Lessons from Living with My Mother-in-Law
By: Roma Khetarpal
I was 23 and nine months pregnant when my in-laws helped my husband and I buy our first home—right next door to theirs. We did not even have a retaining wall between our houses! We could walk from one to the other through the backyards. My father-in-law was semi-retired.
At age 56, he had decided to start a small business of his own; to be his own boss was a dream he had all his life. And now that his two daughters were married and starting their own lives, and we—his only son, daughter-in-law, and new grandchild—lived right next door, he was in a good position to do that. It made him feel happy, accomplished and fulfilled.
As for me, as scary as the big move seemed, within weeks it was clear that this would be a good arrangement. We had our own living space and privacy as well as the comfort of having our in-laws next door. During times of emotion commotion, we had our own space to go to. And there were real advantages. First, having dinner with the in-laws was no longer such a big production.
There were no more panic attacks of ‘Oh my God, my in-laws are coming over!’ Second, when my in-laws were home, I could comfortably leave the baby with them to run small errands or pop into the grocery store. They loved any bonus time they could get with Nitasha, and I didn’t have to schlep a car seat, a diaper bag, and a baby to pick up a carton of milk.
As life would have it, however, nine months later, my father-in-law unexpectedly passed away, and within a matter of hours, our lives completely changed forever. My mum-in-law had to move into our home. We could not afford both house payments, and, after all, my husband was the only son (In an Indian family, this is how we roll!). And if any other reason were needed, my father-in-law had asked me a question just four hours before he left us: “Beta, if something happens to me, you will take care of Mom, right?” Without hesitation, I responded, “Of course I will, Dad. Now please stop this; nothing is going to happen to you. We will be home in a few days.”
I once heard that a deep knowing envelops one before the soul is released from the body. Now I knew it to be true.
I spent the next quarter-century fulfilling the word I gave to Dad the last time I saw him.
Was it hard at times? Absolutely!
Did I have days where I wanted to kick and scream and disown my Indian heritage? Sure!
Were there challenges that I faced every single day that made me second-guess my decision? Most definitely!
In hindsight, do I have any regrets? None whatsoever.
Living with a parent at home has defined who I am today. It is my mum-in-law’s daily presence that has inspired me to focus on the important stuff. Her strong-willed personality has nudged me to master communication skills. And her definite opinions (which she freely shares) have honed my patience, understanding, and acceptance. She has introduced me to the art of picking my battles and letting the rest go. I have learned how to give someone space and find the treasure of silence myself. I’ve also seen her loneliness, which has drawn out my best empathic self. Her health challenges, especially a couple of the big ones, have opened the doors to my temple of compassion, unconditional love and service.
Through it all, in an effort to be a “good” daughter-in law, I’ve played hide-and-seek with my own goodness – enough to know that it is my best asset and the only way to my authentic self — the only way to have a meaningful relationship with this gift of life and its every experience.
But the greatest gift of all? My children have grown up to be loving, caring, respectful, patient, empathetic, compassionate, kind, and emotionally intelligent. Not because I told them they needed to be, but because this was the environment they were raised in. Thanks to the presence of their grandma, they don’t know anything different.
It is because of my mum-in-law that my children are their best selves naturally and easily. Now, that’s a gift I could not have given them on my own.
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