A Tyrannical Mother-In-Law Tale—Indian Style

Two Indian women
We’ve all heard horror stories of mothers-in-law who offer to help a new mom and then impose their will on the family. Imagine a matriarchal dictatorship with rules so strict, you can’t breathe without written permission. That’s what today’s guest blogger, Desi Maa of My life and other miracles, experienced during her post-partum stay with her tyrannical mother-in-law in India.

In India, it’s traditional for an expectant mother to deliver her baby at her mother’s or her mother-in-law’s home. I planned to escape to my mom’s, but Lady Luck didn’t smile on me and I delivered my elder son, several weeks premature at my mother-in-law’s.

Mothers-in-law can get creative and invent some of their own traditions because they know this is their fat chance to treat their daughters-in-law the way they have always dreamed of—like dirt.

Another tradition in India is that for 40 days from the date of delivery the new mom is considered “unclean” because of her postpartum bleeding. This means no travel, no outings, no sleeping in her bed, no cooking (the best part) and staying away from the hubby (the worst part.)

All the stars favor the mother-in-law. She gets to rule the household again and have 100% control over her son, while her hungry, depressed daughter-in-law is stashed away in the most dingy corner of the house at the mercy of others.

My mother-in-law’s desire to impress her relatives and neighbors with her devotion caused her to literally drown my food in ghee (clarified butter used in Indian cooking). Ghee would be floating on my rotis, dal and curry like there’s no tomorrow. I felt ghee was my main dish and everything else just pickle. Even my glass of milk was served with dollops of sugar and ghee topping!

That was India 14 years ago. I couldn’t make a decision on what and how, or even when I could eat. Imagine a matriarchal dictatorship with rules so strict, you couldn’t breathe without written permission. I pleaded with all my might about the damage this much ghee would do to me. But she would stand over my head with her big kohl lined-eyes and scowl at every bite I took. I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it. As a terrified new mom, I had no choice but to eat what she served or go hungry during those crazy, breast-feeding, postpartum months.

I finally came up with a strategy after a week or so. I asked her for extra salt in order to get a moment alone and scooped as much ghee as I could off the food and dumped it in my glass of water.

But, I guess, the damage was done. The ghee never did melt off my butt, thighs and tummy. It’s stubborn, just like its provider. Please don’t get the impression that she eats the dollops, too. She has absolutely no fat on her body and has no interest in eating at all.

So did she win by making me gulp ghee and sugar? No, my husband claims he won because he has more of me to love!


  1. says

    I remember reading about something similar–the Chinese tradition called “sitting for a month.” It apparently also calls for confinement and a specialized diet that is believed to help the mother recover. In the strictly traditional Chinese practice, showering and washing the hair are also forbidden, as getting a chill is much feared. But some have ditched that part of the tradition. In some cities, commercial centers are opening to allow Chinese mothers to carry out the traditional month of rest in the absence of their mothers and mothers-in-law, who may not be in this country. Personally, I think being pampered for a month after birth sounds fairly good, but being isolated and restricted–not so good.