Friday, July 17, 2015

Ask Firangi Bahu: "My Indian MIL is trying to dominate our social life!"

(Photo via Mikael Kristenson)

Sharing a letter from a reader....

Hi Alexandra,

Your relationship with your MIL sounds idyllic. Kudos to your patience and understanding and the effort you took to build such a beautiful life together. 

 I am an Indian married woman living in the US. I have unfortunately very out of the ordinary or weird concerns. I have handled my MIL's bossiness & possessiveness because I get where she is coming from.....but there are some issues I just dont know how to deal with!!!

Unlike most mother-in-laws she is the opposite of a homebody. She keeps on complaining about the lack of social life here (my husband & I are both introverts). She stays 3 months with us and 3 months with her daughter, so there is no joy in taking her out sight seeing since she has been visiting the US for the last 10 years and she's not very interested. 

On the contrary, she keeps on lecturing us on how to lead our lives in the US, right from cooking techniques to "climbing up the social ladder in the Indian community", using my SIL's life as an example (who has a very active social life and who includes her mom in EVERYTHING). 

I have been in awkward situations where we had dinner invitations from friends who didn't invite her (not everyone does that) and she kept on complaining how insensitive we and our friends were to not include her (since apparently all my SIL's friends invite her all the time). She doesn't understand the concept of a generation gap. 

She has barely had a good life since my FIL passed away 10 years ago and is vicariously leading her social life through my SIL - 3-4 months every year. She tries to boss over conversations we have with external people, like waiters and maintenance people, and I feel very annoyed about it. For example, if my husband & I are trying to order food at a restaurant, she will interrupt and try to confuse the waiter. Sometimes it sounds extremely rude, and I can tell by the waiter's expression. It's just a weird, bossy way of showing me that she is totally at home in this country!! 

I am at a loss and have no clue how to entertain her....Hindi TV channels,cooking and sight-seeing just don't seem to cut it. Short of producing some grandkids, how do I make her next visit a happy one for both of us?? Any advice?? 


Dear readers, what advice can we give this fellow bahu?
How do you set healthy boundaries with an inlaw about them micromanaging your life - without being disrespectful? 
How can you encourage an elder of a certain age to get her own social life?
How do you entertain/manage elders during their visits when they finish all their sightseeing?



  1. This is not a very surprising issue. Unlike what most people assume, older people, even women, in India are anything but homebodies. They have the ability to move around easily there (easier transportation and a language they're comfortable with) and a much more inclusive social system - to the extent of being nosy and interfering. My mom today has a more socially active life in India than I do here in the US - though ours is also by choice like you guys.
    I don't know if it is possible for you to find the Indian community near where you live and see if you can find her a couple of friends? Or see if there is a desi meetup group where someone her age would also be welcome. Or check out the bulletin board of the temple and see if there are activities scheduled where you can take her. I think if you find social situations where she can be left to mingle you might be able to take a breather and stand to the side and just notice things.
    Not sure what to do with her micromanaging nature though. It does seem extreme. My best guess would be to just listen to her and then softly say "yes but I prefer it this way". That's what I have done with my MIL and even my own mom - both of whom like to tell others what to do but not to the extent you've stated.
    Good luck! You have your hands full. Does your husband help in anyway or is he comfortable with how she is? If so you can simply take your cue from his response to her.

  2. - Set boundaries with your MIL and tell her you guys have a way of doing things. Actually, I would get your husband to talk to her as he is her son. If he does not wish to, then he should not interfere or try to argue in anyone's favour when you have disagreements with your MIL.
    - Explain to her that you are introverts and don't really enjoy going out so much. Why should everyone be an extrovert?
    - If she has a better social life in India, then I do not see any necessity for her to stay for 3 months every year with you. Let her stay for 2 weeks at the most as you guys don't have kids yet and she has nothing to do. Who makes this rule that she has to stay for 3 months every year?
    - You are not responsible for your friends not inviting her in the first place. Besides, if someone is organizing a party for people in their 20s, I would not want aunties to be present at the party. It just stems the flow of conversation and you cannot make a lot of comments you would if they were not there. People are uncomfortable and that's that.
    - If she interrupts you while ordering or anything, I would politely tell her - "I am talking, don't interrupt and confuse people, are you finished? Can I continue?" in that moment in front of others, not after the conversation is over.
    - For socializing, I would suggest checking out places where other Indian aunties and uncles gather.

    1. Thanks for your reply! Im really trying to find out any uncle-aunty group but so far have been unsuccessful....thanks for reiterating that my friends are not responsible for entertaining her...!! I have been made to feel very guilty about it and I thought it was the norm to always invite parents. I guess if u know a LOT of people you will always find someone whose parents are visiting and connect them with your mom, but we dont know that many people so that's where the problem comes. Its true, with both husband & me working, she honestly doesn't have much to do at home, so she really doesnt need to stay 3 months. That is a separate discussion to have with husband!

    2. Depending of where in the US you are you can enroll her in an Indian Adult Day Care Center. In central NJ there are quite a few of them and will do a free pick up and drop off and she will be surrounded by older Indians eating and doing all things Indian. My Indian MIL just left after a first ever (and never again) 3 months stay. Anything more than one month is unnecessary but I know that Indian thinking is that they want to get the most out of the money paid for tickets but it is cumbersome to have someone in your house that long. Especially for young married couple that needs privacy.

      It is hard to still have couple and "young" people time when you have MIL in the house because of guilt of leaving her alone but this is something you simply have to do. You cannot put your lives on hold until she leaves. Include her in plans but not everything. And, I agree with everything that Boiling said :)

      Millie B

    3. Great suggestions Boiling & Millie, as always :)

  3. dont worry every time about dis .. or dont ruin ur life for thsese issues ...
    u live ur life happily with ur hubby when she is not with u ..and think about what ur mistakes in last visit of her .. dont blame her dath she is like did ..i was gud ..No ..pls dont do this ..just think about if u have done some mistake onwards don repeat please !!!!
    2. if she had visited any place .. revisit and tell about other new things which she didnt know earlier ...
    3. Welcome her with smile ..
    4. u talk to her with all happiness in ur mind and in ur environment ..
    5. u buy sari/suit /purse anything for her , if she refuse it more time u can say .."it will suit u , i have bought for u dat u feel comfortable with it "
    6. u do ur best .
    7. But please dont give explanation if she is doubting anything ..because if u give explanation ..she never believe in u ... at that case just leave her .. ignore her these type of talks
    If u r introvert .. no body cant u focre .. its ur inner feeling if u want u will do ... ignore her talks ..and whatever u can do for her .. do by heart .. :) because she is your lovers mom ..:)

  4. As Boilingwok said, you need to set boundaries *with clear consequences*. Another thing that will help is having a few generic responses for her planned in advance that you can use when you're blindsided by any comments. For example, "well, we have to do what works for us" or "It's so nice that you like to go out a lot; husband and I prefer to stay in more often." etc.

    I would talk to your husband first and foremost about the length of time of her visit. 3 months is excessive if she's not even enjoying herself. Practice setting boundaries by saying, "we know that you're rather bored when you come here having such an active social life in India, do you want to come for less time, like 2 weeks or a month?" If she protests, let her know that she can stay longer, but she'll likely be bored or unsatisfied with her social life here. (Consequence).

    Then, don't go out of your way fretting about whether she is bored or not. You will have already explained the consequence of staying for three months, which is that she'll be bored. Don't ask friends if she can tag along or fret about making plans when you would rather stay in. You could try, as others have suggested, to find a meet up group for her or something. Perhaps if you have Indian friends whose parents live here you could arrange to provide their contact details to your MIL. But, I wouldn't put a ton of effort into this. Try to put the onus on her to figure out what she wants to do and let her know you would be happy to drive her if she needs a ride. Use the responses above when she complains about being bored. Another response could be, "I'm sorry you're bored. This is why we thought a shorter visit might be more enjoyable for you."

    Also, regarding friends inviting parents along: no, that is not normal. My parents are American and are awesome. Everyone loves them. But, they only hang out with my friends when I invite the friends to our summer home for a weekend or something like that. I've never gone to a restaurant or a friend's house and brought my mother with me. If your MIL overtly complains about not being invited to your friends' dinner party I think you just need to say something like, "I know you're used to Sister's friends inviting you along, but that really isn't the norm in the US, so I'm sorry that doesn't happen with our friends."

    You will probably have to repeat a lot of these phrases many, many times before she lets up. Just be kind but firm. Good luck:)

    1. Hm... suppose you relocated to a foreign country... then you might feel happy if your visiting parents were included in invitations... or you may refrain from going out while they are staying with you, or invite your friends to come over your place... don't you think ?

      Who cares about norms ? Affection is a better guide. (Padparadscha)

    2. Just to clarify my sister in law also lives in the US and strangely enough she has plenty of friends whose parents are visiting from india or live in the US with their kids. So finding company for her is no issue. But I just can't seem to find any friend whose parents are visiting at the same time or stay for such a long period of time. Just saying....
      But yes having some standard responses is a good idea...good way to end the conversation right there...

  5. I found a website called that helps you set up an account for your MIL and help her find other parents visiting their children from India. You create a short profile for your MIL and then she can browse through other members by age and even language. Hope this helps!

    1. Wow thanks so much for the info. I will definitely look in to it.

  6. Dear letter writer,
    That is really hard. I can understand your frustration with her coming into your space and then having to feel like you have to change everything for her.
    I think, ultimately, you have to have a little talk with her. You guys are introverts, she is an extrovert - she needs to accept that and respect these differences. And maybe she can stay longer with your SIL if they are in fact more compatible.
    It seems like she needs/craves the social interaction. It might be going out of your way, but try to set her up at a community centre, introduce her to neighbours, some kind of social environment - something to do with the local Indian community. There must be events going on, like some celebration she can help plan? That might give her social interaction + a sense of purpose.
    Also, would she be interested in volunteering anywhere?

    My MIL also had a very hard time when she moved abroad, she didn't know anybody but my FIL. She is naturally a homebody but she felt really lonely. My FIL got her involved in the local temple and now she has a big huge social life and she is out several times per week. She does the temple satsangs several times a week, she cooks for the temple, meets her friends, and she even does this religious book club thing - they read some guru's book and analyze it and chat about it.
    It takes time to build a social circle, it is hard. Talk to her about the kinds of activities she could see herself doing, what her likes are, and what she feels that she could contribute. It will take work but once it is all set up, I think it will only get easier.

  7. Alexandra your MIL seems an amazing person, homebody but at the same time managed to make friends in the temple.

  8. Telling her calmly that you don't need her to tell you what is right and wrong should work. You can decide that all by yourself. You don't need to climb the social ladder in Indian community to create an unwanted parallel community. Your husband and you should also tell her that the social life in USA is like so and all have to adjust to it and she should think about it before deciding to come rather than complaining later on about it.


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