By A Psychologist
Yes, you guessed it; the MIL – DIL tussle, or mother-in-law – daughter-in-law tussle for the son’s/husband’s attention! Have you ever thought why we have this continuous struggle in the first place? After all, the relationship is not interchangeable, that is, the mother cannot become the wife and similarly, the wife cannot become the mother. Yet with very few exceptions, there is jealousy, resentment, frustration and anger generally on both sides. Does this happen in love marriages only? No, it happens in arranged marriages too. And it causes a lot of unnecessary heartache for all concerned. It happens because of not realizing the Blessing that is mentioned in the Quran 25:54 that states: “And it is He Who has created from water a human being and made him [a relative by] lineage and marriage. And ever is your Lord competent [concerning creation].”
Likewise, verse 4:1 advises: “O humankind, fear your Lord, Who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer.”
So If MIL and DIL both accept guidance from these particular verses and perceive each other as a blessing from Allah they would actually be able to live in peace!
In my practice as a Psychological Counselor specializing in domestic violence and marital issues, I have come across many cases of disturbed persons due to the mishandling of the MIL – DIL relationship. Reflection over the numerous cases that I’ve dealt with has helped me to reach certain conclusions. Much of this power struggle has to do with certain influences enumerated below; an opinion about a specific situation is formed in accordance with such influences, though the reality may be otherwise.
Islam teaches obedience to parents and kindness to them, especially in their old age. However, our culture has taken this to another extreme – to mean that every whim and fancy of the mother must be fulfilled to qualify as good offspring. This is made especially applicable to the son. After marriage, following this rule becomes a challenge for the son, irks his wife, and becomes the cause of many a quarrel between the couple. The result is often the estrangement of either the wife or mother and break-up of the family. The couple move out of the family home or become separated, depending on the son’s inclination.
This is another influence that is detrimental to harmony in the family. The MIL is often presented as the most evil and scheming person in dramas. Her main purpose in life seems to be to ruin her DIL’s life! Turmoil and emotional turbulence follow such machinations, leading to sorrow for the families of both, the DIL and her husband.
So-called well-meant advice from friends and relatives and discussions among friends and family also portray the MIL as a person to be wary of and to avoid. This is what a girl hears since her childhood and so she learns that any word the MIL utters is an arrow to break her heart. So much so, that if the MIL praises someone in the presence of the DIL, the latter thinks it’s to point out a deficiency in her. On the other hand, the MIL is also influenced by these factors and sees every word and action of the DIL as suspect.
Perception or misperception
For instance, it may be difficult for a young girl to believe that the woman who is her MIL is really sincere to her, that she doesn’t want to interfere with her and actually wants her to be happy with her son. Similarly, it may be difficult for the MIL to believe that her dearest son’s wife has no intention to grab him for herself and take him away from his parents and siblings.
The issue is further aggravated if the DIL remains silent and maintains a façade of a well-behaved young lady but discusses her daily frustrations with her husband who has absolutely no experience of dealing with marital life.
In the eastern culture, most of the training is received by the girl who is repeatedly told that one day she has to leave the parents’ home to go to husband’s family home. So she usually expects to modify her behavior to adjust with the new family. In contrast, the young man has no formal preparation or guidance about how to balance the relationship between his wife and mother plus other family members. With this being the situation in most homes, the subsequent misunderstandings and tug-of-war are imminent and unavoidable.
So what’s the remedy?
Considering the above influences the cure is very difficult but not impossible. Even today there are homes in which the MIL and DIL live in harmony having ironed out their differences. The solution lies in reading, understanding and following the injunctions of the Quran: do not be suspicious; be kind and respectful; and maintain ties of kinship. In order to do this, one must honestly examine one’s thoughts and behavior and accept one’s faults. Acceptance is the first step towards correction and hence one must rectify one’s own errors or shortcomings.
The Quranic verse 16:90 states: “Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded.”
The other important consideration is having a good opinion and expectation of others, for every human being has vice and virtue, good and bad, merit and demerit. It follows that every MIL is not necessarily bad nor is every DIL necessarily good. We find in others whatever we look for; if we seek the positives we will find plenty of them, but if we look for faults then we will find many of those too. Consequently, familial harmony can only exist if both parties have a good opinion of each other, but if both parties lack it or if only one side has it, then disharmony will prevail.
Verse 49:11 in the Quran says: “O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.”
Furthermore, mothers must learn that they have to teach the rules of life to not only their daughters but also their sons. They have to guide them to live a better life and this guidance has to start in early childhood. The son must not be given preference over daughters, and he must learn to respect all females, be they sisters, grandmothers, mother or servants. As he nears marriageable age, the son must be taught to look for the good in his wife, to love and care for her, to be responsible for her emotional, financial, social needs, to keep disagreements private from everyone else and to deal amicably with any complaints from mother as well as wife. He is the most important person in this equation and it is he who has to balance the relationship equitably so as not to tilt permanently to one side, as both, his wife and mother, are necessary for his own life as well as the life of his children. It is also important to keep the lines of communication open in the family. Dialogue and discussion must be done in an educated manner: free of shouting, screaming, and whining. Voices must be kept low at all times and effort made to really listen to and understand the other person’s point of view.
The Quran cautions in verse 17:53: “And tell My servants to say that which is best. Indeed, Satan induces [dissension] among them. Indeed Satan is ever, to mankind, a clear enemy.”
(This treatise presupposes that marriage takes place for the establishment of the family and not for reasons like monetary benefit, social benefit like upgrading social status or career opportunities, business or extended family pressure.)