Friday, October 9, 2015

Ask Firangi Bahu: "My superstitious Indian Mother-in-Law is driving me crazy!"

(Img via Carmine De Fazio)

Sharing a letter from a reader....


Hi Alexandra,

I am writing for some advice about my superstitious MIL. She is superstitious....to the point of insanity and all her 3 kids (including my husband) have become victims and are slowly turning crazy like her!

She is very religious and looks at the Hindu calendar even before calling anyone. She has irrational beliefs about foods which are auspicious and inauspicious, and colors which are auspicious and vice versa. She does not speak to anyone or answer phone calls on certain days of the months. 

The worst thing about all of this is that she forces her kids to believe in all this nonsense. Now the whole family believes that they cannot achieve anything without her blessings. She lives in India, but visits her kids in the USA 5-6 months very year and loudly proclaims that it is only when she is around is when good things happen to us. (I mean, if you are around half the year... then the probability is quite high anyways right?

A couple of instances have happened to her kids and her daughter-in-laws & son-in-laws which have kinda reaffirmed every one's belief. For example, I had been looking for a job for a long time and finally before a job interview my husband called her and received her blessings, and I got the job. The same thing happened to my SIL . My BIL achieved major milestones in his life when she was around for a visit once...bought a house, luxury car etc. 

Now that I'm expecting (after trying for a long time) my husband refuses to go to any doctor's appointment without calling and talking to her first and confirming if the date is auspicious and take her blessings. Now, everyone in the family is afraid to not do what she says and not have her blessings. 

Is this rational??? I'm just afraid something bad will happen if I question their beliefs. It's like being in a cult...I'm very tense and anxious...please provide me with some advice....

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Dear readers, have you ever dealt with extreme superstition from Indian elders?
Do you think superstition might be an Indian MIL power-trip in this case?
How can the reader create boundaries without stepping on toes?
How can they mutually respect each other's beliefs?
It is realistic to be chained to extreme superstitious beliefs in your daily life? 
And especially when you live abroad?

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23 comments

  1. Well, is this 'superstitious' or is this her religion (Hinduism)?

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    1. No it is not hinduism.hinduism gives everybody absolute freedom to do whatever they want unlike islam...where man can marry four women at a time but same thing is prohibited for women.or unlike christianity where women is considered to be soulless creature (according to bible) so they can be used and thrown out without any remorse.

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    2. It is not 'religion'.

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    3. So in Hinduism everybody can do whatever they want?
      So can a Hindu woman have 4 husbands (or wives if they're gay)?
      Or a Hindu man have 4 wives (or husbands if they're gay)?
      So all those Hindu widows at Varanasi aren't used & thrown out?
      I haven't been a Christian for 10 yrs now but as I recall in my bible it definitely said-
      "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:28
      Has Jesus made some new additions to the Bible regarding women's 'soulless' status in the last 10 yrs I haven't heard yet?
      -from a concerned former Christian

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    4. Read the dark bible and google about joan of archs death you would definitely be surprised.and as for stature of widows according to the hindu scriptures find me one verse amongst whole hindu scriptures which show them in bad light.

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    5. And the verse you are talkin about read any bible printed before ad1800 and see how many times this verse has been contradicted . and just to remind you except india every where in the world jews had faced difficulties for their existence for thousands of years and surprisingly india is a home of 80% hindus. You can make the correlation .

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    6. And the verse you are talkin about read any bible printed before ad1800 and see how many times this verse has been contradicted . and just to remind you except india every where in the world jews had faced difficulties for their existence for thousands of years and surprisingly india is a home of 80% hindus. You can make the correlation .

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    7. Oh sounds familiar.. and my sentiments exactly except I am a practising hindu and firmly believe all this is translated as she lacks confidence from within. She therefore has to use religion in order to get importance .... I have no idea why we can so easily get astonished at our politicians and their behaviour when there is one or more in every family .. ;).. but having said that ..lets cut her some slack as she is old and unwilling to give up authority. The children who are much younger and hopefully brighter should see this and try not to get her behaviour in anyone else way. Anyways remember you only attract what you believe, just tell them that ..its proven

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  2. As a South Asian who has first hand experience with superstitious relatives (not as drastic as this though), in my opinion this is NOT rational! It's a bit of a pickle because she is already your (not just a potential one) and you're expecting a baby (congrats)! So walking away 'just like that' isn't really a viable or easy choice.

    My suggestion is to first talk to your husband and try and understand why he goes along with this. Is it more because he is afraid of disobeying her, or is it because he actually believes the superstition himself? If it's more that he's afraid, you can first be tactfully honest with him and tell him how you feel about it. See if there's any little part of him that resents being so controlled by his mother. If there is, nurture it, because the only real hope for anyone influencing your MIL is him. Eventually he will have to be the one to confront his mother and draw a line of emotional independence somewhere. There's a very good chance she's the type who can blackmail him and warn him that she'll withdraw all love and support, that's he's being a bad son, etc. She may even refuse to have a relationship with him for a while or forever (if she's the truly drastic type). So you'll have to see how far your husband is willing to go, how much emotional support he is willing to lose from his mother in order to gain it from his wife/children.

    And in such a deep situation like this, it will literally be a give and take. Because as soon as the MIL sees him start to really assert himself, she'll think it's due to your influence, and she may start trying to fight back by smearing you in his eyes. So if that happens, do whatever it takes to emotional support your husband and affirm his inner strength and independence. Show him that you are in fact strengthening him, while his mother is the one (ironically) who is weakening him. From there, it is up to him to decide whose influence means more to him.

    If you husband ends up not being willing to confront his mother, you may need to get equally drastic yourself. First be honest with yourself and see if you can tolerate the anxiety and tension reasonably. It maybe that a lot of tension may be self-created, so check if you are overreacting in any way. If not, or if the MIL's controlling gets out of hand, make plans (emotionally as well as physically) to leave the relationship. Think privately first about how you would do so. Hopefully you are able to take care of yourself work-wise; maybe you can move closer to your parents or other family members temporarily. You may need to wait a bit until the baby is old enough to be left with someone while you work. In a divorce settlement, the courts will favor you since you are the mother. So if you really need to go the divorce route, make a detailed plan of how you will do it and what costs are. As a final ultimatum, you can share some of this with your husband and MIL to scare them and see if they're really willing to lose their grandchild. That may be enough to make the MIL back off. But if not, follow through with it and don't look back. Emotionally prepare yourself and get support of close friends or relatives, and you can make it. If you feel guilt or shame for leaving your husband, remind yourself why you had to make such a drastic choice in the first place. And of course, if the MIL or any family try to retaliate, you can get a restraining order.

    Granted, the above is a worst-case scenario. But I'm mentioning it because sadly it's entirely possible and has happened to people before, especially with drastic in-laws and an easily influenced spouse. Hopefully it doesn't have to go that far. Ideally your husband can stand his ground and draw a reasonable line with his mother. But even if he does, there is a good chance that it may strain your standing in the eyes of his family for a long time. But if that's the price for peace of mind, I think it's worth it. Good luck to you!

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  3. That's not the Hinduism people I know practice. We are Sikh so i don't have much experience with the auspicious/inauspicious thing. But I can tell you to me it seems like she is using religion to essentially manipulate everyone in the family and claim power over everyone's lives. I've been had quite a bit of interaction with Hindus and I don't know anyone like this.

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  4. I fail to see how this is crazy and extreme. This is part of your husband's family customs. Chosing colours and foods depending on the day, asking blessings before you start something important is not such a big deal.

    You may want to reflect about superstitions ; in the examples you give, they seem to be an expression of affection, a way to calm down anxieties about the unpredictability of life. So if you complain about them, you are the one who will seem insensitive.

    When our child was born, she had no name for 3 days, because we had to wait for my MIL to go to a temple in India and ask for the auspicious first letter to use in the name. It was very important for my husband. Meanwhile in maternity I was being nagged to choose a name... I knew that if I fought with my husband over this, he would be miserable, and would probably expect the child to have a bad life and blame me each time she would have a problem... As it happens, the priest also warned to be extra careful wih the baby for the first 18 months, which I found ludicrous, but terrible things happened in the family during the next 18 months.

    Especially as far as your child is concerned, I would advise you to be accepting of your inlaws harmless traditions, and even research about them. After all they are part of your child's heirloom.

    Take care (Pad)

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    1. Sorry Pad but I disagree with you here. When customs and traditions come into play BOTH parties should be considered not just one. Clearly she particularly doesn't believe in this (superstitions) and does not want her life controlled and every step they make consulted with MIL to see if they should go ahead or not. Superstitious are fine but this level of "fear and control" is not.

      This thinking of "accept this because this is their culture and traditions and how it has always been done" may work for some but clearly not with the letter writer; it will definitely not work with me. While some might be a form of affection like you mentioned, it doesn't seem to be the case here. Is just a form of subjugation, meddling and control.

      I'll be damn if I have to wait for my MIL or anyone else for that matter to tell me what day is the most auspicious to go to the doctor, what foods to eat and what clothes I should and should not wear. And sorry, but whether she is going to look insensitive or not should not be one of her primary concerns. She clearly is not happy here and just keeping silence and having fear of speaking up for fear of seeming insensitive does nothing but build up more unhappiness and resentment. We cannot control the way people will feel and react to things and the fear of this prevent a lot of people for been happy and been their true self. Another form of guilt and control in my opinion.

      She should be able to accept and like or dislike whatever she wants. Is like her saying okay then, you guys have to eat beef because that is part my culture and family traditions. Of course they won't, they will go back and say that this is not part of their culture, religion, etc..

      Again, it goes both ways,

      Millie B

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    2. Millie B, in your other post you are expressing some of the things I was trying to say, namely that confrontation is not the best method to solve this kind of situation. We come to a similar conclusion through different ways of thinking.

      Interesting though that you talk about "their" culture, religion etc... To me, my husband's culture, religion is not something exterior, it is something I need to integrate, understand, appreciate, because it is part of who he is and I love him. Just like I need to understand about my kids' interests.

      However, even though my husband and I will make adjustments and adopt some aspects of the other's culture, because we are in an intercultural realtionship, is it reasonable or fair to expect our respective families to do the same ?

      Pad

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    3. Hi Pad - I like this "We come to a similar conclusion through different ways of thinking.". Is just a different way of doing things with pretty much the same result :)

      "Their culture, their religion" well yes, is certainly not mine. I have no interest in doing Charva Kauth, wearing Indian clothes (I quite frankly don't like them), learning Hindi (although I did try- hard as hell plus my husband was like "what the hell are you doing this for, not necessary for you to learn Hindi") or the like. Just like my husband has no interest in only eating fish on Friday or understanding why I do it, converting to Catholicism, etc...

      The reason my husband and I have such a wonderful relationship with both our families is because we have mutual respect and love for each other and never interfere or meddle in their /our affairs.

      Quite frankly and to be fair, neither one of us ever made our cultures a priority, if that makes sense. We fell in love with each other not with each other cultures. We love ours and each others cultures and traditions we just had never made them a priority in our relationship.

      Is like we have created our own way of life free of the constrictions of both cultures. We have always been vocal with the things that we like and dislike about both. We fell in love with each other and actually culture came second if not third for us from the very beginning. We are both quite strong and independent people so we never had any qualms about expressing what we like and dislike, what we will and will not do. We don't tippy toe around both cultures and our family members on both sides respect and accept that.

      A lot of couples in intercultural relationships make such a big deal about "been in an intercultural relationship" that it sometimes works against them and to their detriment (just my honest opinion).

      I don't like confrontation or hurting someone's feelings but sometimes is necessary. The very least would be to encourage honest and direct communication. That's my advise for the letter writer. Her first concern should be how all this makes her fell not who she might hurt by expressing her feelings - in a loving and respectful way of course. And Letter Witer, I encourage to read Cytnthia's from Home Cyn Home post tittled "Don't Indianize Me".

      Millie B

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  5. HI everyone, I am the letter writer. Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. I have some conflicting advice here. I am not planning to divorce my husband at all. I love him and want to be with him. And taking blessing from elders is not a bad thing either. But self proclamining that we cant do anything without her blessings is in my opinion wrong and like Alexandra has added in her questions, an attempt to be on a power trip. Not being able to make an omelette for my hubby for breakfast or not eating 3 slices of bread, in my opinion are stupid customs that dont make any sense, are not related to Hinduism or my husband's families culture. No other elder in his family beleives in all this and it is limiting my life. I would like to beleieve that the job I got was because I slogged for a year in that company as a temp before being made regular, not because she has some divine power over my life. it takes away your self confidence and weakens you and I need some advice on how to deal with it. My husband's and my life has been through many ups and downs and so he is happy to clutch at any straw that will make our lives stable and peaceful and so he has started beleiving in this nonsense.

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    1. Well, I think a little bit like your husband. It seems obvious to me you got the job because of your skills and hard work. But if your MIL wants to believe it's thanks to her and her special relationship to God, when she's there, you can pretend to believe it, to get her off your back. Call it a "white lie" if you want ;o)

      I see it as a third option to Boilinkwok's : pretend to agree and then do what you please. Choosing peace over ego confrontation - that's what I try to do... not always with success.

      Tale care (Pad)

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    2. Hi LW - I am sorry that you are going through this and can only offer advise that would work for me so here it goes :)

      I, coming from a Latin family and culture, can understand a lot of Indian culture and traditions. Both are so similar you wouldn't believe it. We also have superstitions but some people believe them and of course some don't. I believe in some like giving a newborn a gift of a bracelet with an azabache stone on it to protect from evil. Indians have the same type of belief. This is harmless and a tradition that continues to this date. This I would do.

      What you mentioned here apart from the blessings is her own way of staying relevant and controlling the ins and outs of her children and their spouses. If you are not happy with some of this non-sense speak up. While you should approach the subject in a kind and loving way in order not to hurt feelings, your primary concern should be the way this makes you feel and how is affecting your life and relationship. It would be nice if your husband was on the same page but I think a little of tough love from you is needed here.

      You feel like making and omelet and giving him extra toast do so, Just be prepared for him to not touch it. Don't make him anything else. Tell him that you felt like making a special breakfast for him and that some of these rules and superstitions are affecting you and your life. If he really cares he will listen and be supportive. I know how hard is for Indian kids to break away from this sort of ridiculousness and manipulation but some do. Let's hope your hubby is one of them.

      Talk to your husband and be frank and honest with him about how this is making you feel. You can also tell her directly, I would. I would be like "I know that you mean well but I don't believe in this - this is not part of my culture or how I was raised. I respect your beliefs but please respect mine. I cannot have every thing we do put on hold just waiting for you to approve or disapprove. You may not be here to see it but it is affecting our way of life. I know you want what is best for us. I appreciate your blessings and love been part of your life".

      Be prepared for some drama though from her and probably from your husband as she most likely will run to him and probably twists things around. She will be like "my bahu doesn't love me or care about our culture and wants to separate me from my son". Another form of emotional black mail. Set boundaries now, don't let this fester. Ultimately, is your husband that needs to be proactive and honest if he cares about how you feel and wants this relationship to work. She cannot force this unless everyone lets her.

      I wish you the best of luck,

      Millie B

      P.S. - you got the job because of your own merits and hard work. Don't let anyone take this away from you even your husband :)

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    3. Hey Millie B, thanks for coming back to me on this. Yeah, I agree with you, when you say sometimes thinking too much about the cultural aspect of the relationship goes against the relationship.

      However, after struggling with Tamil language for 6 years, I just started learning it properly and I am amazed to see how it is affecting the relationship... Take care (Pad).

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  6. Somehow my comment did not appear. I feel this is a total case of power tripping because this is an area she can claim to know more than anybody. I believe she has as much power as people give her.

    I would first advice discussing with your spouse on how irrational it is. Secondly, point blank refuse to follow. They are welcome to follow if they wish but you can distance yourself from this. I know plenty of Indians and while a bit of superstitions is okay, this is so extreme, I have never come across it before.

    Are you allowed to blame her when something goes wrong after her blessings? Has your life been full of shit so far before you met her? No right?

    2 options -
    > Just agree with them without resentment and follow whatever they tell you to (which you clearly can't which is why the email)
    > Ignore and do what you please.

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  7. LW,
    This type of ‘superstition’ would also drive me crazy. From an outside perspective, this doesn’t seem like superstition (or religion). It seems like a mother desperately trying to be active in her children’s lives, remain informed and continue for her children to seek her approval. Her ‘superstation’ is a creative (or manipulative depending on how you look at it) way of maintaining control and being needed.

    It seems like you understand and respect that asking elders for blessings during important times is an important aspect of Indian culture. No, you shouldn’t have to call your MIL for approval before making a general meal or for day-to-day activities. This is ridiculous.

    It might be good to watch the Documentary Kumare (it was on Netflix) with your husband. It’s funny and has a good overall lesson about the answers we look for in others, being in ourselves. It might open his eyes about looking to his mom for approval or affirmation on such a consistent basis.

    All the best.

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  8. Tackle each situation at a time.
    That way you wont let her get into your head.
    Continue to do your own thing without argueing for it.
    If it's is harmless, then the battle is not worth it.
    But keep your eyes open and watch out if money is going to leak over that side, leaving you dry or setting an expectation of unlimited supply in future.
    This is a cultural thing - to use/create customs to establish who is the alpha.

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  9. My hubby has a relative like this, that is very superstitious. She definitely uses it a a means of control, and it just isn't realistic to be like this in the West - it takes time to get doctors appointments. It is unreasonable. Nothing bad will happen to you. They have their beliefs, and you have yours, but I can assure you that your MIL does not have any magical powers! Rather than getting stressed out about it, I would try to find the humor in it.

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  10. I think you should just stand up to everyone and say that you don't like it. It is just superstitious behaviour not religious. If she frowns just tell her that you don't believe in hocus-pocus but in individual freedom and continue to do what and how you like. Also tell her that you will keep your children out of this.

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