Q&A: My Mother Feels Hurt by my Girlfriend’s Family. How to Make Things Work?

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Hi,

I don’t know how to start this story, but let me just start by saying I love my mother. I never had a great relationship with my father and it’s her hard work, dedication, parental love – whatever you call it – that makes me stand where I stand today.

Lion cub in mum's jawsPhoto by klehmkuhl

I now live and work in the US. Four years back I met my girlfriend (let’s call her AK), a half North Indian-half Bengali born and brought up in the US. Her parents ran away from home and married against their parents’ wishes, though later reconciled and now share good relations with their families. I’m glad to have them in my life – they’ve accepted our relationship fully and are very supportive of me.

Recently we started thinking of marriage. I arranged a meeting between my mother and sister and AK’s parents back in India. Neither AK nor I was present in this meeting.

Unfortunately the meeting didn’t last for even 5 min.  My mother was apparently outraged by the way AK’s mother treated her, and also by her attire which my mother deemed inappropriate for a public place.

Later I started hearing different accounts of the event from my mother, sister and AK’s mother. My mother is very angry at the moment and has gone to the extent of telling me to maintain a distance from AK and her family, suggesting they’re the “clever”, “bling-bling” type and not suitable for a guy like me. 

I really love AK and both of us have given a lot to this relationship. But on the other hand I have no clue as to how to placate my mother and start talking to her meaningfully about it.

I don’t want to hurt my mother by going against her wishes. Understandably, AK doesn’t want to force her way into an unwelcoming family either.

I can’t let either of the two people I love the most in this world become the biggest source of sorrow to the other. Please help me.

–          BG, North Carolina

 

Hi BG, 

Thank you for writing in. 

There are two important questions here:

  1. Should you get married to your current girlfriend?
  2. If yes, how should you proceed?

Let’s look at #1.

There are a couple of issues at play here.

First of all, AK’s family is settled abroad. Her parents are very liberal people, given the fact that they’re an interracial couple who ran away from home, one generation ago. Going by your description, your family seems to be quite traditional. Hence there’s a huge cultural gap between your family and AK’s. One of the reasons for your mother’s outrage is this.

While you may be settling abroad after marriage and your wife may not have to interact much with your mother, are you sure your traditional upbringing and her liberal upbringing will not lead to clashes at some point?

You might consider yourself liberalized. But we can never fully overcome the influences of our childhood even if we want, and deep inside you might hold traditional beliefs, attitudes and worldviews which neither you nor AK are aware of today. Your long relationship would of course have helped you understand each other to a great extent. But you need to do some soul-searching to find out such possible points of disconnect between the two of you (Why not start with listing down the things about AK’s family that you don’t like?). And she needs to do the same. Also discuss this with her parents openly, if you think they can help. Marriage is a BIG decision, and being uncomfortable now is better than making a mistake.

If after the exercise you’re still convinced you’re made for each other, we can move to Question #2.

We know your mother’s reaction to the whole situation.

I understand your parents are either separated or not very close to each other. Your mother loves her son (you) more than anything else. All her life she’s struggled to make sure he reaches where he is today. Naturally, he’s the core of her life.

In such a situation it’s most natural to feel paranoid – at least subconsciously – about someone else (AK) assuming importance in his life.

Inside, your mother is feeling insecure. She’s afraid she’d cease to hold as much importance to you as she holds today, if you marry someone you’ve fallen in love with (as opposed to someone chosen by her and/or the rest of your family). Add to that the fact that the girl’s family is very modern, enlightened, etc. This is intimidating to your mother. She’s afraid you’ll get so enamoured by their sophistication, progressive attitude etc. that you’ll draw closer and closer to them, forgetting her. Of course she also has the real fears of you experiencing a culture shock if you marry into this family (the concern I mentioned earlier).

Saas bahuPhoto by Shrihari

Let me tell you first off that arranging a meeting between the two mothers as a starter to this relationship was a mistake. You should’ve told her four years ago that there’s someone you like. You should have gone on to talk about her with your mother over all of your calls over the next one year. Eventually you should have let AK and your mother interact telephonically over the next couple of years before you let the girl’s parents meet her. Check this: How to Impress your Girlfriend/Boyfriend’s Parents

However what’s past is past. Now your job is to allay your mother’s fears. You can try the following:

  1. Empathize: Do not mention anything about AK to your mother for a few days now. She’s hurt (quite understandably). Right now your responsibility is to be by her side. For the next few days call her more often than usual. Talk to her very lovingly. No need to bring up the girl’s mother incident (that will lead to more negative emotions on the part of both of you) but ask her often how she’s feeling, how her day was etc. She must feel her pain is as much yours as hers.
  2. Explain: Whenever you think your mother has recovered from this incident, apologize profusely for it. Subsequently tell her gently that she’s totally justified in her reaction given the impression of the girl’s family that she got, but you’ve interacted with them for years and they’re very good people (I hope that’s what you believe ;)). Give her a few instances of the care for you that they’ve shown over the years (may be you have dinner with them often, or they help you with your settling down challenges in a new country… ). In the end repeat to your mother that you’re very disappointed by the way things turned out in their very short meeting and you’re trying to understand why the girl’s family acted in the way they did (even if you’re not doing this ;) ). The objective here is to make your mother believe that you understand her pain and are not suffering from the “son is a son until he takes a wife” syndrome.
  3. Help them become friends: Your mother will not react favourably to the above approach the first time. Keep trying it from time to time (Don’t do it in every conversation – you’ll lose her trust). In the meantime keep mentioning AK casually every now and then. (AK topped her class… AK makes such delicious cakes… AK gave me a beautiful sweater, I’ll send you photos of it… ). Also get AK to say hi to your mother sometime. One very important word of caution – do not make up nice stuff about her to impress your mother, highlight only the real positive aspects of her. Otherwise there will be expectation mismatches and severe strains within the family later. On the same note, encourage AK to be herself – instead of going out of her way to be impressive – while she’s on call with your mother.
  4. Don’t overdo it: Always remember, half of your battle is already won. Your mother, at the end of the day, wants your happiness more than anything else. The very fact that she’d agreed to meet the girl’s family in spite of the fact that they’re settled abroad and are – well – very different from your own is a sign that she’s at least OK with the marriage in principle. So just make sure you take it very carefully from here on. There is no need to put in unnecessary extra efforts – just let things flow naturally while ensuring no further damage occurs.

Let me know how things go. All the best. :)

2 thoughts on “Q&A: My Mother Feels Hurt by my Girlfriend’s Family. How to Make Things Work?”

  1. I guess everything is so well explained that if you follow the suggestion by every single word, in no time you will be ending up with tied knots between the families and you 2 love birds….
    All the very best to you sweety….
    May everything works out well…..
    God Bless You!!

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