“A mother gives you a life, a mother-in-law gives you her life”―Amit Kalantri (Wealth of Words)
There is nothing more precious in the world than the child borne by a mother. The day mothers hold the bundle of joy in their arms is the day all the wealth of this world turns into sand. Nothing gives them more pleasure than the smile on their baby’s face and nothing pains them more than the slightest of scratches on their bodies. This bond is unique and no other relationship can be likened to that between a mother and her child. A mother is one who can go to any extent to make the life of her child more comfortable and trouble free. She stays awake so her darling can sleep peacefully, she starves but fills her child’s tummy, she faces difficulties but zealously protects her offspring from the onslaught of any danger.
Having said this, the truth is that maternal feelings are not confined to a biological mother. There are many women who may have never given birth, nor do they have the capacity to, but are blessed with a profuse sense of maternal instinct which enables them to care for others’ children, sometimes more efficiently. These are step-mothers, foster mothers, mothers-in-law. They get this status by virtue of changed relationships and are forced by circumstances to adopt a new role—a role that demands many sacrifices, much prudence and above all, tremendous love, care and tenderness. These qualities endow the women with higher spiritual status raising their esteem to unfathomable heights.
In human societies all around the globe, mothers-in-law are usually demonized just like step-mothers. There are genuine reasons of course as not all women are fortunate to be gifted with maternal emotions. These females swing between two extremes. On the one hand their hearts bubble with love for their own children while on the other, evil froths for others. There are innumerable examples of cruelty, physical and psychological abuse, violation of rights, defiance and even murder in cases where women are placed in a position to mind other’s children whether in the capacity of step-mothers, mothers-in-law or even employers. Indeed, maximum instances of abuse are reported where young children are employed as domestic help. Their female employers, who may also be mothers in their own way, can be highly outrageous towards them, which tends to portray the hideous face of women.
Then there are countless examples of daughters-in-law who become victims of brutality at the hands of their in-laws, especially their husband’s mom. In our society, some clever women enthusiastically marry their sons to young, beautiful girls from well-to-do families expecting huge dowry, good connections and an attractive daughter-in-law to show off but who does not realize that as soon as the honeymoon period is over, she would be subjected to an unimaginable nightmarish life. This may also entail rifts between husband and wife and worse, misunderstanding as to character, all induced to hold sway over others’ lives and/or control the incoming earnings and depriving the daughters-in-law of enjoyment or a contented domestic life.
Such incidents bring disrepute to women in general and mothers in particular. The deeds of a few wicked women have cast a bad name, so much so that mere mention of step-mothers and mothers-in-law invokes all kinds of negativity plus jokes and nasty quotes. What a pity! Simple observations reveal that women avenge their own misfortune by infliction of evil on other women.
Another extreme are the loving and caring ladies who are willing to go beyond limits to please their sons-in-law and daughters-in-law. In their eagerness, they sometimes overdo a few things in terms of money and their own services. This means that if they have dutiful children then their efforts would be appreciated but if they end up with insolent ones then there are chances that they may become casualties resulting in a making their lives miserable.
Both extremes are painful but mercifully the woman of today has learnt to strike a balance in relationships. The educated and enlightened ones are now adopting a middle path where mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law give ample space to one another creating breathing space and allowing their sons and husbands to lead a peaceful life. This type of realisation comes from understanding that today’s daughter is tomorrow’s mother and later on an in-law. The major contributing factor is that women today are aspiring to become economically independent that gives them sufficient empowerment and a sense of security. This not only keeps their minds busy preventing them from engaging in petty politics but also allows them to think on positive lines.
In the end, it is important to perceive that the best mothers are those who raise their sons in a manner that teaches them to maintain cordial relations with their blood relatives and in-laws in addition to respecting women which, also includes their wives. As long as men ably handle the sensitivities of relationships, women will not earn a bad reputation and consequently when they traverse from being a mother to mother-in-law, the transformation would be smooth and sweet. After all, embracing an outsider in the capacity of one’s own mother is as difficult as it is for a mother to accept someone else’s child as one’s own. However, if the doors of love and empathy are thrown wide open then life becomes much easier than one can picture.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)