The Pakistani mother-in-law isn’t just a woman. She’s a force of nature, an entity to reckon with, a wave of destruction, a breeze of deliciously cooked foods, a complete encyclopedia of etiquette and demeanor, a steadfast follower of some anti-feministic values and above all, the woman who will always be your husband’s first love.
So it’s almost expected that you and her won’t usually see eye to eye with each other. Even though she’s your mother’s age, just the fact that she is a son-mom and your mom is a daughter-mom changes everything. You can’t decide which one of them is right. According to your mom you are an independent woman who didn’t sign up for slavery just because you married MIL’s less-than-stellar son. But according to MIL you’re the luckiest woman on earth that you were chosen for the gem she birthed. According to your mom, your in-laws begged for your hand in marriage. But according to your MIL, your mom was drooling all over this proposal. Amidst all this confusion when you land in your in-laws place to start a new life you come across a fact or two about the woman your husband so lovingly calls “Mommy Dearest”.
1. The first rule that you’d be wise to learn is that MIL can’t be interrupted. No! Never! Ever! This can’t happen. This is the biggest sign of disrespect that you could show to her. So if she picks faults with your cooking remain silent. If she calls you a bad parent, remain silent. If she says that she’s actually younger and prettier than you, remain silent. It won’t do to antagonize her. Even if you speak against any of the atrocious things your words won’t reach her. Reason? When she opens her mouth, she closes her ears.
2. MIL is never wrong. She knows you more than you know you. She knows what you like, what’s good for you, what suits you better in life. She has hitherto made most important decisions about her kids so she will make them for you too. If she looks at your 32B boobs and decides that you need a 28A bra, agree with her word immediately. After all, she has never been told that she is wrong. Why would you want to break that tradition? Don’t you want an old woman to keep something from her past, even if it is the habit of being a bug up every single woman’s ass? Let her be a know-it-all.
3. But as much as MIL knows about you, there is no one that she knows about more than your proverbial god, AKA, her sweetest of all kids, the boy who will inherit her non-inheritance-worthy legacy, the man who professes undying love for her as the only woman in his life while unabashedly sleeping with you, your husband. Your husband has been your MIL’s major subject of research and thesis-writing. She knows him so well that she can make him do some very offensive things to you under the pretense of love and respect for his mother. She knows where all his skeletons are. She also knows which girlfriend was impregnated by him, which one was already married when he dated her and which one came very close to actually marrying him. Thank God she interfered and got him married to you, a woman he doesn’t know from Adam. You don’t agree with her interference? Well, wait for a few decades. This particular lifestyle that she observes and lives is so successful ultimately that you’ll start to see value in it too. You’ll wait for your son to get married too so you can have your very own life-sized doll whose emotions you’d love to play with.
Your husband all but worships his mother. Your MIL knows what his favorite things to eat are, what his favorite movies are and you secretly suspect that she knows what his favorite sexual practices are. You feel like the other woman in his life and want to be acknowledged for being his significant other but can’t hope and wish for it too loudly. That is almost societal heresy to expect any respect that is unique to you.
Your MIL routinely tells you how her son truly shortchanged himself by marrying you. She tells you that she knew exactly the type of girl that he liked and that girl is exactly your opposite in every sense of the word. You wonder why she didn’t get her for him. You know that in reality if you ever met that girl, she’s likely to be a many year younger clone of your MIL. But don’t worry! You’ll never meet her. That girl lives in MIL’s fantasy only. If she knew that girl in real life, she would’ve gone to the assembly line where they were manufacturing her.
4. MIL has had a tough life and now you have to pay for it. Even though this seems unfair this is the reason why abuse is a cycle and also why abusers like to perpetuate abuse. Your MIL had a bad MIL who has in turn given birth to the monster that your MIL is. So if you really see it, and as MIL has pointed out so often, all the crimes of morality that she commits against you aren’t her fault really. She is just emulating another woman. You try to point out to her that she probably has a faulty moral fiber or a loose screw to live her life like a bully but you know better. What can you do to stop this behavior? Let this behavior die with her. Don’t carry it forward.
5. MIL likes to paint everything in the light of Islam and society and what Allah has said and how parents should be revered. She conveniently forgets her own set of instructions and rules that Allah has set down for her. She tries to tell whoever would listen that “Muslim men make great husbands and poor sons”, and always qualifies her statement by mentioning that her husband was the only aberration to that rule.
Islam is MIL’s ultimate cop out. She likes to quote Hadith and Quran frequently. Her overall knowledge of Islam hasn’t ever been profoundly checked by you because it never extends to anything beyond the rights of parents and siblings. She doesn’t get how she’s being a bad Muslim to you because she won you fair and square in the Pakistani Rishta process corruption. Now she can do whatever she likes to you. Why did your parents marry you to her son if they wanted respect, love and understanding for you? It’s totally their fault that they made this bargain for their child.
6. One important thing to know about your Pakistani MIL is to know the people she loves more than you. This includes your sister-in-law, the women whom she wanted to marry her son but were much wiser than you and anyone who isn’t you. They’re all her favorite people. Out of these, I’d say your SIL is definitely the most important person. She’s the most important human also to carry forward your MIL’s legacy of cruelty and brutality. She is her mother in a younger body. SILs are intrusive people who like to make their presence known at all times. If they get ignored then that’s bad news for everyone. Not only do they visibly and audibly cry about it, they also make a point of badmouthing you to everyone. Also, don’t think that any arguments that she has with your husband are merely arguments that she had with your husband. In her mind, every single argument that she has with her brother has been catalyzed by you. You’re behind everything that happens at the hands of your husband. You’re blamed by her and MIL always agrees. Not for nothing is she the favorite person of your MIL.
But another favorite person is that girl whom your MIL wanted so badly to be your husband’s wife. If she comes across this woman after you’ve gotten married to your husband, she sighs loudly and speculates on the life her son would’ve had with this most deserving of women. She stares at her wistfully and insists that she addresses her as “Dear Aunty” or even “Dear Mother”. Such is her love for the woman who didn’t become her daughter-in-law. You could say that this love is largely because of the phenomenon of incomplete attainment of this girl. This girl, each time she’s in the presence of your MIL, is embarrassed and somewhat frightful. You can only imagine the many walks up and down her parents’ living room that MIL must have subject her to in order to induce that type of fear. You feel a sisterhood with her, a distant kinship. You also feel slightly resentful of her escaping this family.
7. Your MIL is the ultimate word on all problems in the world. She is, literally! She has an opinion and a suggestion for all the problems and situations. Like she has never been to medical school but knows exactly why someone’s children aren’t worthy of medical education. She has never cooked for a day in her life if she didn’t want to but knows twenty ways to manage time between kids and the kitchen. She hasn’t ever lived a life outside the home, working for a living, but has an awfully strong understanding of the ways working women make their own lives hell by being disorganized. Don’t challenge her opinions with your own experiences and observations if you know what’s best for you. She will make you recount all your mistakes in the argument, give you twenty unrelated examples to prove her point and defeat you just by virtue of being louder. Trust me, she will make you eat your words.
8. MIL has the memory of an elephant. So don’t think that that argument that you had with her many moons ago has disappeared from her memory. Also don’t think that she doesn’t remember when you burned a dish. She remembers your period date so don’t think you can be discreet about your pregnancy until the first trimester is up. She knows your ovulation date. It’s not worth your time to try and erase embarrassing moments from her memory. She remembers that you didn’t know the difference between a tangerine and a nectarine when you first got married. She remembers that the first time you hosted a party you forgot to put the salt and pepper shaker on the table. She remembers how you struggled with changing the baby’s diaper while simultaneously holding your toddler between your legs so he won’t escape naked out of the room. If you know a losing battle when you see one, replacing her sharp memory with pleasant occurrences is one of them.
9. MIL doesn’t forgive. This is probably the most important one to know. Even though she is a big proponent of forgiveness, she only supports this quality when she is a recipient of it. She remembers every little argument that she has had with her husband, neighbors, relatives and children. She remembers them like they happened yesterday. You suspect that she has a little black book somewhere but then remember that with her memory, no little black books are required at all by her.
10. And finally MIL is a victim too. Know this so you can give her some grace. She is a victim of the system just like you are. But you have an edge in this. You have the edge of knowing what’s wrong and how to fix it. You know you’re human so can commit common human errors, faults and sins like breaking someone’s heart, intrusiveness, sanctimoniousness, contempt, resentment, possessiveness, and so on. Since you know and accept that you’re human, you also identify when you have erred. When you err, you apologize. That’s all you do to be different from MIL. That and making every effort to grow from your mistake and not repeating it. MIL doesn’t have that perspective. She doesn’t have the luxury of self-analysis and self-censorship. She has tone policed women so much in her life that her tone has been perpetually offensive. Your vantage point is exactly what puts you in a compromising position, that is, being her daughter-in-law. By being her DIL, you have learned how to be the MIL who is as different from your MIL as the Pakistani society needs.