I am blessed to have for the most part a good set of in-laws. My husband is the eldest and the only son in his immediate family. Having heard all of the horror stories about in-laws who mistreated the wife, etc., I felt it was important to have a good relationship with hubby’s family. I chose early on to ensure that I did my part to try to maintain the best relationship with them.
Being from Kerala, my husband’s mother tongue is Malayalam. I’ve tried and there is no way I can master the language. It is much faster and much more tongue twisty than Hindi. My mother in law speaks limited English and although both of my sister in law’s speak English, only one communicates with me on the level that I think we are both comfortable with on a consistent level. They can all read English just fine. One of the first things I did was hire an interpreter to help me speak with my mother in law on a weekly basis. I also began to write her letters.
It was important for me to get to know my in-laws without the interpretations from my husband. I felt it was important for me to get to know them without him butting in and cleaning stuff up and vice versa. Even more importantly, it was important for me to tear down all those negative stereotypes they had about Americans but especially African Americans. We’re often seen as being uneducated, drug addicts or only rapping or playing ball. They needed to know my family background was far from this and that often the images they saw of African Americans on television didn’t represent my people as a whole. This is why the interpreter was so important to me. It was one of the best things I could have done.
My husband’s family had tried to arrange him several times and he refused so when he chose to marry at the ripe old age of 38, I think they were just glad he married period. By the time I began to communicate with them, they had either a) accepted the fact he was married to me or b) pretended pretty well.
His mother has not only accepted me with open arms but when we speak with her and the kids get on the phone to speak with their achama (grandmother in Malayalam) she always asks in her limited English “do you know who I am? I am your grandmother.” And each time it touches my heart. It never grows old. It would have been easy for her to turn her back on my kids because they weren’t M’s but she saw that he had accepted them as his own and she loves them in return. I couldn’t ask for more.
The middle sister had a much harder time accepting the marriage. Most of it is my husband’s fault. He had not had a formal relationship with them for several years until I forced it a couple of years ago. Even though this was the case, she was not happy about the marriage when she found out. My suspicion is because I wasn’t the good little Indian woman they had tried to hook him up with but they will never tell me. Her husband did send me an email saying they were against the marriage from the beginning. I made it clear however, that I am here to stay and they can take me or leave me just as I can take them or leave them. They’ve opted to take me .
Hubby’s youngest sister is wonderful! She accepted me and my children (even sending them gifts), she puts hubby in his place when she needs it and she even helped me get dressed for my traditional Keralan ceremony!
When it comes to the in laws, my suggestion is to do what you can to fulfill your part in the communication process-even when there is a language barrier. Sometimes you have to be creative in getting around it. In our case it took a while for my mother in law to trust the translator but after a while, it was normal for her to have the invisible third person on the line with us.
I don’t want to paint an all rosy picture because even though my husband nor his mother will tell me, I know there are some people in his family who boycotted our last ceremony because I was not Indian. It happens and in cases like that, there’s nothing I can do. I can only be the best wife and mother I can be and love and respect those members of his family who did show up to bless us (and talk about me!) I’m no idiot. I know some of the family probably showed up only so they could have a firsthand account on what I looked like, how I wore a sari etc. For them the concept of an African American was built on stereotypes and the needed to see if I fit the bill.
Not all of us will be accepted into our in law’s family with open arms. I know that lack of validation hurts but at the end of the day we have to realize that if we have done all we can do, then we’ve done all that has been required of us. Some people just won’t ever grow past the smallness that invades their minds no matter how many seeds we plant or how often we water them. If your husband has chosen you for all the right reasons and still chooses to love you despite the fuss his family may put up, accept that and remember how badly it must feel for him to be placed in the middle. In Indian cultures especially, parents have a great deal of pull. To go against the grain is never easy.
I’m thankful. Since marrying my husband, my family has grown to include two elder sisters I never had, an incredible mom in law and two nieces and two nephews that think they have a pretty cool American auntie (at least that’s what I like to think). I couldn’t be happier. Until the next blog…