Rita* met Raj* at a lecture hall when they were both studying at the National University of Singapore. They were medical students and were paired up for an assignment. With undeniable chemistry, they started dating soon after. After 6 years, Raj* proposed. Their wedding was magnificent and Rita says that marrying Raj was the best thing that had happened to her. But one deal-breaker was her relationship with her to-be mother-in-law. “She was a meddler, competitor, and so very toxic.”
Sitting down with us, Rita pours her heart out on how the situation at home got so bad, her husband has walked out on her and her toddler.
This is her story…
I’ve always had a fundamental dislike for my mother in-law, beginning well before getting hitched. It was basically a clash of personality, opinion, lifestyle, values… okay, the works. She was narcissistic, self-absorbed, overly-dramatic and she always used emotional blackmail not only on her own son, but on me as well.
She would guilt-trip, bully and act victimised- seriously, she’s the typical monster-in-law you’d see on a Bollywood TV serial. Coming from India, I did expect her to be a bit more traditional and conservative, but I thought I’d adjust. After all I loved Raj to bits and would do anything to make a life with him. I only thought of the bright future we’d have. The happy home that I’d decorate with him, the children we would create and bring up together, the happy ever after. But boy, was I wrong.
A mere one month into my marriage, my mother-in-law Gitu* would make decisions for me. On what I ate for lunch, where I shopped for new clothes (Indians leave their old clothes behind when getting married, and start a fresh wardrobe), and what time I went to bed! She was a total control freak! She would look at the clock and say,”Okay, it’s 10pm, kids time to turn in. Rita, my son needs his proper sleep. Stop keeping him up.”
Her snide remarks got to me, and sometimes I’d want to say something back, but I always stopped myself. Being totally a people pleaser (often to my own detriment), I may have seemed weak to her, and that could be why she continued treating me this way.
The smallest thing I did would be picked on. I tried to cook dinner every night, knowing my husband like home-cooked meals as his lunches were always taken outside. Gitu would invade my space in the kitchen, and insult my methods of cooking, my ‘boring and yucky’ recipes, and she even once said to me, “Your mother obviously was too busy working to teach you any household chores.” That sent me flipping.
I had ignored most of what she said to me, but that was outright rude and a major blow to my face- so I complained to Raj about it. He just dismissed it with a chuckle, telling me not to take her seriously. The first few months I did just that, but she kept testing my limit.
I started keeping my distance – I’d go to work, and when I was home, I’d stay in my room till dinner time (she made us all eat at the dining table together). I felt cooped up, and after much persuasion, my husband agreed to move out and get our own flat. That was it for her – she blew her top when he broke the news.
She started yelling at me saying I was the poisonous snake that entered their house and was the reason her son was drifting away from her. She even took a butter knife to slit her wrist! I couldn’t handle all the drama, so I told Raj I would go to my cousin’s place that weekend till things cooled off. He was an adult and could make his own choices, couldn’t he? If he wanted to move out, he should just move out. And she should be happy and supportive.
That weekend was calm for me, but terribly chaotic for Raj. His mum manipulated him to think that I was jealous of their closeness and I wanted to take her place. This made no sense to me- her cunning nature and the extent to how far she’d go to convince him was beyond belief.
I was raised to treat people with respect, but I’d lost all respect for my mother in-law’s behaviour and now, her as a person. She’s not really a bad person, but maybe because of our differing views, it got to the point where I then felt a huge amount of stress and adrenaline when I saw her.
We moved out (with much difficulty, and a lot of voice-raising) two months later. Raj was unhappy, and I felt horrible seeing him that way. I wanted him to be excited to start a new chapter with me (I was pregnant then) and build our new home together.
It was our first home and first baby – and he was always in sulky or stressed-out mode. His mother stole our special moments from us, and I will never get them back. And for that, I will never forgive her.
My pregnancy went by with her not even calling me or visiting me once. She had kept to her word of ‘’never stepping into your house if you dare move out’’. I felt really bad seeing Raj not being himself- he wanted to be around his mum, and I felt guilty having taken that away from him. So, like a fool, I told him to reconcile with her somehow and to get her back into our lives. He did… and she ended up moving in with us!
When Charles* was born, she didn’t help me much (other than tell me what to do AGAIN), she belittled me in front of my guests, and undermined me in front of Raj and his friends, and even my relatives. My parents had passed away a few years back, so all my vented up frustration I had to keep to myself.
There were days she would take Charles into her room and not pass him to me for a feed or playtime- she said she would do it “because I can do it better.”
After discussing boundaries with my husband and agreeing that he’d discuss them with her, he failed to do it a couple of times… so I did. And I did it in a direct and assertive way (she doesn’t understand subtlety). I told her off, expressing exactly how I felt being around her and her wicked ways. This was a big deal for me, and I was quietly proud of myself for standing up to her. But of course Raj got upset with me. He said he was supportive of me but just doesn’t seem to follow-through when it comes to his family.
Our son is now 2, and things have gotten worse. Gitu interferes in every parenting decision I make. Raj has been so stressed out with our conflict that he has basically given up on us. His mum has drilled it into his head that I am a bad mother to our son, I work too much and he can do so much better. It’s unbelievable how evil my mother in law is and to what lengths she would go to get rid of me. I don’t even know what her problem with me is. She never wants to trash things out when I’ve asked her to.
Last month, Raj broke down in front of me, telling me he couldn’t do this anymore. He wanted out. He has decided to walk out on our marriage, and our little boy. I’ve spoken to friends and family and they feel that if he is cowardly enough not to stand up for his family, then he isn’t worth it.
But my heart belongs to him and I will fight for him, for us, for my son to grow up with a dad. Right now we are separated, and I am at a loss as to how to handle this. I know my mother in law cannot change and things cannot be sorted out, but I desperately want to be with my husband and son.
Only time will tell how this story ends. And I pray and hope that I have the strength to overcome this heartbreak, and that a miracle happens for us. Losing my husband over my mother in law is not something I had ever imagined. But that’s life, isn’t it?
(Story as told to Pavin Chopra)
*All names in this story have been changed to protect the identity of those involved
Mummies, any of you have advice for Rita? Please share!