Dear Nadine Khan,
I am a 26-year-old married woman. I have a loving husband, and a son we both are crazy about. My problem is that I live in a joint family setup. Even before our marriage, my parents-in-law had made it clear to my parents that they want their sons to live with them, and would not allow them to have separate houses. My parents agreed to this condition because my in-laws have a very big house with separate portion for all three sons, with just the kitchen which is common.
I have not faced any problems from my parents-in-law; they are very good and considerate people. My problem is that the wives of my husband’s brothers constantly try to provoke me to say something against my other sisters-in-law or my parents-in-law. My mother warned me before my wedding not to get involved with the family politics. But, Professor, it’s so difficult! When I don’t say anything, they call me proud and sly. If I venture even an innocent opinion, my words are twisted. My sisters-in-law even question the common maid; we have, about what I do in my portion. The maid, R, is very sympathetic towards me because she feels I am young and my sisters-in-law should not criticise me. She tells me what they say about me, and I feel so scared. I have been married for two years now but I still can’t cope with this situation. I make it a point to spend some time with my parents-in-law daily, and they accuse me of trying to be in their good books. On my face they are both very sweet to me, but behind my back they make fun of me. My maid told me that even in my husband’s extended family, they have spread bad things about my behaviour. I don’t know what to do in this situation. I am afraid to lose the regards of my parents-in-law. So far, they are very affectionate with me, but for how long? If they keep hearing bad things about me, they will also think I am a bad person. I have to do something to clarify my position! My husband tells me to ignore such talk. He says I should do what I can for his parents and just concentrate on our own house. I feel anxious all the time and am often unable to sleep thinking about the situation. What should I do?
Dear Disturbed Z,
First of all, relax. What you have described is pretty normal in joint families. And, if you should be wary of someone, it’s is the maid who informs you about the bad things supposedly said by your sisters-in-law. Ideally, in joint families if the portions are separate, the maids should not be common, too. It’s quite possible that this ‘sympathetic’ maid says stuff about you to your sisters-in-law. Don’t listen to R and, if possible, get another maid for your portion. Maids often are a factor in the misunderstandings that occur in joint families.
Your husband is right; you should continue to spend time with your parents-in-law and look after your house. Be pleasant with your sisters-in-law, and give them the benefit of the doubt. Once you and your sisters-in-law get to know each other better, things will, hopefully, become better. Your policy about not getting involved is difficult, because in-laws tend to try and make you take sides. So, not getting involved and still remaining on good terms sometimes become difficult. Hope you manage it! Best of luck!
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