Saturday, September 27, 2014

Daughters over daughters-in-laws

One of the more shocking things that I find about Indian culture is the double standard that is pushed upon daughters and daughters-in-laws within many Indian families. Basically, the daughter of the family can act like a spoiled brat and practically get away with murder; while the daughter-in-laws every move is watched and criticised. This is something that I have noticed within the branches of our own Indian family, as well as many others from completely different regions. When I speak of culture, it is patterns like these that surpass region, religion, caste, social and financial standing. Daughters over daughters-in-law is one of these huge patterns.

For example, let's say the daughter of the family is a working mother. She relies on a lot of different people to take care of her child, but it seems she tries to avoid her inlaws for various reasons. She is unhappily married but will not tell her parents that for fear of upsetting them. She has moments of being bratty, spoiled and generally not nice or considerate to her parents. She does nothing for her parents. She is very materialistic. In the same family, the daughter-in-law is a stay-at-home mother. She makes an effort for her inlaws by phoning them often, including them in her life, and making every effort for them. She is the sole caregiver of her child and does not rely on anybody else for fear of inconveniencing them with her child. In this family, the daughter can do no wrong and is completely idealised. The daughter-in-law is picked apart, criticised, and told she is not taking care of _____ (fill in the blank: her kids, her husband, her household). If you're curious as to who this family is - I can tell you I know 4 separate families with this same setup....talk about patterns!

If anything, the daughter-in-law is doing a better job but is treated badly simply because she is not the daughter and can never measure up to her. The daughter-in-law is treated not as well because the inlaws cannot be generous with their love, are unable to emotionally connect with her, constantly compare the two women, and are also subconsciously are mourning "the loss" of their own daughter.

In Indian culture - even in modern day - when a girl gets married she is seen as belonging to the groom's family. Sometimes she even must ask her inlaws' permission to do many things. She is seen as an object who is belonging to her husband's family. This is partly why Indian parents try to control their daughter's choices - they want to make sure she gets "married off" to a "good" family. Which is exactly where the problem lies - if Indian parents would let go of the mindset that the girl belongs to this family or that family, they would not be mourning the "loss" of their daughter. As they say, "the grass is always greener on the other side" and it surely reflects the comparison between the daughter and the daughter-in-law. The daughter is held on a pedestal because the parents wistfully feel she belongs to another family, while the daughter-in-law is a never-good-enough substitute for her. The inlaws may tolerate any kind of ridiculous and immature behaviour from the daughter, but constantly boast to the daughter-in-law, "Oh my daughter would never do THAT". The hypocrisy and the double standards can be quite astounding. When I witness patterns like these, I feel like shouting, "HELLO! Isn't anyone else seeing these unhealthy patterns?!?!

For example, the daughter may rely on many other people to watch her child constantly. When the daughter-in-law wants to go out for 2 hours, she is berated by an elder "for depending on other people to take care of the child". Oh, the irony....! (Is it just me or do Indian parents unleash on the daughter-in-laws what they feel they cannot dare say to the daughter?)

In reality, the daughter is not so different from the daughter-in-law. They are both women, mothers, and they both have inlaws to deal with. They are both trying to do the best they can and they are both women trying to juggle and balance it all. What the parents don't realize is that their daughter is also a daughter-in-law who is facing the same treatment - but they are just blind to it. And that the daughter-in-law is also someone's daughter. Daughters-in-laws are expected to be like the daughter, but if they did even half of what the daughter did, they'd be completely disowned. Many daughter-in-laws are not as valued, not as loved, and unappreciated - which means they often feel like they have to give up more to please the inlaws. A vicious cycle...

In their defense, the inlaws may not realize they are even doing this. But by doing this, the inlaws are creating an unsaid familial hierarchy in which the daughters-in-laws are at the bottom of the food chain. Because of all this comparison, the daughter and daughters-in-law - who are sisters-in-laws - may never get along or find a connection. Instead of being sisters and friends, they are pitted against one another. The daughter-in-law feels isolated and doesn't bother contacting the beloved daughter too much. The daughter may think her sister-in-law is aloof and may feel as if she is a little hostile. Instead of becoming close and sharing advice about motherhood, they barely speak. Everyone loses in these patterns, especially the women.

Daughters over daughters-in-law is a prime example of how patriarchy pits women against each other. One can only hope that our generation will be conscious of this and do it differently...

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24 comments

  1. I didn't notice that in our Indian family. But I find it natural that my MIL should favour her daughters over me, she knows them better and they share more affection.

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    1. Interesting opinion....I wonder if you will feel the same in 10 or 20 years..?

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    2. Let's put it this way, Alexandra. I have 4 Indian SILs, and having watched the family interactions, I am grateful to be a foreigner, and an "added piece" as we say in France, as it gives me a pretext not to get involved in all the family dramas ;) However in my first marriage, with a western MIL, I witnessed the same difference between children and in-laws. I tend to look at the glass half full rather than the glass half empty. Don't forget the saying "familiarity breeds contempt". Sometimes a little distance breeds respect (and peace of mind).

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  2. I have not one but two sisters in laws and I am constantly being compared to them......i wonder if i will ever measure up.....its not a nice feeling....

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    1. :( I know how you feel. Can't imagine having TWO....ugh!

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  3. I am really blessed in that my mil is so sweet and never compares anyone to anyone else. I have two wonderful sils and we are all just different no comparison. As a kid everyone used to talk of my sisters beauty and I grew up resenting her and wishing every one talked of my beauty as well. So I understand the pain of being compared.

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    1. Glad you have found some solace with your inlaws, they sound really sweet!

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  4. Although its hurtful in case "uniformity of treatment" doesn't exist, I think you made a blanket statement about ALL Indian culture with regards to MIL/dil relationship : what you say is not true. Perhaps it's affecting you or someone close to you but not everyone.

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    1. Never did I say it would apply to ALL Indians, that would simply be not possible. However, it is an issue that is distinctly Indian. Sorry to hurt your sentiments but patterns like these are unmistakable and it takes an outsider to notice them.
      Please don't deflect from the story as you haven't experienced it, instead it should open your mind as to the fact that people have.

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  5. Luckily there is ano age difference between and my sister in law. My inlaws treat me well but not like a daughter. There are issues in that sil will buy things for my kids (her kids are in their 20s) & we have been cautioned to not accept things from their household. As a foreigner that seems odd but it relates to accepting things from her husband's house.

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  6. I've been nodding along in agreement with your last few posts! It is such an Indian thing. Funnily enough, sons-in-law are not compared unfavorably with the sons by parents of daughters. I think it all stems from the fact that the son's family feel like they "own" the daughter-in-law. And I have noticed that even the best mil is never fair when it comes to treating the daughter and dil the same. As another commenter mentioned, I don't expect my mil to be as close to me as she is with her daughter. But then that distance must also stop her from making snide comments when I do something that she doesn't like. If mils and fils would learn to respect the dil as an equal partner in their son's marriage, the relationship would be so much better!

    ~Suja

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    1. I feel you, and exactly right about the sons-in-laws - why is that? Double standard even there, no?
      It really comes down to equal respect as a person.

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    2. I know a family where the mom always compares her son and son-in-law! Son is always right, even if he's a complete jerk!

      But Daughters vs daughter-in-laws can more intense than son-in-laws! Just a thought.

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  7. This is true. I seem to be coming across cases like this lately. Stop treating women like property. DIL has to bring in many gifts and daughter has to be given many gifts every time she visits. Dumbass system and people defend it.

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    1. It really is a property thing. The DIL is owned more and valued less.

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  8. @Alexandra

    It is patriarchy I guess which fits men and women in different roles. You cannot be anything else than what you are expected to be. The same daughter who is sick of her MIL advises her mother on tackling her DIL. What is wrong in her case as a DIL, becomes right in her mother's case. Actually, the MIL, DIL, DIL mother are all insecure caught in the vicious cycle of finding their existence in a patriarchal society. The only way to do that is to oppress somebody else.

    It is believed that men can make a difference as they are perceived to be all powerful. The patriarchy does mean male dominated society but it does not necessarily mean men are all powerful. Patriarchy dis empowers men and women alike. It is nothing but oppression both the genders.

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    1. I totally agree, it is absolutely oppression of both the genders. Men seem to be not included from these issues as if it is "women's problems", but I feel the husband should step in and moderate when he sees these double standards.

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  9. I came across your blog recently, and I have to say that you are amazing Madh-Mama. :-)

    And yes, as far as daughters are concerned, you were so right, a mother in law never gets bothered about her "spoil-brats". But a daughter in law is judged constantly. I sometimes feel this is so unfair, but again, the mother in law's daughter has got her own family and set of problems. (Evil grin)

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    1. Thank you!
      I know, that is the only satisfying thought, that we know in our hearts that the daughter is under a microscope in another house.

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  10. This is one aspect of life I am truly blessed never to have experienced. My first MIL was a nightmare - far beyond anything I've heard coming from the Indian realm - and my second MIL is a dream. My 2nd MIL did not have any daughters and thus openly adopted me as such. Now as a MIL myself with a daughter, I can honestly say that there is a natural distinction that you can't easily overcome. Your DIL wasn't there to bond with you for the first 18+ years of her life. However, you can delight in the differences she brings to the family and accept that she will have traits different than you are used to. It's ultimately the MIL's choice to like her or not. The concept is complicated by so many factors. Culturally speaking, I think that the oppression so many Indian women suffered at the hands of their MIL tends to filter down and it takes a strong heart and mind to overcome it and seek a different lifestyle.

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    1. Ugh you are sooooooo lucky! The comparison is what I can't stand, it just pits women against each other when they should instead be sisters.

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  11. I m compared to my sister-in-law sometimes. I usually ignore it, but when it goes out of control, my husband comes to rescue. :D

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