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While prime time TV serials continue projecting the "saas" as a personified dragon breathing fire into her daughterin-law's life, the real scenario has a different take. The 21st century mom-in-law is more tolerant, even a bit on her guard with her prospective daughter-in-law.

Bijal Gupta (52), a physiotherapist, took a sabbatical from work for the first five years of her married life to adjust to her new family. Twentyfive years later, she runs a clinic but effectively balances out her work and family equations. However, she does not expect to find a prototype in her daughter- in - law. "Friends have warned me that new age girls are less tolerant and don't really like to be told what to do. Compromise does not figure high on their list."

The fast shrinking power of the mother-in-law is attributed to the increased exposure of the current girl brigade and a resulting confidence that equips them to take charge rather than take instructions. Sushma Shah, proprietor of marriage bureau Shubh Bandhan, says, "The average age at which a girl gets married has changed from 20-25 years to 24-28 years. Girls are much more mature and self-assured. More than 75 percent of the girls on my database are professionals and with higher education, their focus is more on a career than running the house."

Family psychiatrist Rajendra Barve confirms this trend, "Professional girls are extremely confident and have a superiority complex. The general feeling is 'I work so my value is much higher.' They consciously reject housework." On a general note, global travel and studies abroad has altered young mindsets and priorities. The new age mom-inlaw is learning to bridge the gap between differences in mindsets. Shaila Mody was very upset with her 'bahu's' lifestyle — late nights, waking up late and rushing to work. Instead of a helping hand, the younger woman ended up becoming an added responsibility "I make her breakfast and pack her tiffin."

There is a definite trend of role reversals where the older woman has to make the compromises. Financial independence has heralded intolerance and young couples move out at the slightest hint of discord. The age-old battle between two women to win over the affection of one man is also altering. Private space and freedom are fast gaining ground over living together. Slowly, mothers-in-law are liberating their sons and loosening the apron strings. With escalating divorce rates and broken relationships, parents prefer to set the young couple free. "Let's not tread on each others' toes" is the new mantra. The mother-in-law too values her space and freedom and prefers to continue living in her home without adjustments.

There are innumerable examples of research on this relationship with hilarious conclusions like the research by Cambridge & Exeter University scientists which suggests that rivalry between a mother-inlaw and daughter-in-law may have been behind the evolution of menopause. Another is that the younger woman poses a health hazard — Japanese research shows that women cared by their daughtersin-law don't do that well than those looked after by their own daughter!

The gap also widens with differences over raising grandchildren. Pure, unadulterated love from grandparents is not expected or valued as it would "spoil" the child. Sonal Seth has seen her friends follow the manual and not their hearts, "They are more like regiment officers than doting grandparents." Besides, most women have this tacit message when it comes to babysitting — "Let's not make it a habit. We are there when needed."

So, here's to the new mother-in-law!

By Monisha Pratap-Shah
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