Like many people, I first started thinking during adolescence about what I would like to see in my life partner.
In India, where I grew up, the concept of dating wasn’t prevalent. Because of this, both boys and girls were hopelessly shy. We got most of our ideas about ideal partners from loud, unrealistic Bollywood movies.
I wanted a hopeless romantic, someone who wouldn’t make fun of my gawkiness, who would dare to be different, who would totally see why I might need to rebel against the whole damn world! (How else can a teenager see herself, after all?)
Even in the murky image I had of an ideal partner, there was extraordinary clarity about one thing: “I would not hook up with a Mama’s boy!”
Several ideal partner parameters changed and softened as I grew up–except this one.
When I found my partner years later, I would look when we were around his family for telltale signs that he was a Mama’s boy. One day, I heard him tell his mother firmly that he wanted alone time with me to “discuss our future.”
Looking back, that may have been the clincher. We tied the knot.
We were very compatible as partners. And yet, like most marriages, ours wasn’t all petals and roses.
At least some of the tension was caused by the power struggle between his mother and me. Her deliberate non-acknowledgement of something I worked hard for irked me–especially when my husband visibly enjoyed it.
It didn’t take long to notice she met every suggestion of mine that my husband supported with stony silence, or a clever deflection of topic. Her presence in the kitchen each time he and I would make something together hardly seemed coincidental.
According to psychotherapist and marriage counselor, Dr.Robi Ludwig, “the power struggles between mothers and daughters-in-law are universal.” I was eager to make ours a home—shared territory with the man I loved. She was not entirely ready to cede control.
After our kids came, it felt to me like nothing I ever did with them was good enough in her eyes. New motherhood brings joy and stress in equal measure, and my threshold for any emotional stress outside of motherhood narrowed by a great extent.
Over time, the power struggles between my mother-in-law and me were no longer entirely silent. My husband was forced to awaken from blissful oblivion and acknowledge that the two most important women in his life were not perfectly “compatible.”
I can only attribute it to the foolhardiness of youth, and new mother frumpiness, that I got irked when he would try to convince me that all she had in her heart for me was love. Instead of being swayed by the tension, he patiently implored me to try to understand her position.
It was infuriating at the time. Love for him–sure! What kind of love is this for me?
Who refrains from open acceptance if there is love? Could he not see it? Why is he in denial? If it was love, why did she make it difficult for me to feel it? Shouldn’t she invite me into her world instead of resist my presence?
After 13 years of marriage and motherhood, I am better equipped to relate to his words.
My own journey as a mother has taken me through nights when I fiercely fought my rebellious eyelids to care for my sick children. I now know the supreme feeling of love that must prevail when your body is screaming to rest and you still spend your Sunday at the fair for your child.
I can appreciate that my child’s clinginess today because he is scared of monsters doesn’t mean he will need me as much one day. I know that the copious scribblings of “I love you” will be meant for someone else in just a few years. If anything, I will feel lucky if my presence doesn’t embarrass them around the objects of their infatuation.
It was difficult at first to picture my strong man as a little boy. Still, nobody can take away that it was her company he demanded, wept for and clung to–not so long ago. Her words brought comfort to him, her care kept him alive, her ferocity protected him from emotional and physical harm. Her warmth introduced him to love.
She was the center of his universe and his hero.
Over the years, his mother and I have bonded over many things–music, art, childhood stories (hers and mine), and her grandchildren. Most of all, we bond over our love for the same man. As time passed I gained my own ground, irrespective of her presence. She learned to be secure in her role, albeit one that has shifted.
Above everything, I am thankful my husband chose the stance of love during those times of struggle. He chose love when his mother faltered over the newly-tipped scales in her life. He chose love for me when I grappled to find a place in my new world.
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