Whomever still believes that all mother-in-laws are evil people, clearly has not met you, as you are a sweet and loving woman.
It is such a shame that the Punjabi culture of patriarchy has created a dynamic where one of the few ways an older woman can be confident, feel empowered, and experience a little bit of luxury is by dominating and overpowering her daughter-in-law. I’ve heard that it is this patriarchy that has created the “mother-in-law syndrome” which reflects the skewed power relations between the sexes. I’ve heard that as a daughter-in-law herself, the saas was made to work long hours serving the men of the house; and now, with a new daughter-in-law to do the work instead, she is finally able to take a break. I’ve heard that the saas is unconsciously so angry at the injustice of patriarchy that the only way she can let out her frustrations is by subjugating her daughter-in-law. I’ve heard that the saas may try to prevent her son from bonding with his new wife a way for her to maintain her son’s economic support and favoritism.
So, when I come across a woman who was raised in this tradition, but actively rejects it, it is refreshing and revolutionary. It is shocking and beautiful. You, Mummy, are one of these revolutionary Sikh women.
Mummy, you could have easily seen your daughter-in-law as an opportunity to wield power that you may not have ever had. Or, seen me as a threat to your throne. But instead, you put aside your ego and put forth your kindness, for the love and happiness of your daughter-in-law. You welcomed me to share your throne and encouraged me to be my own queen. I am so grateful to you for that.
Growing up, I heard horrible (true) stories about new brides entered a living hell at the hands of their saas. “Tales abound of humiliation, intrusion, even death threats, amid battles over who controls family life,” were common rhetoric. I saw young women being dropped into a stranger’s household and quickly made to work like maids. So, at age nine, I vowed never to get married.
As I got older, my attitude towards marriage changed, but I was still very weary about the saas figure, especially when hearing about murderous mother-in-laws. Needless to say, it was imperative for me to have a saas who lived the Guru’s teachings of love (and thus, wasn’t murderous).
Before I met you Mummy, I had heard many good things about you. I had heard that you were sweet, funny, a great chef, and liked sports. When being around you, I noticed that you didn’t mind if girls wore shorts or let their hair down. You were witty and quick to laugh. I sometimes joke with people that I got to, “test-drive my mother-in-law before marriage and she passed.” My dadi ji liked you and called you “cool,” – that tickled me.
Fast-forward to the wedding. Weddings are inherently stressful but you were graceful. You let me and your son lead the way which was so thoughtful of you. I know there were elements of the wedding that weren’t your favorite, but you still let us have them anyway. Thank you.
Now, having been a full daughter in your family for a while, I want to say that having you as my second mummy has been wonderful. I’ve never felt like Cinderella and if I could, I would go back in time and tell my nine year old self that as a married woman, I won’t be washing floors with a toothbrush as my saas towers over me. Instead, I’ll be sipping tea while my saas sits beside me.
The reasons I’m writing an open letter to you is for two reasons. First, to show young Sikh women who want to get married, but may be scared, that there are such things as great mother-in-laws. Second, to show other mother-in-laws (or future mother-in-laws) that you can have a loving, fun, and respectful relationship with your daughter-in-law without feeling like you have lost the game of life. (Plus, you’re helping dismantle sexism and patriarchy by breaking the “evil saas” stereotype.)
Lastly, thank you for never calling me your daughter-in-law but rather, your daughter. That small change in terminology really illustrates how committed you are to making me feel like a part of the family.
Lots of Love,