Lam, I need your advice. I got married a few years ago and have a two-year-old son. From the very beginning my parents-in-law were against me. They had some land on which they constructed a building and so they feel that their family is better than mine. It is true that my family are not rich, but they are hard working and honest. Also, I only graduated class 12, whereas my parents-in-law sent my husband to college in India. My mother-in-law, in particular, always tries to come between my husband and me. I have spoken to my husband about it, but he doesn’t take my side. Instead, he just tells me not to overreact, and this makes me really sad. I’ve have tried to be kind to my parents-in-law, but when I help clean their house, they just treat me like a servant girl and look at me like it is my duty to do so. They pull a face at the meals I cook, and leave most of it on the plate. I’m feeling really depressed. Fortunately, we don’t live with his parents, but I cannot avoid them and I hate it when mother-in-law is mean to me in front of my son. What should I do?

SJ, Thimphu

It is really sad when people discriminate against others based on wealth. In reality, your parents-in-law should be happy to have a daughter-in-law who is good-hearted and who looks after their son and grandson well. Certainly, wealth and social status is no indication that a person will make a good wife or mother.

Unfortunately, this kind of situation is not uncommon these days, and I hear many similar tales, not only from daughter-in-laws but also from son-in-laws. In reality, it is possible that your husband does not recognize how much pain his mother is inflicting on you, or maybe he has just grown so used to her attitude that he no longer sees it as abnormal. On the other hand, he may also not know how to deal with his mother, and so he turns a blind eye to her cruelty.

Personally, I suggest that you once again talk with your husband and try to make him understand your sadness. Hopefully, your words will get through to him and he will agree to discuss the matter with his mother. If this doesn’t work, then you only have two choices – you stop going to see his parents or you learn to live with your mother-in-law’s attitude.

If you choose the latter option, then you need to develop skills whereby you are not affected by her words. That does not mean tolerance, but understanding. In reality, people who look down on others are often from underprivileged backgrounds themselves, and it is due to their lack of confidence that they act big. In reality, behaving in this way will neither bring them security or respect, but will instead increase their levels of anxiety and fear. In this respect, your mother-in-law is also caught in a web of suffering of her own making. Basically, try to understand why she acts in this way. If you know her background and see her personal suffering, maybe you will be less hurt by her words. You may even feel some empathy for her situation.

In reality, we sometimes have to accept our circumstances like a man on a boat who is caught in a storm. He cannot stop the storm, nor can he get out of the boat, but he can learn how to sail the boat according to the situation.

I am not saying that you have to suffer abuse – you definitely should not – but just suggesting that you look at the situation from different angles. Also, I’m sure that your mother-in-law does not switch her kindness on and off at will, and so she must be rude to others as well. In this regard, don’t take her harshness personally. Like the man in the boat, you have to accept reality and learn to skilfully respond to your circumstances – and that means trying to understand why you mother-in-law acts in this way.

However, if you find that you are overwhelmed by her aggression, then maybe you just have to refuse to visit her home. If you decide on this course of action, then politely explain that you would love to bring your son to see his grandparents but that you feel hurt by the way she treats you. Consequently, you will not be bringing him anymore. When you tell her this, don’t be judgemental, but simply explain that you feel hurt by her words and apologize that you cannot tolerate them any longer. Who knows, it might wake her up to what she is doing. If not, then, sadly, she loses her daughter-in-law and grandson.

Personally, I feel that parents should definitely advise their son and daughter about who they should marry. Furthermore, they should remind them not to rush into having a child, but once their son or daughter has made a decision, then they should support their choice. Talking harshly to the son or daughter-in-law just makes everyone’s life miserable and destroys the unity of the family. Certainly, showing contempt for someone because they come from a poor background is really sad, and shows a lack of self-confidence.

Finally, if you are interested in transforming your way of perceiving your mother-in-law, then you can request a lama to teach you tonglen practice. It will definitely help.