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May 6, 2012

My in-laws don’t let me take care of my own children


Dear Asad,

I am a twenty six years old married woman with two kids, living in Delhi. I got married when I was 21. It was an arranged marriage. My in-laws have a joint family system and my husband’s parents, his elder brother and wife, we all live together. My brother-in-law, my husband’s elder brother, had been married for five years but doesn’t have any children as his wife can’t conceive.

Everyone in the house wanted to hear the patter of tiny feet in the house. Thus despite my not wanting to have children so soon after marriage, I was left with no choice. Within the first year of my marriage, I had a son and then a year later a daughter followed. Everyone at home was ecstatic except me. Not because I was not happy to have children but because the day my first child was born, he was handed over to my sister-in-law to look after as she didn’t have any child and everyone felt sympathetic towards her. Other than feeding him, which obviously I had to do, she took over all the responsibilities of my baby. From day one, she took him to sleep with her in her bedroom and cared for her as if she was her mother.

 I was shocked to see all this, especially as no one, including my husband, bothered to ask me for my opinion or my wishes. I spoke to my husband about it but he felt I was making a big thing out of nothing. To him it didn’t matter who looked after our baby as long as he is being cared for in the same house. I was shocked by his casual attitude towards this arrangement. I then approached my parents to ask them to intervene but they were not willing to interfere in this matter. Their advice was to be patient as they felt things would get better with time, especially when I had more kids.

 I was left with no choice other than to be patient and let things go on as they were. A year later I had my daughter. I thought that finally I would be allowed to enjoy motherhood completely and was quite excited and happy when my daughter was born. My happiness was short lived though as she was also handed over to my sister-in-law as soon as I came back home from the hospital with my baby. Again the same reason was given by my in-laws, that poor she can’t have a baby and as she’s the eldest daughter-in-law of the family, she has the right to adopt my children and besides they are in the same house. You simply can’t imagine how shocked and useless I felt. I felt that I was just good enough for giving birth but not good enough for raising my own children. I again tried discussing this issue with my husband but he casually brushed it off by saying that I was over-reacting. I again reached out to my parents for help but they again dismissed my pleas by saying that things like this happen in joint-family set-ups and I should by now learn to accept them; that things would get better with time. In fact, they haven’t.

My sister-in-law has taken charge of all matters related to my kids. She is the one who decides what they eat, what they wear, where they go, etc. She has also taken on the responsibility of their education and is busy these days scouting schools to see which ones would be appropriate to enroll them into. I haven’t been asked for my opinion or wishes in this matter at all.  

I feel like a complete outsider. No one asks me about what I want for my own kids. I feel incomplete as a woman and as a mother. I feel I am just good for giving birth and nothing else. I have lost nearly all self-esteem. I suffer from depression now and have started taking pills for that. Whenever I approach my husband about this, he accuses me of over-reacting and being a nag. My own parents don’t understand and support me. They feel I should learn to live with it. They feel that just because I have a comfortable life, a decent husband and financial security, I shouldn’t rock the boat by going against the wishes of my husband and his family. They give me examples of how much more difficult life is for many married women in our society.

They might be right about it but I simply can’t go on like this. I am going mad. This issue is eating me from inside. I have started taking sleeping pills to numb myself as I fell very stressed and tense when I am awake. I don’t know what to do. Sometimes I feel it would be best for all if I were to die. I am seriously contemplating suicide. I don’t see any other way. I am writing to you with the hope that you would able to guide me and help me. Please help me….I need it.

Wannabe Mum

Dear Wannabe Mum,

It’s quite sad what you are going through. I completely sympathise with you. To be a mother and not be able to look after your own kids and bring them up according to your wishes must be very painful for you, and rightly so.

What your in-laws are doing is not justified. True, they may love your kids very much and want the best for them but that does not give them the right to take away your kids and give them to your sister-in-law for raising them. The excuse that your sister-in-law can’t have kids so she must get priority over you to raise your kids is wrong.

The most disturbing part is that your husband doesn’t support you in your rights over your own kids. Equally disturbing is the fact that your parents are also unwilling to interfere in this matter. This leaves you totally alone in resolving this issue.

As far as I have understood your situation, you have two ways to deal with it. One, you could try to confront your family and let them know that the current situation is totally unacceptable to you and you want the complete responsibility of your kids and wish to raise them as you please. You could tell them that you would be open to their suggestions and wishes but the final word regarding your kids would be yours. This is not going to be easy as you very well know otherwise you would have tried it long ago. Your own husband and parents are unwilling to support you. It would become very difficult for you to take on your in-laws and go against their wishes. In fact, you would end up being considered the villain of the family.

The other alternative could be to try a subtler approach. Don’t just give up hope and leave everything on your in-laws as you have been doing so far. Become as much involved with your in-laws as you can in raising your kids. Be there for each and every decision, no matter how big or small. For example, if these days your sister-in-law is scouting schools for your kids, go with her. Visit every place with her.  Express your opinion and wishes in every matter.  Also try suggesting that your kids take turns in sleeping with you and your sister-in-law. Set a day each week when you take your kids to your parents house for the whole day or to stay overnight. Your sister-in-law won’t follow you there. This way you could have time alone with your kids.

You will have to be creative and resourceful in figuring how you can spend more and more time with your kids and slowly and steadily take steps to ensure that ultimately you be the one who has control over them.

All the best in this!


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