Friday, April 09, 2010

The S. Institute of Common Sense

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 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.


  1. Pity common sense is not taught in any school. If it was ... I guess we would have had world peace! I admire your maid. She has a lot of common sense

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  5. I love how you spoke of emotional and physical distance. I have seen matured and sensible elders realise that 'controlling' the younger generation is not going to keep the family close, keeping emotional bonds alive would. I feel, if for some reason there are irreparable cracks, even then wisdom and maturity is more likely to heal than pressurizing them to get along would.

    I also feel our system of women being forced (due to whatever reasons or circumstances) to live in unhappy marriages makes them look for emotional security towards their children, specially the male children. :( Every woman must have some interests and a life of her own too...

  6. This is a story I can imagine happening so many times over in the tenements.

    On the positive side, with her d-in-law wanting a separate space to cook, well, atleast someone here wants to cook. That cannot be said of many others who have more than a spacious, well equipped kitchen of their own.

  7. I have been reading those posts too..and it feels sad to know that rich and educated behave this way; but people like S. show the kind of sensibility that we should expect from educated..they studied; but they didn't implement their learnings in the practical life..

    great post..

  8. Any problem dealt in the right manner... goes a long way in containing it rather than aggravating it :).. Kudos to S :)

  9. Reminds me of a quote by Javed Akhtar on a television interview when he was asked about his relationship with his son Farhan. He said that the parent must appreciate that the younger generation knows things that they themselves may not be aware of. And similarly the younger lot must accept that parents have the benefit of experience. If both sides respect each other that sets the stage for an amicable relationship.

  10. i think that S handled the situation beautifully. It only emphasizes my opinion that real education is not to be measured by the no. of degrees and diplomas one can show off. It is more about the way one handles tricky situations and remain in full control of your emotions.Kudos to the admirable woman1 we can learn a lesson or two from her.

  11. I liked the distinction made between physical n emotional needs of various members of the family. How wonderful.

    I know a few (pitifully few) joint families somewhat like this where d-i-ls have their own kitchens and homes, all in the same compound, or building, and so some autonomy is there, and yet all age family members know there is always someone to help, laugh with, call upon or even to just know someone is around is so emotionally supportive.

    It's something my family misses, after separating as a nuclear family after a lot of bitterness, and being almost cut-off.

  12. wonderful and insightful post! thanking you a lot for writing it. and i must thank neha for sharing it in her fb profile due to which i came across it! no reason why i shd not start following blog from this very moment :)

  13. S could probably start off a family counselling centre. Such wisdom!

  14. pls do check

  15. I agree with Radha - S should start counselling...I wish I had such wisdom...

  16. Thought-provoking post- as usual!

  17. every household goes through this najuk situation in their life at least once..and the personalities and the behavioural patterns govern how we conduct ourselves in these situations...

    Thankfully we at our home too have an unsaid norm that be it whatever we need to be emotionally connected to each other and as long as we are emotionally connected we won't think about the physical separation...keeping the egos at bay pay off very well for everyone..and that's the kadam tum chalo,do kadam hum chale !!

  18. It seems to me that in the family of S everybody is doing their best so that love always triumphs over powergames. Having a good relationship with your MIL is a true blessing. Then I believe good relationships have nothing to do with education, there come more from the choice of being flexible, of inventing new solutions each day rather than follow a set of rigid rules.

    I am a great fan of S !

  19. The thing that impressed me was that all three of the people who solved this problem showed great maturity.

    The daughter-in-law for continuing to help, the son for his tact, and S for her wisdom.

    I wish everyone could be as wise.

  20. I admire S. She is setting an admirable example for her children and her grandchildren.


  21. I saw your blog listed on indiblogger, and I'm glad I visited. The colours, smells, scents and sentiments of Mumbai are very precious to me. It's a city that i have grown to love over the time I spent working there. Now I'm far away, in the UK and blogs like yours keep me in touch with the human beings that make it such a wonderful city...

    I immensely enjoyed the story and I shall come back for more...You are a wonderful story teller...

  22. RituSometimes I feel S. is so smart intrinsically, because she never went to any school....

    IHM I have often felt that we mess up the issue by not separating the emotional and physical. S. Seems to have a natural ability .

    Anil P What you say is so true. And the irony is those that dont cook have the most complicated modern kitchens : all engineering and no heart.....

    NehaThank you.

    Shilpa Kudos conveyed to S !

    ArundhatiThat was interesting ! Thank you...

    HHG Todays education actually raises a lot of questions. Equips you to do a job, but fails many times where personal relationships matter....

    Starry You know, we learn from our experiences. So maybe when your own children are adults, things will be different for them....

    Anuradha Khanna Pentapalli Thank you, and welcome to Gappa !

    radha,bones She actually does something like that in her locality...

    manju Thank you...

    NU Very well said : "do kadam tum chalo,do kadam hum chale !!"....great mantra...

    Helene H Thank you.

    DarleneTrue. S. is truly blessed with a wonderful family...

    PearlThank you...

    JournomuseThank you and welcome to Gappa !