Understanding Mother-in-law Daughter-in-law Syndrome

It is regrettable that potential brides are often conditioned by their families to view their future in-laws with skepticism
"While such issues have historically existed, they have become even more conspicuous in today’s evolving times."
"While such issues have historically existed, they have become even more conspicuous in today’s evolving times."

There is an urgent concern within our society that requires attention - the persistent conflict between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. One of the authors conducted a survey involving approximately 4350 senior women patients who came for treatment to him and were (residing in joint families) aiming to comprehend their relationships with their daughters-in-law.

Alarmingly, a significant 68% of the respondents reported that their relationships with their daughters-in-law ranged from mildly strained to severely strained. In light of these staggering figures, the authors have chosen to bring this issue to the forefront for further examination and consideration.

The mother-in-law/daughter-in-law dynamic presents one of the most intricate relationships to navigate; however, mastering this relationship is vital for harmonious coexistence.

The Mother-in-law Daughter-in-law Syndrome emerges when the two female members of the household fail to establish rapport, resulting in tension that detrimentally impacts the overall home atmosphere.

While such issues have historically existed, they have become even more conspicuous in today’s evolving times.

Modern women have gained empowerment through financial independence, higher education, and managing personal finances. Preceding marriage, they establish their own benchmarks, yet this can lead to friction post-marriage when they confront the rules and norms set by their in-laws, particularly the mother-in-law. Understanding the household’s various dynamics and rules becomes crucial.

Numerous studies highlight the escalating conflicts between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, escalating to public altercations and, in extreme cases, requiring legal intervention.

Unfortunately, skills for managing in-laws are rarely taught, and each daughter-in-law’s experience varies. It is regrettable that potential brides are often conditioned by their families to view their future in-laws with scepticism.

They safeguard their interests by amassing resources before marriage, preparing for a nuclear family setup. Regrettably, this predisposed mindset often drives them to work towards family disruption after marriage.

An unhappy daughter-in-law, unable to cope with the mother-in-law’s influence over significant yet seemingly minor matters, seeks reassurance from her spouse or parents. Ignoring this need exacerbates discontent and marital issues.

Many couples discuss how in-laws exert control over their decision-making, ranging from lifestyle choices to general actions. When questioned, mothers-in-law rationalise their actions, claiming good intentions and a desire to prevent ‘children’ from making mistakes.

They insist that their intent isn’t control, yet conflicts arise primarily from adapting to new experiences, cooking styles, and daily routines.

Initiating change, whether from the mother-in-law or the daughter-in-law, can yield a remarkable transformation. However, surrendering one’s will isn’t simple; it can feel like yielding and conceding, actions nobody prefers.

This sentiment is amplified when one firmly believes the other person is wrong. A case exemplifies this: A local store employee discreetly informed an elderly woman that her teenage granddaughter was purchasing expensive branded cigarettes.

Fearful of revealing this to her daughter-in-law, who was managing the household while her son lived abroad, the grandmother subtly advised her daughter-in-law to limit the granddaughter’s pocket money.

Unfortunately, her words triggered an intense reaction, leading to conflict. In order to salvage the relationship, the mother-in-law apologised and fervently prayed for her granddaughter’s well-being.

Another case revolves around a retired female professor, renowned for her humble demeanour. She recalls a cherished gift to her late husband – the effort to foster harmony with her joint family.

Selflessly serving her in-laws without complaint until their final moments, she believed this was God’s plan for her. Balancing her convictions with maintaining peace sometimes meant stifling her opinions. The key lay in prayer and discerning her purpose, exemplifying extraordinary patience and tolerance.

What’s the way forward?

There are always two versions of each story; maintaining a transparent relationship when living under one roof is important. With changing times, egos must be altered or managed to uphold the decorum of the home.

Challenging the system won’t work in one’s favour; it’s better to be vocal and come to a conclusion on necessary actions. For a mother-in-law, it’s crucial to establish certain expectations subtly, avoiding any implication of force, as they could be perceived negatively.

Providing rational explanations for these expectations is essential. However, even more important for the modern mother-in-law is to respect another woman’s decisions, even if they differ from her own. It’s also time for the mother-in-law to learn empathy and the art of letting go.

Ultimately, teaching coping skills empowers women to negotiate assertively rather than resorting to aggression or meek frustration. Practising tolerance for minor issues, instead of magnifying everything, is key. Building an independent relationship with your daughter-in-law, separate from your son, is valuable.

Understanding her as an individual—beyond just your son’s spouse—is vital. Treating her with the care you would give your own daughter, while acknowledging the distinct relationship, can lead to a positive dynamic. Allowing her space to find her own path is crucial, as is offering compliments and encouragement.

Remember, strong bonds take time to develop. Your daughter-in-law grew up differently from your own children. Acknowledge her differing patterns, habits, and behaviours. When you buy gifts or go shopping for your children, extend the same to your daughter-in-law.

These gestures foster closeness. Fairness applies to daughters-in-law too. Treat your mother-in-law as your own mother, replicating the “extras” you do for your own mom.

Find praise and gratitude for her, even if you find her overbearing. Recognize that she raised the man you married. Similarly, mothers-in-law, despite differing standards, can always find genuine compliments for their daughters-in-law, acknowledging that your son chose her.

Choosing connection over control propels relationships positively. Mothers of married men must understand that the mother-son relationship changes but remains significant. Let your son nurture his nuclear family while valuing the lessons you imparted.

Unrealistic expectations often hinder relationships between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. Seek respect, not necessarily love, appreciation, or recognition. Drop expectations and opt for respect, and even a strained relationship can evolve positively.

As a daughter-in-law, respect for your mother-in-law is a requirement under the umbrella of honouring parents. Trying to change someone is a losing game, as one wise woman noted. Even if the daughter-in-law approaches with defiance or indifference, a wise mother-in-law can foster a friendly, supportive relationship based on love.

Dr Zubair Saleem is a Senior Geriatric Consultant and Gerontologist and Dr Showkat Rashid Wani is a Senior Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir

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