What Causes the Problem?
“TOO much salt is not good for the family!” declares the mother. “But the food is so bland and tasteless!” insists the daughter-in-law. She drops in a pinch of salt when the mother’s back is turned.
With each trying to have her way, both end up eating a dish that neither one of them enjoys. But the consequences may be far more serious than that. In-law friction may lead to mental and emotional struggles that last for years.
To many, this kind of conflict seems unavoidable. “However well a family seems to be getting along together, there is bound to be friction between a mother and her daughter-in-law,” writes Dr. Shigeta Saito, chairman of the Japan Mental Hospital Association. But the problem is not limited to the Orient.
Awake! correspondent in Italy reports that “the custom of getting married and moving in to live with the parents of either the bride or the groom has caused problems in many families, and many a young wife suffers because of the often meddlesome and authoritarian attitude of her mother-in-law.”
In the countries of both East and West, newspapers and magazines abound with personal-advice columns dealing with in-law conflicts. What, then, may cause the problems?
Who Makes the Decisions?
When two women share a kitchen, the issue often is: Who makes the decisions? “Our tastes and methods differ, and I was flustered every time a disagreement arose,” says a woman who has lived with her mother-in-law for more than 12 years.
“For the first ten years, we confronted each other on trivia,” admits another daughter-in-law. Disagreements may rise over things as insignificant as how to hang shirts on the clothesline. Even if the women do not live in the same house, the situation may be troublesome. A visiting mother-in-law who makes such comments as, “My son doesn’t like his steak done that way,” may result in lifelong hard feelings. It all comes down to who makes what decisions and for whom.
Pointing to this issue, Takako Sodei, assistant professor of homemaking at Ochanomizu Women’s University says: “Whether one lives with a son and daughter-in-law or a daughter and son-in-law, it is impossible for a household to support two wives competing with each other for control. It is necessary to have separate living space or adjust the situation and let one be the homemaker and the other a subhomemaker.” The two generations must come to a reasonable agreement based on the physical and mental condition of the older and the experience, or lack of experience, of the younger.
The Matter of Privacy
When two or more generations live in the same quarters, family members must sacrifice their privacy to some extent. In this, however, each member is likely to have a different yardstick. A young couple may yearn for more privacy, while the elderly may thirst for more companionship.
For example, a daughter-in-law living near Tokyo felt that her mother-in-law invaded the couple’s privacy. How so? By taking in the personal laundry of her and her husband, folding it, and putting it away. She did not consider it proper for her mother-in-law to do these personal things for them. On the other hand, her mother-in-law, Tokiko, became distressed when her daughter-in-law, in tidying up the house, discarded items that Tokiko had cherished for years.
Invasion of privacy can become extreme. Tom and his wife, who took care of Tom’s elderly mother, were disturbed by her excursions into their bedroom in the middle of the night. Her reason? “I wanted to see if Tom was all right,” said the mother. The problem was not solved until they moved into a two-story apartment and the mother was forbidden to come upstairs.
In many families, though, it is when the third generation comes along that problems really intensify.
Dealing With Children
Nowadays, it is common for a young mother to consult various books for advice on child care. On the other hand, grandmother, with her years of experience in child training, naturally feels that she is the one qualified to give advice. That advice, however, is often viewed as criticism, and conflict results.
Takako had to deal with this problem when she disciplined her young son. Her husband’s mother and grandmother rushed into her room to stop her, shouting even louder than the crying baby. Feeling intimidated, Takako stopped disciplining her son. Later, realizing the importance of providing discipline, she decided to resume such training.—Proverbs 23:13; Hebrews 12:11.
A mother who lives in Yokohama also struggled with her mother-in-law after the children were born. The mother was annoyed that grandmother gave the children snacks between meals so that they were too full to eat their meals.
Commenting on this problem, Dr. Saito says: “[Grandparents] give sweets and allowances to their grandchildren. They indulge the selfish wishes of the young. In short, they spoil their grandchildren endlessly.” He advises that young mothers make it clear that they will make no concessions on child training.
Vying for Affection
In this conflict between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, there is something quite irrational at work. “Psychologically speaking,” explains Dr. Saito, “the mother feels that her daughter-in-law has snatched her son away from her. Of course, she does not orally express such a thought, as that is too childish. But, subconsciously, the thought of being robbed of her son’s affection is deeply rooted in her.” The result is a strained relationship, if not outright rivalry between the two of them.
This tendency seems to intensify as the size of families decreases. With fewer children to care for, the mother feels closer to her son. After years of living with her son, she is well aware of his likes and dislikes. Though the new bride is anxious to please her husband, she lacks this intimate knowledge, at least at first. A competitive spirit may therefore easily develop, with mother and daughter-in-law vying for the affections of the same man.
A Tragic Shift
In the old days in Japan under Confucian philosophy, when such family conflicts occurred, the daughter-in-law was sent away—divorced. And that was the end of the matter. Today, however, it is a different situation.
Since World War II, the younger generation has taken control of the family purse, and the older generation is losing its influence and authority. Gradually, the situation has reversed. Now elderly parents are being abandoned in hospitals and institutions. How tragic to see this plight in a society where respect for the elderly used to be the norm!
How can the tendency to dump the elderly be reversed? Is there any way for two women to coexist peacefully under the same roof?
[Picture on page 7]
Reasonable agreement must be reached as to who makes the decisions