Friday, May 8, 2015

Ask Firangi Bahu: "How can we survive the future when his Indian mother is taking hold of his life???"


Sharing a comment from a reader....

"I have been with my boyfriend for three years and still his mother is the same way! They have been living in Canada for about ten years. My boyfriend and I have always been upfront and honest with his mom about everything. We have never fought and I have always tried to be nice to her and include her in our life. 

But lately, she is constantly on my butt about everything - I eat meat and she says it is against the Sikh religion to eat or touch meat.... I have never known anyone from this religion so I went along with it. Then, I find out from a friend that in India, most Sikh people eat meat. 

Sometimes I feel like his family is ruining our relationship. In September we decided to go shopping and get engaged so we brought his mom out for dinner and we told her and at that time she seemed fine with it. Months later, we told her we are going to have a engagement party. Instead of being happy for us she told me she doesn't want us to get engaged for another year.....and when I asked her for the reason, she told me that she feels that I should complete my schooling (I will be done in 2.5 more years). Which I find hypocritical because she married off her daughter in an arranged marriage when she was just 18 years old and she didn't even finish school. 

I also feel like she just takes advantage of my fiancé. Right now we can't even live together because he pays for her mortgage and all the bills at her house. She doesn't work and her husband in India refuses to pay for her. The bills per month go well over $2300 because we live in Toronto and she has a 4 bedroom house. I am at my wit's end because every dime he has goes to paying for her bills and the reason is because she is family. 

On top of this, she sleeps on the couch in the living room so we cannot have friends over, or even cuddle, or watch a movie because she is always there staring at us and talking to us as if we are bad people. Even if we go upstairs, she will come up and sit on the bed and complain about bad content in the movie. We can't do anything without her approval - she still treats him like a child, making his lunch for work and dinner. She simply drives me nuts because we can't afford anything at all all. 

We decided that maybe it would be better to live with her which is fine for me because I am paying $900 for rent at my apartment. But she said "NO, NOT EVER" because I eat meat and I have a 15 pound dog and she hates dogs because apparently they take up 1/3 of the oxygen in the room.... 

I have had enough with not being able to save a dime - even with both of us working and me going to school. I don't see how this situation could change. Please give me some suggestions. I truly need help. I love my man but not this life, and he is always stressed out too. How can we survive the future when his Indian mother is taking hold of his life???"

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Dear readers, what advice can we give this fellow Bahu?
Have you been financially burdened by supporting your parents before marriage?
Would you recommend that they all live together to cut costs - why or why not?
How can they create respectful boundaries with a MIL who is so overbearing?

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17 comments

  1. From personal experience, the experiences of close family members and friends, as well as reading https://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/, I don't think your boyfriend's mom is going to change anytime. The only hope is that your boyfriend will change but I think that seems unlikely too given how much a part of his life his mother is.

    It seems like she has no life of her own which in turn drives her to live out through her life through her son. You mentioned you live in Toronto- does she visit with or have friends and relatives, Sikh or otherwise? Does she have an active social life or hobbies? I suspect not. You could attempt to begin chipping away at the future mother-in-law by having her son involve her in activities outside the house. Maybe volunteer at an organization?

    As for your boyfriend, he is going to have to realize that he is enabling his mother. Not knowing what your boyfriend is like, I will ask you this- is there hope that your boyfriend can be brought around to see just how much of his life goes in to supporting his mother's life? Have you talked to him about his mother? Is he receptive to your thoughts and feelings? How you answer that will tell you a good bit about what your future is going to be like and whether or not you want to continue with this relationship.

    As for his mother sleeping on the couch and following you to your room, many Indians I have come across (and I am one myself) do not understand the concept of privacy. My own mother does this and to her it is just how she was brought up- in a home crowded with relatives with people dropping in willy nilly without any notice. I, personally, belong to the school of thought that my home is my refuge and I do NOT want people showing up when they feel like it and even if it is my own mother, I do want privacy to just sit and talk to my husband without having a third person around. I know this is unfair, but can the two of you go to a nearby park to talk without his mother around? Some place around where you can just sit without having to buy anything? Maybe a coffee shop once a week (to begin with)?

    Sorry for the long comment- I just wanted to throw out some ideas which croweded my mind as soon as I read your questions. I'm sure I will have more ideas once I read what the others have to say.

    Raina.

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  2. (edit: this ended up being long, sorry! So I'm splitting it up into separate posts)

    To the lady, I would say first that it's important to look at the mother in law's psychology:

    You say the boy and his mother have lived in Canada for 10 years, while the father has been in India and is not financially supportive. My question is: How long has the father remained there? If it has been for a significant time, then it may be that the mother and father do not have an emotionally sound relationship. If that is the case, then you have a very dangerous situation with a very emotionally desperate woman. In India, many women emotionally over-invest in their children because (a) their self-worth tends to be rooted in their familial/social roles and (b) they often don't feel really loved by their spouses. This woman knows that if her son gets married, he may likely be more emotionally invested in you than in her; and in her mind, if both her husband and her son are emotionally distant from her, what purpose does she have? What is she worth if she doesn't have a family to support/be supported by? This is the fallacy of our Asian societies, and this is why she is acting so desperately. Like a frightened animal, she is apparently at her wits' end and is manipulating/doing every possible thing to salvage her relationship with her son. And yes, the animal analogy is fitting because it is literally the same part of her brain (the reptilian/primitive/'flight or fight') that is dominating her. Ever see the youtube videos of those desparate dogs who jump in between the owner's face every time they try to kiss their lover? Isn't that exactly what the mother in law is doing when you are upstairs together?

    But there are indications that this woman is not just a scared victim, but is also an outright insensitive person in her own right. She is willing to lie about eating meat, is controlling the pace of your relationship; You/your lover are paying for HER rent and yet SHE is the one deciding on whether you get to live with her or not. This woman has lived in Canada for 10 years, so she's not exactly an insecure, fresh-off-the-boat foreigner who doesn't know about Western customs or respecting others. There are some foreigners who have such a sense of cultural superiority or personal insecurity that they stubbornly refuse to adapt and try to force reality to conform to their own narrow standards. This mother in law appears to be one of them.

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  3. (part 2)

    For your situation, I would say your options depend on the seriousness of your relationship. You've been with this man for 3 years - which for many couples is good time to decide if they are serious enough to proceed in the relationship, get married or not. Judging from the fact that you've put up with her MIL's abuse for a while now, it appears you're pretty serious. But you first really have to assess this situation for the long-term - ARE you willing to marry this man and handle his mother in law? Remember that if the mother in law is that bad, there may be a whole slew of bad relatives behind her back home. You also have to assess: Is your HUSBAND willing to respect you and stand up to his mother as he needs to, or is he spineless and utterly acquiesing? Because if he is willing to be manipulated by her, he will almost certainly manipulate you as well, in which case it may not be worth continuing the relationship. So have a serious talk with him about the relationship: figure out what you need from him (now and in the future), and TELL him about it. If you need him to be more firm with his mother, give him a time frame (maybe some weeks or months) to do so and see how his mother reacts. In any relationship, respect is key - and how can you respect someone (or receive respect from them) if they don't respect their self?

    Note that your husband doesn't have to be either totally for or against his mother, himself, or you - compromise is the key. But he does have to be CONSISTENT in compromising. If he doesn't tolerate a behavior from her one day, but allows it the next, then frankly he's still spineless and undependable as a spouse. And I pretty much can't see any other way forward for you unless the mother in law changes her behavior - which she will ONLY do if her son makes it clear that he will not tolerate her behavior anymore. Because as the 'outside' lover, you pretty much have no influence over her on your own, but HE does- if he accepts it. And if he doesn't exercise it, she will become a regular negative fixture in your life whether you like it or not. And it will only get worse when you decide to have children.

    So to summarize: 1) Assess the seriousness of your commitment (i.e. marriage potential) and emotional readiness from your standpoint. 2) Assess the same for your husband, have a serious talk about the future of your relationship and expectations 3) Give him a time frame to see if he can change his behavior and to see if his mother can change. 4) If you feel he can be firm and compromise from both ends, and if the mother in law respects this and can back down at times, proceed in the relationship/marry, etc. 5) Otherwise, if neither he nor his mother change, LEAVE and don't look back/regret it. I say this because if you do leave, there's a chance that you may have lingering feelings of guilt or your lover may project these feelings onto you. Pay no attention to them, for that is a classic scenario in emotionally abusive relationships (you'll even see Indian parents blackmailing their own children!). Take time to make a CLEAR decision from your head and heart, and have enough self-respect to leave if you need to; it may be emotionally intense for you since you've invested 3 years of your life and feeling into it, but try to take ownership of your feelings and do your best to leave it behind, perhaps getting the support of your friends and other family members in the process. Good luck!

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  4. (Part 3)
    By the way, here's some extra analysis on us Indians/Asians in general.
    As a South Asian young man, I have to shake my head at this mother-in-law. This is a classic example of what's wrong with Asian (not only Indian) societies. In the East, they value communalism versus the Western individualism; since resources are typically scare and populations large, the family/social unit is valued over the individual's independence. So there is a lot of self-sacrificing among family members, who give up a lot of their own individual assertions and dreams just to support the entire group (which includes themselves). Asian societies are also patriarchal, which means they tend to value external discipline/authority figures to guide them versus self-authority and being in control of one's life. In the right context these are not bad of themselves (since they can lead to wonderfully socially-conscious and selfless behavior), but unfortunately they are also easily perverted and can lead to disastrous results in the wrong setting. For example, many people in communal societies get their self-worth from their social/familal role and not their unique individualities (i.e. they get value from what they DO, not who they ARE in themselves). But without the self-respect that comes from knowing your unique worth as an individual, you easily set yourself up for manipulating/being manipulated by others, because you depend on them for your emotional fulfillment and self-validation. Also, valuing outer authorities to the point where you feel they validate your life's direction and choices leads to a sense of powerlessness and co-dependency issues.

    There also tends to be a peculiar misundertanding in Eastern societies: many confuse being 'good' with being spineless. A lot of people are willing to bend over backwards and be stepped on by anyone if it means appearing good from a social standpoint (this is the 'fear of outer authority' issue); that is why in India people will never tell you "no" to your face, but will say only 'maybe' or be indirect. It is also why in China, even if a guest is harming your valuable property, you are not supposed to speak up to them or stand up for yourself (not joking, I read this on the blog of a western woman living with her husband's family there). The irony is that while they are weak when it comes to confronting outer authorities, they are consequently tyrants when it comes their own domain (i.e. households). Because they have an unbalanced relationship with authority and personal power, they abuse it with those closest to them (and are abused by them in turn).

    That's why you hear of the stereotypical domineering Asian parent who forces their kid to study unholy hours or practice piano relentlessly, or the fact that they dominate their kids' entire life choices - from careers, to marriages, etc. Consequently many Asian kids are great when it comes to achievements and outer 'success', but are pitiful when it comes to key life skills such as social skills, romance or being able to stand up for oneself. On a social level, it can be argued that the lack of accepting personal power is why in India: 1) many men of lower social strata feel abused and consequently take their repressed aggression out on raping women (note that most of the Indian rape cases were done by socially-outcast men). 2) Masculinity is rarely expressed in a balanced way in Indian entertainment- men are either the 'young, romantic lover' type, the 'cocky badboy/jerk' or the 'overly-strict authority figure.' Even in popular singing, males voices (and even females) intentionally sound young like teenagers (which is considered an ideal voice) and don't typically express the vigor of adult command. 3) Governmental systems are horribly corrupt, disorganized, and progress slowly.

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  5. We finically support our inlaws, however we are in a situation where we are able to do this and it doesn't interfere with our needs and my husband is very firm that my and our kids needs are met before anything is sent to them. She needs to have a talk and be on same as to what is going to happen once they are married as then the income with be THIERS and they both have a say so. I will say, I don't understand why the father is not helping out/ the needs for the big house if she is alone ect however I would never tell my husband he couldn't help his family after all he also has a say so. It just needs to be clear that once he is married and especially after children his immediate family's needs come first. They need to have this conversation earlier than later bc money is a big issue in a relationship.

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  6. In my opinion I feel like they are not living in little India they are in Canada ... and when an Indian decides to move away from India you have to face the reality that your child might meet someone outside of your culture ... I think if he intends to marry this girl he needs to stick up for her! He needs to work towards their relationship getting stronger ..

    Let me tell you my in-laws are Hindu... I'm Christian so is my husband... they are vegetarian ... we are not ... they Believe things like you can look at the moon on certain nights ... we dont ... and so on...

    I don't believe she should have to change because she fell on love

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    Replies
    1. I agree that she shouldn't have to change, only that she should learn about the differences and try to understand. I do find it odd that she didn't seem to mention her partners feelings on all the issues. For example, if he likes supporting his mother, then it's something she needs to learn to accept because he's entitled to live that part of his culture. On the other hand, if he doesn't want it, or agrees it's too much every month, then she could encourage him to step up and stand up to his mother, and find something they can all be comfortable with.

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    2. I know that's she's now living here but it takes years and generations to assimilate and especially for the Indian culture that is so rich and engrained into them the mom will not change overnight and may never change so the daughter inlaw will have to understand that and pick her battles with her mil and that's where the understanding part can go a long way. With that being said- she's not dating the mom, and if the things she does is ok with the son then he needs to stand up for her and do his job of explaining to his mom that the things she does is not wrong and also part of her culture. Things get dicy when you are living together. My husband and his family don't eat beef, and I will not cook it in the house or order it when we go out together- it's not me changing it's me being respectful of them bc I understand why they don't eat beef. This give and take needs to happen for any, especially a biracial, relationship to work. Daughter in law has to give a little and so does MIL and when MIL isn't then son needs to step in.

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    3. Unfortunately 10 years is really no time at all to an Indian and very few would make any adjustments or changes in that time period. I feel like I am always posting the same comment on this blog, but my in-laws have been in the UK for 30 years and still live like they came from India yesterday. My MIL doesn't even speak English. I was the first non-Indian she ever spoke to or had in the house. The older generation does not change and will expect you to do everything like them, even if you're not Indian. It's very difficult to get them to understand the other side and if you want to live your life differently you need your partner to support you and speak up to his family. In regards to the financial situation, most Indian parents expect their children to take care of everything for them and don't seem to consider whether this is a financial burden. If you two are struggling financially you have to get your partner to speak up. I would also question why his mother needs a 4 bedroom house? Why not have a 1-2 bedroom apartment which still gives her space, but doesn't stretch you so much financially. Ultimately it all comes down to if your partner is willing to stand up to his mother and go against expectations. If he is, it won't be easy and you will need A LOT of patience as I would expect drama from his mama. The two of you need to have a very honest and open conversation with each other and decide what you want for your life together. If you're on the same page you can then tackle the family and finance issues.

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  7. Meat eating: While you shouldn't do it just to please someone else, because that's meaningless, it actually is a fairly accepted/common part of the Sikh religion because it's unclean. It's the same for Hindus - they're not supposed to eat meat at all, but try finding some that don't! A meat eating daughter in law would never be accepted into our family because it's just that important to us. Pretty much everything else would be fine, but not that. It's something you have to decide what to do about, if it means that much to you. My brother-in-laws long-time girlfriend (we're talking about 6 years here) gave up meat because the family wouldn't even agree to meet her until she was vegetarian. She wasn't even allowed in the house.

    Schooling - this is fairly common. Wanting everyone finished school before marriage, in India and the west. I can see the value for sure. Not something I would personally subscribe to, but it's about being financially ready, and responsible, and also about enjoying your youth without those responsibilities of married life. It doesn't have to mean anything to you, and if it's important don't go along with it. But it's not uncommon at all. Also, sons and daughters are different. It's hypocritical but pretty much everything in India is.

    Money - this is also normal. I know so many Indian men who are supporting their parents. It can cause real hardships, and it has for us in the past, but I try to look at it as a really beautiful thing. I wouldn't dream of financially supporting my parents because they were never supportive of me in my life. But having such love and respect for your parents? I envy that. I envy that relationship where the children want to care for and protect and support their parents. I sincerely hope that my children feel like that about me. As for taking advantage, it's a juggling act that your partner has to work out for himself. Putting too much pressure on him won't work, it will just stress him more. For me, I had to show, gently but repeatedly, how his family was enjoying our money while we were struggling. It became even easier after our baby was born, because he REALLY didn't want his son to miss out on anything at all just so his family could have the latest fridge and a tv in every room. This juggling act can take years to sort out, but it's important to realise that it comes from a really beautiful place.

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    Replies
    1. Yep. Just came back from a wedding where the man and his family accepted to become pure veg for the bride, who is vegetarian. The younger brother of the man, told me he wants to finish schooling and have a good position before considering marriage... My grand-father would have approved. Only we are talking here of arranged marriages in India between two Indian people. Not inter-cultural love marriages in Canada... Subtle difference :) - Padparadscha

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  8. part 2 ---

    Her constant supervision - this is also really normal, and I'm sorry, but it's up to your partner to deal with. He needs to tell her to back off a little because he's not a little boy anymore. It's just not her business. Same with the money, gentle encouragement should get him there. Make him understand how it makes you feel, but don't make him feel like you're saying 'me or her' but that there is a compromise possible.

    Living together - it's rare for an Indian family to accept this before marriage. As I said earlier, if she's vegetarian for religious reasons, it's not a surprise that she won't accept living with a meat eater. I don't. I would never, NEVER live with someone who eats meat. Anyone who stays in my house has to be vegetarian. It's just that important to me. I won't eat from a pot that has cooked meat, we're not even supposed to eat food made by someone not vegetarian. I think it's important for you to understand her point of view here, because it's obviously really important to her. Look into Sikhism more, go to the Gurudwara, talk to vegetarian Sikh's, try to understand where she's coming from. If you don't want to be vegetarian that's one thing, but you're expecting her to accept something that she believes is very wrong. As for the dog, well that's also a common belief. My MIL wouldn't let us have a dog because they are so dirty. Again, it's time for discussion, and compromise, and your partner could pull the 'well I pay the bills so if I want a dog I'll have a dog' card, but it would have to be from him, because he is the one who can create change and encourage her to see things differently.

    Honestly, I think this writer is not quite accepting of the cultural differences yet, and definitely not of the religious issues. I think she needs to do more research, and immerse herself in the culture if at all possible in order to try and understand her MIL better, especially if they are going to live together. I think that she needs to be open with her partner about how she feels about things, but at that same time she needs to realise that some of these issues, like supporting your parents, is not just the mother, but something ingrained in the son as well. She can't expect change in the mother, but she is entitled to support from her partner. AND, it's important to get issues ironed out before marriage, because sometimes it just doesn't work.

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  9. The big thing is that there has to be both acceptance and balance.

    If you don't accept that he will be supporting his mother (even though his father won't) this will eat you up inside.

    Can the 4 bedroom hOme be sold and a smaller place be purchased?

    Down the road will your fiance (boyfriend?) Live with his mother no Matter what? If yo i u give up eating meat at home, will she accept your dog?

    If he can sell the big house perhaps she can move into an efficiency since she doesn't use all the room and the two of you can get a medium sized house for a potential future Family... or he can move i to your apartment and his mom downsized. But the thing is some things can change and other things don't.

    I would feel duped on a few thins you mentioned, but remember there are always exceptions... so find out whether there is enough of your boyfriend you like that you're willing to make some changes... and that he knows that he will need to go to bat for you some times too.

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  10. 1. You can read many issues like this on IHM's blog (https://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/) and this is face by many Indian DIL's as well.

    2. I feel this is an issue to be mainly dealt by your BF not you. Anything you say, you will be shot down by the fact that "you are a foreigner", "you do not know Indian values" "you are not her daughter" etc.

    3. You would need to discuss with our BF and how he wishes to deal with it.

    4. He needs to stand up for you and tell his mom to back down.

    5. You both need to reach a consensus on how much money you would be willing to spare for his mom and refuse to spend more. You guys need to draw boundaries.

    6. I am not sure about the lifestyle, but living in one of the most expensive cities, I can say $2300 is too lavish and she is spending the money because she is not footing the bill.

    7. Is she a canadian PR? If not, could you guys look at not sponsoring her stay in the future.

    8. It is high time, your bf sets his foot down and establishes boundaries and decides how much he is willing to spend on her/month.

    9. Please do NOT move in with her. I cannot emphasize that enough.

    10. Eat what you please. Do not change for her. You are in a relationship with her son, not her.

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  11. sorry to be a party pooper (indian born and living in India) but it seems as if your fiancé will always put mummy/his family first. he is not paying HER mortgage. He is paying THEIR mortgage. her not letting you move in, well really you know nothing abt Indians, the average Indian parent would never let her son's girlfriend move in! her not wanting you formally engaged, well thats a a red flag you are refusing to see. They are just waiting for you to tire and move on. In any relationship, don't look at the parent/family's behaviour look very honestly at the man in your life's conduct/behaviour. Any man who wants to start a life with the woman he loves is not going to be putting all his money into his parents bank account/mortgage. Even in India!

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    Replies
    1. THIS is the answer she should be listening to -- you have to think about the situation like an Indian, not like a westerner. If you want a western-style relationship, I don't think you are dating the right guy. If you persist in this relationship, with luck you may eventually be able to move in to your BF and his mother's place and or marry your BF -- but it sounds as if his mother is part of the package, and you will be dealing with her ruling the roost every day of the rest of your life. Is that the future you want for yourself?

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  12. LW, please do not move in with your BF’s mother unless there is quite a bit of positive change. She needs to learn, at minimum to tolerate you as you are, without changing your diet or conforming to her ideals. You shouldn’t need to become like her, for her to accept you. She is likely threatened by you and thinks you will take her son (or her lifestyle) away. There has to be some compromise on both sides, but if you are the only one to compromise you’ll likely feel resentment down the road.

    It seems counterintuitive that your BF’s mother is concerned about you getting married before finishing school, but isn’t concerned about the financial burden and stress she is inducing by living above her son’s financial means while both of you are in school. Marriage is something positive that should come with support and partnership… It seems like she has other underlying issues.

    As many others have said, your BF needs to take a stand and you need to be on the same team without it being an ‘us against the mother’ scenario. Some rational solutions like potentially converting part of the house into an income property could help alleviate the financial pressure. Perhaps you could rent out the entire house and make enough profit to cover the mortgage and some of the other living expenses. If your BF isn’t willing to partner with you to be solution oriented and find something that works better for everyone, its best you move on.

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