x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

In the war of the in-laws, everyone is a loser

It's no joke when a man's mother decides she doesn't approve of his wife.

Riddle: Who has eyes in the back of her head, is known for meddling, notices the slightest mistakes and fabricates some when there aren't any?

Answer: Your mother-in-law.

But it depends who you ask. If you actually ask a mother-in-law, the answer instead will be her daughter-in-law.

A mother-in-law will invariably add: "My son could have done better."

And so the war continues.

It's always dangerous to generalise - there are some really kind and helpful mothers-in-law out there. But looking at my married friends, they seem to be the minority.

The majority complain about the stereotypical "evil" mothers-in-law and some have issues with fathers-in-law as well, which I found surprising. But I have seen the men be even more brutal: "Chimps like your husband belong in a zoo, not in a household," I overheard a father-in-law tell his married daughter and her husband at a social gathering.

Mothers-in-law tend to be sneakier. One friend spent a whole morning cooking a feast for her mother-in-law who was coming over to visit her grandchild. The woman always made a point of not mentioning my friend's name when announcing a visit. She was coming to visit her son and her grandson only.

Subtle, but it left a scar. I have never seen my friend so stressed and so anxious to make a good impression. "She never likes anything I cook, no matter how hard I try," my friend told me. I stayed for lunch one time and saw what she meant. My friend had gone all out, asking her husband about his mother's favourite dishes.

For the entire lunch, the mother-in-law had a plastic smile that didn't change. She only really smiled with her eyes when she held the grandson. She ate very quietly, and I could see her analysing everything on the table.

When my friend asked if everything is to her liking, she simply nodded her head. And then my friend made the mistake of mentioning that her friend - me - had made the salads.

"Yes. I could tell. They are the best dishes compared to the rest."

She was all smiles with me, and made a particular effort to talk to me, which left my friend feeling insecure. And if that wasn't enough, the mother-in-law went in for the kill: "It is too bad my son didn't meet you first," she told me.

If you think that was low, apparently the woman later complained to her son that my friend had fed her "10-day old rice" and had tried to make her sick by adding peanuts to which she was allergic. Since I'm also allergic to peanuts, I knew there wasn't a trace of them, and the rice was as fresh as everything else on the table.

Nothing to get worked up about? Imagine this happening every time the two women are in the same room, with the son/husband always in the middle.

From how my friend had gained weight to how the house looked, from how she is raising the children to how she talks, I have heard every complaint. And mothers-in-law love dragging their sons into every petty argument.

If the daughter-in-law is from a different country, the abuse triples, and the son is reminded how he should have married "one of our own". Ultimately this bickering hurts the marriage.

Of course, it's a two-sided coin. I have known a nice mother-in-law who ended up in a home for the elderly because of her daughter-in-law. Half blind, she didn't make a fuss and accepted her fate. It depends on the family, but it seems people have become less tolerant and less respectful of the elderly.

And, of course, daughters-in-law become mothers-in-law, and the cycle of abuse continues.

There is some truth to my old joke: I'm looking for a husband who is an orphan, so I never have to deal with any of this.

 

rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @Arabianmau