I've been reading through some mother-in-law/son/husband/daughter-in-law posts in my sidebar. Most pertaining to an anonymous daughter-in-law having problems with a mother-in-law, with the son/husband being the entity, who should actually be making things clear to everybody in the house about every one's status, but isn't doing that. Causing untold trauma to his bride, and torment to his mother, or, vice-versa.
While in several cases it's a case of perceived ownership of assets acquired on the occasion of the wedding and later, sometimes, it could be a case of insensitive planned demeaning comments on both sides; all this greatly messed up if the husband/son happens to be the tolerant but gutless type.
Strange as this sounds, sometimes, you learn more about this issue and its solutions by looking around you. Once again, S., my household help, shows the way !
She lives in a crowded area where houses stand cheek-by-jowl with all kinds and forms of tenements, some permanent, some about to fall. She, her daughter, 3 sons, 2 daughters in law, and two grandchildren, live in a house that consists of a 10' x 10' outer room, a kitchen inside half that size, and a separate outside room, 7' by 9' just behind. The main front room has a kind of loft (more for storage than a interior design element), which serves as an extra sleeping area . Just outside her front door, flows a gutter, and since her house is on a slight slope, she is vary particular about keeping it clean, of all the stuff that might accumulate from places higher, and washes the place clean 2-3 times a day, because her grandchildren play outside.
A couple of weeks ago, during our usual work-completion-tea break, she mentioned to me that her second son, with two children had sat down with her the night before, almost in tears, and mentioned that his wife wished to maintain a separate setup in the room behind. It meant that in that tiny house, there would now be two kitchens, and he felt bad telling his mother this. But he accorded importance to what his wife felt, and so brought it up. The entire house belonged to S., financed long ago from various loans, chit funds, and what have you. There was no clash between any personalities in the house, so she never suspected anything. It certainly hurt her.
" But I trust my son. If he is asking me this, then it means he has thought over it, sees some merit in the arrangement. And yes, the extra room is there . If all we had was a room, things would be different ....so I said, if that's what you want, fine. "
So the son, wife and two children , now have a set up in the back room. They cook their own meals. Sometimes when acquaintances drop over, they receive them there.
But spatial segregation is where it all ends.
The grandchildren are all over the place. Sometimes they eat in both places, though S., always checks with their mother if they have already eaten. Not because of excessive politeness, but out of concern that the child should not eat in an irregular fashion. Whenever S. has to rush out on some family emergency or visit, the separated daughter-in-law, on her own, will come, bring stuff for her brothers -in-law, even cook something extra in her mother-in-laws kitchen for them, and then clean up after every one is done. Filling water is one compulsory chore everyday. The daughter-in-law continues to walk with the rest of the family to the communal tap for filling water, and she fills more than her own share, which goes into her mother-in-laws kitchen. Without a song and a dance about it. Like she did before.
Mind you, S. cannot read or write. This daughter-in-law has completed high school. Done some computer skills course. She wanted to work. The sons asked their mother, S., to stop working houses and stay at home . This way the daughter-in-law would work. But S., suggested that she wait till her children started school, and then take up a job. She herself, wouldn't be giving up her house jobs.
"I'd love the luxury of staying home and enjoying my grandsons. But I would then have to ask my sons for money, as I wouldn't be earning. I don't want to be in that situation. My daughter stays with us (returned from a violent marriage), and so long as I work, and contribute in the house, my word will have value, in a dicey situation regarding her future in the house. I will continue to work houses till my feet give away....."
I admire S.'s way of handling the situation. There are 2 households in that small house.
Mentally, though, she has shown by example , how the crisis needs to be handled. There are no hiccups. The daughter-in-law is happy, the children feel no difference, and S.'s attitude to wards the whole thing is a lesson to the rest of the family, in how to keep the peace, and allocate priorities.
None of these people had grand weddings, gifts galore, settling in foreign lands, fancy jewellery and stuff. They all live in a situation where most of the time you share what you have.
But there is a veritable separation of the physical and emotional.
Keeping the emotional ties intact, and NOT based on the physical situation, has allowed S. to keep the peace . She treats the physical separation aspect as a sign of the times, where girls are now more educated, and their aspirations must be listened to, and whenever possible, accepted. The daughter-in-law appreciates this, and is in and out of her mother-in-laws house , helping out daily whenever required. Basically, no one on a high horse, obsessed with perceived insults and stuff.
There are more constants than variables in these lives. That they all live almost in one house. That they are grateful for whatever privacy they get. That S. may have favourites, but doesn't let on. That S. feels very proud of her educated daughter in law and shows it. That the daughter-in-law realizes that this is a very sensitive and sensible family.
Most of the time, the variables have to do with money and assets. For S., and her family, this is a non issue.
Its really a question of needs and tolerance. Too much of one and too little of the other. That's a potent mixture.
S. has a limited amount of one and a huge stock of the latter.
I don't have any answers to the DIL/MIL problem which I read. Its just that listening to S., often makes you think hard.