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Rules of the Game

by Webmaster Masala

The untold truths of what we expect from our Mothers-in-law and Daughters-in-law.

By Jasnam Sachdev

We live in a rapidly moving world, where things are advancing so fast and thoughts are shifting even faster. These changes inevitably bring about the evolution of culture, where what was once considered the norm has adapted to fit into modern day life. Daughters-in-law once used to be housebound with no chance or choice to really think about working, and their responsibilities were clear — look after their home, husband and his family. However, just one generation has brought about so much change. Women today are no longer seen as any different to men. It is quite common for them to work before and after marriage.

The thought is an interesting one since we continue to live in joint family households, where (most) mothers-in-law lived a life so far beyond comprehension when compared to the world today. For many of them, life revolved around managing the expectations of their mothers-in-law, which meant bringing up the children and making sure that the kitchen/household was in order. Now we can’t ignore that life back then was also simpler. Marriage usually equated to having kids immediately, which meant that they’d be busy looking after their children for the next 15 to 20 years.

So this brings about an interesting point to ponder: if back then women were bound by expectations, what about the way they live now? Do mothers-in-law have the same expectations of their daughters-in-law as what their mothers-in-law had of them? Or is it vice versa, where mothers-in-laws want their daughters-in-laws to live freely the way they weren’t able to? And when there are expectations, do daughters-in-laws follow them or do they merely respectfully continue to do what suits them? Let’s see what a few voices of the Thai Indian community have to say.

Daughters-in-law once used to be housebound with no chance or choice to really think about working, and their responsibilities were clear — look after their home, husband and his family.

[Disclaimer: To protect their privacy, we have chosen to keep all interviewees anonymous]


“I support women to work even after marriage. I feel that everyone should be working regardless of their gender. When having kids, a mother is necessary, yes, but in the long run I don’t see a difference between parents, as it’s the responsibility of both mother and father.”

“I definitely see in-laws being much more accommodating to daughters-in-law with careers. But our society is still split on some level. There are some women who work 9am to 6pm jobs, and still come home to help with household chores, while some aren’t expected to do any at all. And although we may not always be expected to cook or do domestic work, there is an underlying assumption that ‘because we are women, we should know how.’ As women, we play many roles — daughter-in-law, wife, working woman, mother and so on — and it’s definitely a challenge to balance it all. But I don’t believe one has to sacrifice their career for family. We should be able to manage both!”

“I think daughters-in-law should work if they want to work, considering they have the luxury of a financially stable household and the choice. I know that working has helped me adjust to my new household because it gave me something of my own when everything around me was tied to my husband or my new family. With a profession, I had my own relationships, accomplishments, schedule, ambitions and income.”

“I have always believed that everyone needs space and a little time for themselves to do what they enjoy. Working not only gives us that, but when we come home, it gives us an opportunity to feel ‘refreshed’ with the family. I always felt that being intellectually stimulated helps keep me motivated to achieve my goals, as well as teaching me how to balance my family, personal and work life.”

“I think it’s important for mothers-in-law to respect the decisions of their daughters-in-law, whether they want to work or be stay-at-home mothers. In today’s modern age, women should have the power to decide what they want to do without pressure or judgement.”


“I think it is important for daughters-in-law to work to keep busy, but it is also equally important for them to balance their personal lives. As a woman, there are many things you need to look after, including your husband, household and kids. If women have full-time professions, then who do they throw their kids on?”

“I love it when both daughters and daughters-in-law work. I think it is a good thing that they are productive. What is the point of an education if they are just going to sit at home? I wouldn’t want my daughter-in-law to be doing that.”

“I’m happy for my daughter-in-law. She gets to do what her parents educated her for.”

“They can choose what they like to do before they start their own family. After which, hopefully, they prioritise sensibly.”

“Live and let live. Your daughter-in-law should be treated like your own daughter. She should be able to do what she did before her marriage. And it’s important that we respect the privacy of her and her husband’s (our son’s) relationship.”

From both viewpoints, it is clear that mothers-in-law of our time have come a long way. They are often referred to as the sandwich generation, as they are stuck between two of the most extreme generational mindsets. It is important to take a moment and appreciate them for all that they are able to accept, despite all that they had to tolerate.   Even though they were not given the same opportunities, they are still open and accepting of their daughters-in-laws’ decision to keep busy and work. However, one common thread between a few opinions are apparent — there is the necessity for daughters-in-law to understand the importance of looking after their own children when the time comes. So daughters-in-law, always remember that balance is key! From the perspective of daughters-in-law, the need to work is evident. Not only does it allow one to maintain purpose in their lives, but it also helps with the adjustment phase after marriage. So mothers-in-law, do remember that working might just be the solution to a happier family.   Now let’s not define our relationships by those horror Indian TV serials! Instead, both sides should try to pursue a relationship of understanding. Like the saying goes, it takes two hands to clap.

Ways to understand our expectations better:

  1. Communicate openly about the expectations of both sides
  2. Accept them as your own mother or daughter (as much as possible)
  3. Try to have a direct relationship that is not tied to the husband or son
  4. Avoid comparing them to your own mother or daughter (they will never be the same and you will never be happy if you do compare)
  5. Always be honest and true to yourself

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