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MOMSTEIN SPEAKS: STRUGGLES OF THE MODERN MOM IN THE FAMILY HIERARCHY

“Taking care of a baby is a huge task and comes with little training.”

A new mom makes a few mistakes before figuring out how to change a diaper with a surgeon’s skill and how to breastfeed in her sleep. But the grandmother wants everything to be perfect in the first go. What she needs to realize is that once upon a time she too was a fumbling mother and that she too got the hang of keeping a baby alive only after a period of time. I can break down the behaviour into the following analysis and you can read, ruminate and recognize what exactly is your matriarch’s problem. Please remember one thing though – we cannot change anyone. This piece is to help you accept that controlling person in your life. Maybe forgive her and make your life a little lighter and easier to lead once you let go a little bit.

  • The illusion of control

A matriarch (she could be your mother/mother-in-law/aunty) is used to being a mother all her life. It is what she does best. It’s a force of habit to want to feel needed. Be a little sympathetic to her. The maternal figure, however, needs to realize that she only plays the supporting role. The new mother is the heroine of this drama and the mother-in-law must let her lead the show. If she needs help, give it to her. It is very difficult for grandmothers to understand and grasp that. They think they know best. And maybe they actually do but that does not give them the right to deem the intelligence and intuition of the new mother as nothing.

One of the manifestations of deep-rooted patriarchy is saying the mother is not good enough. And who is better at belittling a woman than another woman? As a new mother, there is nothing much you can do to change that behaviour because if you do try, you are partaking in the illusion of taking control of the situation.

  • The push into irrelevance

Stemming from the illusion of control is the need to be more and more relevant. Age is not on the sasuma’s side and neither is her health. Her body isn’t what it used to be. And then there is always another sore reminder of lost youth—her uterus that has gone out of business. It was her well of life, youth, and vitality as society ingrained into her mind.

Menopause is the biggest push into irrelevance that a woman can receive (if she so wishes to perceive it that way). In fact, feeling irrelevant in the scheme of things due to menopause is another manifestation of embedded misogyny. The machinery of baby-making and baby-rearing is in the hands of the next generation and that is a bitter pill to swallow. It is a power struggle that takes its roots from the subconscious.

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  • The Impatience

Many a mother-in-law has little patience to watch her daughter-in-law figure out how to change a diaper in a swish smooth effort without having poo all over the place. With no regard for the learning curve, she expects perfection in the first attempt (but trust me when I say this, if her daughter-in-law is perfect at something in the first attempt, then they get competitive. So, it’s really a no-win situation). This is the brand of mothers who raised the IIT engineers and doctors by pushing them into more coaching, more studies, and more burning-the-midnight oil.

And so, many years later, she screams on the inside when she sees a new mom learn on the job or tread the learning curve or even ask for help from her husband.

  • The Inheritance of hate

The present-day matriarchs learned from their matriarchs who in turn learned from theirs that daughters-in-law are a burden. Matriarchs have had poor role models to learn from how to behave with their subordinates and can get away with saying anything and everything to the one below them in the family hierarchy. Years of listening to her own matriarch and suppressing simmering contempt finally finds it’s release as she passes on inherited scorn and sarcasm to her own daughter-in-law.

  • The Biased victim

Psychologists can go tripping over the behavioural analysis of a menopausal grandmother but before we blame everything on her subconscious, we need to stop in the service lane of introspection. Just because you are sick of her nagging, does not make her wrong all the time. At times, even the pearls of wisdom from a granny will be disregarded just because it came from her mouth. No person is always right or always wrong. And new moms need to be a little more open-minded to age-old wisdom. Do not reject their gyaan just because they are perhaps less educated than you. They have grown in a different time with fewer opportunities that you and I have been taking for granted for years. Their education might be less but their years of experience, the wisdom gathered from raising their own kids and their best intentions should not be discounted as not valuable.

My advice—Sleep on it. Next morning,

“Filter out the real advice from the nagging and you will hopefully find gold. Take everything with a pinch of salt.”

And even then, if you feel she is in the wrong, come revisit this article to know you are not alone.

Dr Farah Adam Mukadam

Dr Farah is a family physician based in Bangalore. She is the author of the bestseller Newborns and New Moms, an urban woman’s guide to life after childbirth.

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