Know your in-laws

Dealing With In-Laws

I remember the first time I met my in-laws.We were in a restaurant in the middle of a a Delhi winter.But,I drank 5 glasses of water in sheer nervousness.This before the first course had even arrived.Then my father-in-law offered me another glass of water,and we all started laughing.You could say it broke the ice.I won't say that we lived happily ever after,but that one incident was the first step to understanding each other.It did take us all a bit of time to adjust to each other,but i could safely say that we have a good equation between us now,and we are proud to be family.

So,how do we all cope with our in-laws or new families?It's a sensitive relationship and both sides have to have a certain kind of attitude to make it work.Sometimes it's not the best of relationships in the world, but maybe with a little diplomacy and a little caring,you could make it go a long way for you.

Breaking the Ice
All married people,irrespective of their gender,will shudder when they tell you about their first meeting with in-laws.Yet,it's often the most important time to make the right impression.After all,gone are the days when parents chose their children's spouses,it's now the other way round.So establishing a good relationship with each other's parents is very important.

However,there are some ways in which you can establish the upper hand.Learn a little more about your new family.Try and spend a little time getting to know specific things about your prospective in-laws from your betrothed before you really meet them properly.If you can understand what makes them tick,this could help break the ice before even meet them.Samita,who got married a couple of months ago,did exactly that.When she got to know that her sister-in-law was an artist,she took along a set of paints for her when she went to their place.She laughs,"Her face sort of,just lit up,because she didn't except such a personalized gift from me.We hit it off so well after that night,that she actually gifted me a beautiful painting for my birthday last month."

Of course,everyone doesn't have specific interests,but still it's nice to understand other people's personality quirks.It will help you to understand why your mother-in-law doesn't like to speak for the first one hour in the morning till she has done her puja,or why your father-in-law feels so happy when you read out the news to him.

Learning to Adjust
It's not always easy to leave your entire past life and adjust to the whims and fancies of a new family.If you thought only girls were the ones to bear the brunt of an adjustment crisis,think again.Gautam,who has been married for the past three years,quips,."Every time we visited my wife's house,one had to wish each family member 'good morning' and 'goodnight'.I come from a very informal family,and i found it very odd but i guess it's good manners in a way."

Someone once told me that even if you have to cover your head with a sari pallu,and touch people's feet, it doesn't change who you are internally.That one statement made me look at things very differently.So,even when i did have to do small little things to accomodate my in-laws,I didn't feel any resentment about it.In fact,the goodwill it generated was tremendous.

Aroshi Gupta,married for three years now reveals,"When I first realized that jeans etc.were complete no-no in my new family,I was taken aback.I wasn't very comfortable with the idea of living upto the high expectations as an ideal bahu but,I think even they saw the effort I was putting into radically altering my way of dressing,speaking etc.Soon, they began to persuade me to wear the clothes I usually wore.I think,the initial three-four months were crucial for them.When they saw how open I was to adjustment,they too wanted to be more flexible in return.When people love you,then they accept you for what you are.But,if I had been adamant from the beginning itself,then maybe they too would have been more wary."

Dealing with Problems
It's not always a bed of roses out there.Ultimately,this is a sensitive relationship and things can go quite awry.Yet,there is also good news.Marriage counsellor Rupa Dhar points out that "if there are going to be problems ,they usually surface within the first six months of living together".It could be anything from a poky mother-in-law to hordes of relatives descending on you every holiday season.The way to deal with it,is to discuss with family members whom you are close to.Confiding in a sibling in-law or in your spouse does go a long way to help,because they may be able to deal with the problem more effectively than you.Rupa adds "Most young couples get caught in the 'your parents-my parents' trap and end up hurling accusations at each other rather than trying to solve the problem."

Ultimately when a marriage happens,it does join two families together,but it also changes the power equation between the family structure.This can make other people a little insecure because they may not understand how to deal with a new person within their private space and routined life and this may motivate their behavior in a manner very different from what their natural characteristics actually are.

Rahul and Upsana were married just a few month's when Rahul's younger sister began reacting badly to Upsana.She smiles "At first we were dumbfounded,but then we realized that she was just feeling that no one had time for her anymore."Her insecurity caused this tension,and it took a lot of attention from the young couple to get her back to normal.

Of course,one cannot always make people see reason,but it is worth a try.Like Rupa smillingly adds,"In my experience I find that both parties want to bridge the gap,but they just cannot bring themselves to break the ice."

Little Things That Matter
The first time I went to my husband's ancestral house,I missed reading the daily newspaper(the village was remote,no English newspaper came there).When I voiced this hesitantly to my brother-in-law,his immediate response was to get lots of magazines and newspapers for me,on his next trip to town.It won me over,more than any declarations of support.So when you are adjusting to a new family,keep in mind the small things,rather than large things.When we emotionally sum up all the reactions we have from each other,we generally count the smaller things,while larger issues are always debatable.So,keep in mind that though the family may not have any problems with your pursuing the profession of a pop/rock singer,they may feel upset when you insist on blowing smoke rings in their faces at their dining table.Similarly,no one may except you to be a great cook,but they would feel upset if you don't even bother to switch off the lights when you leave an empty room.

Make An Ally
Yeah!No marriage counsellor is going to teach you this,but the fact is,you can't just enter a new territory without making some inroads first.So try and make a friend(please don't depend on your spouse as ally,he/she is too busy trying to keep both sides happy),maybe a sister-in-law,or your mother-in-law or your father-in-law.Anyone with whom you can establish rapport,and anyone who will look out for you,and help you learn the ropes,like who eats what,which festival has to be celebrated how,and which horrible aunt to absolutely avoid/ignore.In the end you will find that this aids friendships and the moment one person accepts you,so will the rest.

So remember, it's actually a whole load of fun and games when you have a good rapport with your in-laws.Indeed,they are the best support in time of crisis,and when you need someone to help you change the baby's nappy.You can laugh with them and cry with them,and even fight with them,but ultimately they are family and that is what matters.

- Sushma


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