The Mil – Dil Tug of War

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The MIL- DIL tug of war

The mini war between a Mother- in- law and her Daughter- in -law is not a thing of the past but it continues even now in modern India. I see several serials both in the Tamil channels and Hindi channels on the relationship between MIL and DIL.

My own maid has problems with her DIL whose marriage is just about two years old. I advise her almost daily. One day I told her, “Why do you look at her as DIL? Why not view her as your daughter? Towards this call her, ‘Valarmathi magazhe(daughter in Tamil)..’? “ Her answer was near instant. “Why should I call her, ‘magazhe?” she remarked. And there lies the trouble. Possibly all MILs are not that innocent in this tug of war.

Some hundred years back, there was no such thing; both of them got along very well. But not so any more.

According to the historians, a century back, an young bride was not an educated woman and she dutifully obeyed her mother- in -law and everything was dinky dory in their home. It was always a joint family home then, in that, the household consisted of every possible relative: grand father, grand mother, grand uncle, grand aunty, brothers and their wives and so on. But once Education invaded this ’domain’ all hell was let lose and the young wives took up cudgels to assert their rights and a place in the joint family set up..

While the MIL and DIL are always at logger heads in a joint family scenario there is no such hassle in the FIL-DIL line up. They live in peace almost like Father and Daughter.

Why then this war-zone atmosphere only between MIL and DIL in Indian homes? Permit me to analyse the situation and possibly identify the real villain in this game. Incidentally, the Westerners may not understand this scenario and might even laugh at it; I don’t think they would have ever heard of ‘joint family’ living. Similarly, the NRIs who still continue to hold their Indian passport. They don’t take their parents to the West when they migrate for greener pastures and therefore they too are only spectators and not partakers in this drama. But they need to know what goes on in Indian families back home here.

A mother plays a great role in selecting her future daughter- in- law and she would be only too eager to spot out that sparkling diamond from a million faces. In fact, even long before her son reaches the marriageable age, the mother would have already short listed some candidates. Having done this secretly, she would goad her son into marriage when he crosses the age of 25. “I want to see my grand children “ she would say jumping to the second stage in the process. The father would be a neutral person in this regard.

Agreeing to the idea, any dutiful son would ask his parents to find a suitable bride for him. Surprised? Well, that’s the trend now in India and that covers a daughter as well. The ‘love marriage’ concept is slowly fading away. It is the arranged marriage approach that is in vogue at present. And the active player in this hunting game is invariably the Mother. Her list of potential brides is ready in her handbag. All mothers of sons do that, you know, because they do want to see a new face in their house and every mother wants her to be a pearl, one in a million. Oh, how eagerly the mother would look forward to the day when a young and stunning young woman would set foot into her house. That’s her life time cherished desire.

At last the new member is identified, the final selector being the son, all conditions are met and settled and the bride steps into her future home after a hectic marriage week. It is the MIL who receives her with great pride remembering that she had acquired the most beautiful maiden for a DIL entirely due to her personal effort. She even reflects in her mind, “Look Sheila, you are walking into my house because it is I who had selected you. If I hadn’t liked you at all, you would never have become my son’s wife ever……”

Once in the house as a full fledged member, the mother including her hubby would be watching the conduct of the new entrant minutely for some days. Actually, they would be waiting to be conquered by the DIL who they expect would fully merge with the family and its traditions.

But unfortunately this doesn’t happen. The new DIL finds fault in every routine in the new house, their thinking and life’s philosophy like she was a born expert in home administration ! Naturally the permanent members, parents in particular, wouldn’t accept these negative observations. And there starts the battle line and disquiet in the family. The victim in this tug-of-war is the Son who can’t take sides and tries to equalize and steady the balance. But by then the very atmosphere has been polluted. The mother-in-law then takes over control which the DIL resents and the battle royal goes on and on. Such a poorly behaved DIL is most likely to be a highly qualified damsel like engineer or an MBA.

Here are some two case studies. One mother advised her newly married daughter on her way to her new home, “Keep your man under control, my child, from day one. Don’t let your MIL dictate terms to you. Remember, you are an engineer with a gold medal. OK?” So, this DIL steps into her future home like a warrior who has set her mind only on victory. And she would try to become triumphant whatever the cost. And the bomb has exploded. Only time will tell what the damages would be.

Another mother had a long talk with her before she departed. “My child, forget that you are a post graduate in Economics, you are a wife and a potential mother, that’s all. Don’t take our culture to that house. Their thinking, conduct and everything may look different to you and you may even abhor some of them. But, darling, that’s your permanent home and you have to live there for ever. So, you need to merge with that family from the depth of your heart. And don’t try to split the family by suggesting to your husband that you live separately. Don’t show off your theoretical knowledge. Look at everything through a different eye like this: Everything they do is right, everything they say and act are right. Never find fault in anything and never show a dissenting face at any routine. And never make a suggestion of any kind either. Do things as they want…”

The result in this case was, this little darling became a true darling member of the new family. She had captured the heart of her MIL and FIL within two weeks all because of her humility and readiness to do things in their way. The MIL had baptised her already as her Daughter. The DIL had won over every member in the new joint family so completely that they were ready to listen to her and her wisdom. Highly impressed and captivated, the MIL had handed over the house keys and house running responsibility to Mohini within a month? And the happiest person was the Son.

Who is the real villain in these two situations?

The bride’s mother, isn’t it? She holds the key to mar or stimulate her daughter’s future life. Even mere silence on her part would be interpreted as license for freedom of action by the highly qualified bride.


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