Friday, January 17, 2014

What I learned from my Mother-in-law

So, now that my MIL has left, after a 3 month visit....what did I learn from her?

During her visit, she set the smoke alarm off twice from making her poori's, she read about 30 detective novels, we watched handfuls of movies, and she was deathly scared of the dreaded dishwasher. We shared lots of laughs, meaningful discussions, and she helped my get back to my normal self after being sick.

I mean, seriously. This woman dropped everything that she was doing (helping my SIL) to come and help me and we aren't even related! Hey, aren't I supposed to be HER slave..? (LOL) My MIL was a god-send. And not only did she help me - but she helped husband-ji, Maya, and my parents by giving us all moral support. I love my MIL so much, and I will never forget that she came to help me.

I feel like I learned so much from her during this visit. And it helped that we got along great, too! I think I learned more this time, because I was ready to be taught. Other times, I thought I could do everything and didn't need the advice. But this time - I wanted advice on how to balance my responsibilities - so I was more open to her teaching me. And who better to learn about juggling responsibilities than an Indian MIL? The ultimate 8-armed goddess!!!

What I learned from my MIL....

Cook fresh every day
Yes, it is tedious. But there is something to be said about the healthiness of cooking fresh produce every single day. The great thing was that my MIL taught me how to make 3 things at once (Rasam-Sambar-Vegetable curry) - the ultimate in my South Indian wifey training! My MIL refused to put anything in the refrigerator and barely used the microwave because she wanted every meal to be served fresh. She practically had a heart-attack when my aunt suggested that she make freezer meals for us! (LOL!!!!)

Husband is the first priority
My MIL was always instructing me to spend time with husband-ji after we put the baby to bed. She said even if we are each doing different activities (like reading, or watching a movie) just be in the same room together. She would also encourage us to go on our date nights to reconnect. This is quite different from the traditional Indian MIL who hogs her kids! (See? I told you she was different!)

Wake up early and exercise
My MIL said that I should wake up an hour before my daughter gets up, so that I can exercise and focus on my health. I think she gave me this advice because she wished that she would have done this when she was my age. Now she has a lot of health problems due to the build-up of not taking care of herself for so many years.

The importance of education
Okay, I'll admit it - we totally take education for granted, because everyone in Canada has free access to education until age 18. And as a parent, I like to encourage independence and times of free imaginative play. My MIL came when Maya was 17 months old and she was just getting ready to talk. Ever the teacher, my MIL spent countless hours every day teaching her words and colors. By the time she left, Maya was speaking 30+ words. It was amazing how much she learned. It made me really think that education is so important for kids, because they are just like sponges - devouring information. They want to learn. To be honest, as a first-time parent, I didn't know what I was supposed to talk about to my toddler. But now, my MIL has showed me how to teach her!

Always take the high road
In our many discussions about life, my MIL taught me that no matter what others do to you, no matter how they behave - don't let it spoil your behaviour. To always preserve one's own dignity and character, and not react to others if they are being rude to you. Never stoop to others' levels.

Let it go
One of the things that happened while my MIL was here was that I made up with my SIL after our fight. I didn't want to make up with her (I would have been more comfortable being my stubborn self!), but my FIL requested me to do so. I decided to phone her and wish her happy birthday, and we spoke on the phone as if nothing had happened (Indian-style! LOL!) It felt really good to talk to her and to let our fight go, and get back to normal. It was freeing, for all of us, I think.

The importance of REST
My MIL was always instructing me to sleep well and eat well, in a timely manner - both for me and the baby. Our moods can get so off-centre by not eating or sleeping properly. As a seasoned mother, she told me to rest when the baby rests, and eat when the baby eats - because she knows how tiring raising children is. Before, I thought - Maya sleeps for 11 hours at night, and I only need 8 hours, so I can do chores while she is sleeping. But now, as soon as she goes to bed - I am in bed too - not sleeping, but resting or reading. Just to recharge. I have followed this advice since she left, and it has made a huge difference in my energy levels. I think also that this reflects the larger message of balancing my life - everything in moderation. Besides, if you are eating well and sleeping well - there's no stress!

Family is what it's all about
I didn't socialize too much when my MIL was here, as I wanted to spend the time bonding with her and learning from her. My MIL is a total homebody and she rarely goes out. I always joke with her that she's like those Indian grandmothers who is constantly peering out the window! (Hahahaha!) It was really nice to have a sense of togetherness while she was here - through all the family events of Halloween, and Christmas time - it was uplifting to spend time with family. We did a lot of family dinners and hang-outs and I think it was the most beneficial for Maya.

So, as you can tell - my MIL is an INCREDIBLE lady and I'm missing her a lot. Most of all I miss her companionship since we have a really nice friendship.


Dear readers, what have you learned from your MILs or other relatives?



  1. First time here. I'm in Toronto . I also learnt the same thing from my MIL. She s such a sweet character. :)

    1. Awwww thank you!
      I love Toronto! There are so many more South Indians there! We just lost our Saravana Bhavan restaurant :(

  2. Hi Alexandra... good to know that you gel well your MIL... take good care of yourself, Maya n Madhavan :)

  3. Wonderful advices, though I am not married but the advices suit Universally.. now don't they? :)

    1. Totally's good advice! Glad I finally listened ;)

  4. Wow, your MIL taught you a lot this time. I don't know if I could cook fresh every day, that really takes tons of planning ahead of time. Guess that is what she was teaching. I am glad that Maya learned lots of words from Grandma, that is amazing how she can learn that fast. Your MIL is an amazing woman, I don't know they can juggle family, spouse, and everyone else in the family. The most important thing is that your relationship is really close with her now. You are so kind and generous and willing to learn everything. Take care of yourself.

    1. Awwww thank you so much!
      Yes, I like how she cooks fresh every day - I have started to do that, but I only do it once (or twice, if I'm lucky) and not three times a day like she does. Now I have to feed Maya all her favorite South Indian dishes like rasam and sambar, so I make it when she is sleeping, and then hubby has it for dinner also! Win-win!
      I really don't know how my MIL had managed all those years, taking care of everybody. Her BIL/SIL used to stay with her too, as well as her inlaws!

  5. Great advices..thanks for sharing..its high time i incorporate some of these valuable points even tough i am not yet married..keep up the good work

    1. Thank you! Yes, they were good, valuable advice....married or not, doesn't matter :)

  6. @Alexandra

    It is heartening to know about your relationship with you, when MILs and DILs are at their throats all the time. About education, this is perhaps an Asian thing. Indians know that there are many children who have no access to education. Therefore, we put emphasis on education. Interestingly, this fact is being acknowledged in the west and the Asians have become "Model Minority".

    About meals, no matter how clean the refrigerator is, there may be traces of microbes in a refrigerated food. Also, I believe that Indian fridges are comparatively less powerful than western fridge which are four door giants. I looked at one four door refrigerator last night in a showroom, it was Rs.76,000/- to Rs.1,00,000/-. That is a hell of alot of money for a fridge. I understand because of the long harsh winters, food needs to be stored up in large quantities in Europe and America. In India, unless you put things in the deep fridge, there is no guarantee that food will remain fresh.

    1. Yes, the education thing is what I really noticed this time - kids are just so willing to learn, they WANT to be taught. I didn't know what I should say to Maya, or how really, but she taught me just to point and say simple words to her, like "green" or "bear". That way she really picks up fast. My MIL was a teacher for 30+ years plus so that is why!
      It makes sense about fridges, because when you put leftovers in there, you forget always. And there is always a weird smell in the fridge, although now they have those Arm & Hammer refridgerator fresheners that stick on the side.
      Plus, if we keep eating leftovers then we will get bored of eating the same thing over and over again! So, cooking fresh every day really makes sense.

  7. Hi Alexandra,
    I came across your blog when I googled "how to cope with an Indian MIL and found the post on the psychology of Indian MILs. I have a lovely MIL who is Indian and has done her best to make me feel welcome into the whole family. However last year I had a baby and she stayed for 3 months. I hated it. Hated it. She took my baby all the time, I only had her to change her nappy and to feed her (I was so grateful I was able to BF as otherwise I think I would barely have seen my baby). I did not know what to do. Everything I tried seemed to backfire - I tried to talk to my partner but he thought I was just "not getting along with his Mum" and was angry or would suggest ridiculous solutions like sending her home early rather than giving me helpful advice. I didn't know if this such intense baby taking was purely cultural, if it was purely her or a mix. I didn't want to offend her, I was aware of her limited time with the baby but at the same time this was my first ever, brand new baby and all I felt like doing was being with her.
    I know I should have talked to her, but I didn't know how to start. I was so afraid of offending, or letting my bottled up emotions out. I am not as many years into my relationship as you and just having her in our house for so long feels still like uncharted waters (although I have experienced it once before). (e.g., I feel very awkward about her cooking for us all the time - I feel like MILs should not be toiling, especially as I know how hard she has worked all her life! But at the same time I wanted her to feel completely at home..)
    Anyway, your post helped me relax a little and her recent visit has actually been not too bad, and even, I think I have become a little closer. It was helped by the fact that my baby is now 1 (and 3 weeks) and makes it very clear when she just wants her Mummy. And I had resolved to be more assertive where possible(unfortunately not a big part of my personality) as I notice my Bhabi is.
    Anyway, thank-you for your post then, and this one now. Your blog is very comforting to me :)
    I do wonder, is that behaviour around the baby cultural do you think, should I expect it again if I am lucky enough to have another?

    1. Cate and Alexandra, I hope you won't mind my jumping in with my two cents. I am Indian and married to a white American and from what little time I've spent comparing the cultures, I can tell you that in my big, fat Indian family I was the first grandchild and didn't learn to walk till I was well over a year old because my mother's family carried me around ALL the time. I did learn to talk very early though :-).

      In my family, there is some intense grandparenting but not quite along the lines you've described. What helped me with my mom is that I was VERY assertive with her from the beginning about how I was going to bring up my daughter even if it seemed like "child abuse" to my mother (my mother thinks children shouldn't sleep by themselves until they are 3 years old).

    2. Hi Cate,
      Thanks so much for reading & nice to meet you!
      I had the EXACT same problem with my MIL post-partum! She came to stay with me for 3 months after I had my baby; and we both had conflicting ideas of what "helping" was. I told her before she came that I would need a lot of help, because I was scared as a first time mother.
      But then after I had my daughter, I didn't need any help, and I didn't want any help. All I wanted to do was bond with my baby, and have my hubby bond with her.
      Things got worse when I noticed that my MIL was constantly taking Maya away from my husband. To the point where I had to tell her that she was interfering with my husband's developing bond with the baby. I wanted him to learn all the aspects of baby care, but she thought that as a man he should not learn (that is definitely cultural and generational)
      Well, that caused a huge explosion and she went downstairs and called my FIL and cried that "we weren't letting her help us" and we were basically miserable for the entire 3 months. She had different ideas about baby-care such as: "don't take the baby outside"; "don't go out walking"; and "don't get any water in the ears", etc etc. Through all this, my husband was caught in the middle and it was really hell. During that time, I was unsure whether we could ever be together again or live together as a joint family like I had imagined.
      All I wanted to do was bond with my child - and she wanted to do the same; so it was difficult for me to learn to share her. In my Western mentality, I was taught that babies are the sole responsibility of the mother and father. It took me a long time how to learn how to share my child.
      By my MIL always swooping in, I felt that she didn't trust me as a mother. But when she came back when Maya was 6 months, she realized how well I took care of her, and I feel she understood my personal boundaries more.
      The problem was also that my MIL has another grandchild who is older and raised differently - my SIL often gives the baby to her mother to take care of, so I think she was expecting me to do the same thing.
      It was a very rough time for us in our relationship, but we have since talked and gotten over it. I do think it is cultural for the most part, several of my friends in India say they only ever see grandparents out with the babies, never the mothers.
      I also want to have another child and I'm unsure of how to proceed in terms of her coming, whether I'd like her with us right away, or after several weeks. And she has said that "when you have another child, you can give me Maya", which makes me feel a bit uneasy. Now that she does know my boundaries in terms of parenting, I think she will be okay though. One thing that has helped me is thinking that in our difficult situation, nobody was right or wrong, it was just a stressful time, and that let me let it go - let bygones be bygones.
      And during this latest visit, we really worked together as co-parents when my husband was at work. Only time will tell! ;)

    3. Thanks Alexandria and Anonymous, I read your replies a while ago but haven't had a chance to thank-you until now.
      I am glad to hear that you both have had similar situations - well, glad is probably not the right word as it wasn't a fun situation, but it is nice to feel as though other people have shared in a similar situation and got through to the other side with an even better relationship!
      I was really sorry to hear about your husbands Thata. My condolences to you all.
      And I am so glad that your Dad is on the mend!
      I keep reading your blog now Alexandria. It is really interesting and you are obviously a very thoughtful person. And your daughter is just beautiful!
      Thanks again to you both for taking the time to reply :)

  8. Hey Alexandra,

    Looks like you and your MIL have an awesome relationship! My MIL and I started off on a rocky note but I've learned some things from her, such as - things are just things but people are important (this when I worry about my daughter breaking things), to not be hard on myself if I don't clean or don't make fresh food, to take time with my husband and just be and not worry so much (I'm a professional worrier) and to just let it all hang out and not give a damn what anyone thinks. As a side note, I'm the Indian in the equation here and my MIL is white :-).


    1. Those are really good advices, I really believe that there is something to learn from everybody, and especially MILs can help give advices on typical woman-type problems.
      I'm such a worrier too! I hate that I do, because it is such a waste of time.

  9. Nice post and great advice. Definitely going to share this with my significant other.

    I love your writing style and think that people who are sometimes offended by your 'poking fun' should remember to enjoy it with a sense of humor. Good stuff :)

    1. Thanks Matt! Glad you understand my from another mother! LOL!

  10. There are a lot of great lessons here. Thanks a lot for sharing them!

    1. Thanks Neil! I try to live by them every day....she certainly has some wisdom about life!

  11. Nice blog you have here...... Just stumpled upon it.... You should write a book ....


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