions/culture to me. My husband gets tired of explaining them...lol!

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  4. I have been very fortunate with my Indian MIL thus far. The worst thing we've ever disagreed on was her snooping around my room.

    Of course now that hubby is here I can see a lot deeper into the issues such as the relationship she has with my husband and things like that. Her worrying about him has changed our relationship dynamic somewhat though there isn't really any tension there. She's just not a into picking on him with me as she once was. It's a learning experience though.

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    1. Definitely...the relationship between an Indian boy and his mother is so complex. I find that the relationship is healthier if the MIL has a good marriage with the FIL, that way she does not put unrealistic expectations on her son to fulfill her emotional needs that she is missing from her marriage.
      Very complicated relationship...nothing comes close to it in the West.

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  5. Visiting your husband's family (or vice-versa) and putting up with an Indian MIL for a few days is one thing; living with her on a daily basis is a different ball game altogether!

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    1. It really is!!!!!! Because when you live with someone every day, you get to see ALL their moods! LOL

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  6. I have read some Indian articles and they do have an odd untrue perception of the west they think we r lazy don't care about our families and hire babysitters so maybe explaining to his family that western woman do love to care for their families will help

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  7. It is nice to know that there are people that have come to befriend their MILs. I am not so hopeful, with my MIL staying wi us for 3 months and after one I am already at wits end. I am quite happy to pretend she is not there and continue to care for my kids how I have been doing so previously. I just don't share any qualities, she is not so motherly and caring like me. All I see is her constant criticisms about random people and interrogating my Indian friends about who's married etc and how they can't roll round rotis. I wonder what she says about me behind my back???

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  8. HELLO! Thank you for insightful stories and interesting blog.
    I am an American girl seeking advice about meeting my Indian bf's parents at dinner at their house. I am unfamiliar with proper Hindu/Indian family dinner etiquette. I am interested in showing gesture of respect and openness to his culture.
    What should I (or shouldn't I bring)? Or there certain flowers/colors that mean more than others?
    May I help at all in the kitchen or cleanup?
    Any info/ advice is GREATLY appreciated!
    Thank you :D <3

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