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What God has joined, OMUGWO must not separate

By Francis Ewehrido

Even my 86-Year-old mother grew up to meet the practice, so it must have evolved as part of our culture. When a woman delivers, her mother comes around to help out basically for two reasons. If she is a first-time mother, her mother puts her through the rudiments and intricacies of raising a child from cradle.

The second reason is that childbirth takes a toll on women in varying degrees and the mother comes around to help out with taking care of the baby and household chores until the new mother is strong enough.

The mother’s length of stay in those days was typically three months, but these days it ranges from a few weeks to about three months. Anything beyond that is overtime, except in special cases when the new mother needs more time to recuperate.

When the mother is returning home, the grateful son-in-law buys food and gift items in appreciation for her to take back home. This practice of coming to assist a daughter, who had a baby, is called omugwo in Igboland, and it is one of the beauties of African culture, but it does have downsides. Interference by some of those visiting mothers-in-law has created problems and sometimes led to the breakdown and breakup of their children’s marriages.

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But my main concern today are mothers who take up permanent residence in their children’s homes. I would not have any problems with the act if they are widows, but some of these women leave their aging and aged husbands back in Nigeria and stay put in America, Canada, the UK and other foreign countries. There is no doubt that many Nigerians, especially first-time travellers, are not only overawed by the beauty, orderliness, neatness, roads, rail and other infrastructure of these countries, but how these variables and infrastructure have become part of everyday living in these countries. But for crying out loud, you left your husband in Nigeria and there was no prior agreement that you were not coming back. You only went there to do omugwo!

Some of these men left behind by

their wives do not know their way around the kitchen, while others are of fragile health. Many are like babies, who need to be nursed regularly. Even if they are healthy, they need companionship, the foundation of every marriage. But what happens? Before you know it, the children of these women file papers and the mothers get either citizenship or papers for permanent residency. They have no consideration for their fathers. Some think that sending money home to meet their father’s needs solves the problem, while some behave as if they have a grudge against their fathers for perceived wrongs while growing up.

Some employ maids to take care of their old fathers, forgetting that man and woman will forever remain iron and magnet (they cling to each other if kept too “close”). Before you know it, the old man’s bones everyone thought were dead come alive. If care is not taken, pregnancy results from the increased interaction. That is when hell is let loose. “A whole knight impregnating a house maid?” “A whole elder (in the church) sleeping with a maid.” “Daddy has brought shame to the family by sleeping with a common maid.” What makes a maid common? No be woman like the runaway wife?The only difference is that one occupies the privileged position of a wife and the other does not. Except by mutual consent, it is wrong to stay away from your spouse indefinitely.

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There are people who feel that if your wife travels abroad and refuses to come back, you replace her.  Just like that? In your 60s, 70s or 80s? Then you begin a new cycle trying to get used to a new wife and struggling to carry out activities you did in your younger days? Some women usually want to have children to have a foothold in the family. Then in your old ageyou start having children you will not live long enough to parent to adulthood; you spend your old age changing diapers and parenting babies? I don’t even want to think of it.

Selfishness is at the root of this behaviour wherechildren keep their mothers away from their fathers. It costs an arm and a foot to get a nanny abroad, while you also pay through your nose to get temporary baby sitters while you are at work. Crèches are also not cheap. Keeping their mothers to help take care of the children is a far cheaper option.But more shocking is the behaviour of these women. “Make I go come” don become permanent stay.

Oyibo life sweet you so tey you forget the husband of your youth. I may be wrong, but I get this feeling that some of these women are trying to get back at their husbands for “wrongs”done to them in the earlierstages of their marriages. You know many of the so-called stable marriages of old were one-sided marriages where husbands were lords and the wives suffered in silence. Now is payback time and children have become accomplices.

The women, like ensnared birds, have broken free, flown away and some have no intention of coming back. May be they will come back only for their husbands’ funeral. I am just wondering how they bore grudges against their husbands and managed to live under the same roof, eating and drinking together, making love and doing stuff ordinary married couples do all these years. “The heart of man (and woman) is (really) desperately wicked.”

The other reason some of these married women stay back (one of them alluded to it) is that they practically miss nothing staying away from their husbands. The marriage had become sexless due to old age and there was never much of a friendship, so no real bond developed throughout the 30,40 or 50 years together.

Whatever be the case, it will never make sense to me. They vowed to be together till death did them part; these women should keep this vow. It is so painful that children are now the ones destroying their parents’ marriages for selfish and personal reasons. But I don’t really blame the children. I blame the mothers, who are willing to sacrifice their marriages for the ‘good’ life the western world offers.

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Those of us coming behind should learn from what some of these old men are going through. Ordinarily married people’s lives should be interdependent and intertwined in a way that one feels incomplete without the other. When you can function independent of your spouse, watch it before it becomes a pattern. That was how it was for some of these old men in their days.

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