By Francis Ewherido
In reaction to my article, “Nuclear family and Extended family,” in December 2020, some readers wanted more light on how to avoid conflicts among mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law and by extension the larger family.
Every married man must master the balancing act. One, having been born into and grown up in a family, you should know the character of your father, mother and siblings. Fast forward, you become an adult and decide to get married.
Before marrying any lady, you should court to know her more. By deciding to get married to someone, you are directly saying you know this man/woman reasonably well marry him/her. It is this knowledge of your parents and siblings (extended family) and your wife (nuclear family) that will guide you in managing both families later.
Let us look at some real life situations. Let us start with a mother-in-law who is domineering and an impatient wife (daughter-in-law). This combination does not go together. I narrated the story many years ago of an old friend. He is stupendously rich now, but in his days of small beginnings, he could eat eba and soup in morning, afternoon and evening. His mother came visiting.
He ate the soup in the morning before going to work. In the evening, he requested for the same soup. He immediately noticed a change in the taste. He asked his wife what happened. “Mama say the salt for the food no do, she come add salt,” she responded. He went to his mother immediately and told her not to do it again.
Here are the issues: Why would the mother put salt in the whole pot of soup instead of only the portion she was going to eat? What if the wife was not level-headed and challenged the mother-in-law when she did it? What if the son was not man enough to put his mother in her place? What manner of a woman goes to another woman’s pot to interfere with the taste of an already-prepared soup without first of all obtaining permission?
Mothers-in-law should listen, there can’t be two captains in a ship. When you are in your son’s house, his wife, your daughter-in-law, is the captain. So respect yourself and pack yourself in one corner. I know you carried his pregnancy, bore the labour pains, brought him up, but every queen has her own palace. Your son’s house is not your palace; your husband’s house is.
Managing the immediate and extended families is really no big deal if both families are well cultured, tutored and considerate as well as know their limits. Every mother-in-law should carry herself with dignity. Stay in your house. Don’t be in such a hurry to go and stay with your son and his family too often. In my 22 years of marriage, my mother has not visited more than 10 times and on three of those visits, she was in transit to America and London.
My mother-in-law has made only three visits in 22 years and the visits coincided with childbirths! Some women abandon their husbands and go and stay with children sometimes for a year or more! Wetin? How do you think your son-in-law or daughter-in-law will continue to respect you? While you are there, you want to boss people around in their own homes; which sensible people do that?
If you are there for medical reasons, it is understood. Once you are well, go home. If it is holiday, stay for a reasonable time and go home. If you are a widow and they invited you to stay with them, understood, but at all times, carry yourself with dignity.
If you are there to do omugwo (help to take care of a new born baby), always remember you can only offer your opinion on matters concerning the baby, the final decision rests with the parents of the baby. So many problems have been created by mothers-in-law doing know-know and forcing their opinions on their daughters-in-law and sons-in-law.
I remember when my mother and mother-in-law came around in our early years of parenthood. Sometimes, the baby would be crying and they want to give her water. We said no, breast milk only for the first six months. They disagreed with us, but respected our wishes. Where one spouse agrees with the mother or mother-in-law, please try and carry your spouse along. Trouble easily results if your spouse feels you are taking sides against her/him.
Some mothers-in-law do shocking things. You came visiting your son; by evening he gets back from work, you take one look at him and say, “Emeka, you have lost weight o, you have not been eating well. Let me prepare your special.” What are you insinuating? That Emeka’s wife does not know how to cook or take care of her husband? Have you asked Emeka what is responsible for his weight loss?
Meanwhile, rather than explain to his mother the reason for the weight loss, Emeka is smiling sheepishly. And you expect your wife to take it lying low? If she is the vindictive type, she would ensure that the mother-in-law would not enjoy her stay.
Some mothers-in-law do not know how to let go; they give you the goat and hang on to the rope. “My pikin, my pikin… na you be the first woman to born boy? The husband when you marry, no be woman like you born am? Or you want to marry your son like that Zimbabwean woman did? She married her son because she did not want another woman to enjoy the fruit if her labour. Also, can you also imagine a mother asking her daughter about her husband’s sexual prowess? Why don’t you go and sleep with your son-in-law to find out instead of asking. Shebi, they say that the taste of the pudding is in the eating. Nonsense.
I feel strongly that the relationship between your spouse and your extended family should evolve, you should not force it. My wife has a wonderful relationship with my mother and my brothers and the relationships developed on their own. Some spouses force their other halves to be close to their parents and siblings and that is very irritating.
For instance, you have to get your spouse’s consent before you include her in your Christmas trip home. If she does not want to go and you cannot convince her to, go with the children. When you get to the village, find a nice story (not lies o!) to tell your parents why she could not make the trip and let sleeping dogs lie.
Having a wonderful relationship between your spouse and the extended family is wonderful, but dem no dey die put! They do not have to be friends; they just need to be courteous to each other. Though we say in Africa that you marry into the family, not just your spouse, how many people took the marital vows? Two. There are extended families that are still bonded like African families of old, but if you look closely, the nuclear families therein are well recognized and their freedom, feelings and sovereignty are respected