In this edition of Love is Blind, Marriage is the Eye Opener, allow me to preface, that I am in no way a licensed therapist, marriage counselor, or life coach. One thing is true, experience will always be the best teacher, and therefore I share the potency of what experiences can bring.
I was happy to hear that Ivery Arie readers were excited about the article I wrote on Love and Marriage, and as promised, I will expound on subtopics in this area. I write from my lens of being a 30 something, Nigerian-American wife and mother of three in the US. I do not sugar coat. This is not the traditional advice you would get from an old school African mother. I think I can safely say that the traditionalist, African view of marriage is that a woman should just learn to manage/acquiesce to whatever comes her way. *inserts side eye* Yah, okay, Ma.
Today’s topic is on special focus concerning the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law dynamic in African marriage. Share this particular article with every man and mother-in-law you know. There may be some hard realities in the words ahead. I am a practicalist, and use the Bible as a reference point. This topic is a sensitive one, so I tread carefully, yet unapologetically.
Dear old school African marriage, marriage is more than procreation and continuing a family line. Times are changing regarding some aspects of marriage today, and to some degree, elements of African culture might consider following suit.
There might come a time where a married woman will have to host her mother-in-law for a specified or unspecified amount of time. The following are a combination of experiences from women I know, in addition to my own. Through these experiences I am here to shed some light, or a different perspective for the African husband and his mother.
Marriage is a union between a husband and wife, and no one should be allowed in that innermost circle. If that union comes under threat by outside forces, it will become problematic for not only the married couple, but extended family as well. I think I can safely say that the community nature of African culture unconsciously gets into boundaries of a married couple that should only be designed for that married couple. I read somewhere that a lack of boundaries equates to a lack of respect. I hope this article will help the married couple designate some healthy and important boundaries for their extended families, particularly mother-in-laws.
For the most part, African men can be very much adoring of their mothers, as they should be. I mean let’s face it, Sweet Mother by Prince Nico Mbarga is one of the most popular African songs. By the way, I recommend any African musician to write a Sweet Father, Sweet Wife and Sweet Husband version too.
Dear African man, when you get married your beloved focus, on your mother should shift principally to your wife. There are some African mother-in-laws who come into their son‘s home with a sense that they can bully manage their daughter-in-law because they are in their “son’s house.” This is complete and utter balderdash. This is the mother’s way of re-establishing or reaffirming emotional territory of her son. This behavior manifests intentionally or subconsciously, but dear married woman, you can, and will overcome this type of situation.
Taking care of an elderly parent is a beautiful responsibility. But it should be a responsibility shared by all the children of the mother. I’ve seen instances where only one or two children are the ones taking principal responsibility of their elderly loved one. There are a myriad of reasons why this may take place. Perhaps other children are not as well off, or the primary caretaker is the preferred child the elderly person chooses to be with. It is an admirable endeavor, but caring for an aged loved one can put a strain on the principal caretaker(s). While I am not in full support of the nursing home system in the United States, I wholly understand why it is in place. It is to minimize caretaker burnout. If there were a mindset in African culture to have day centers for the elderly where they could be with others their own age for a few hours, have their basic health checked on (ie. blood pressure, diabetes care, general health education) and then return to their respective homes, this might help to alleviate some caretaker stress, but unfortunately it doesn’t appear Nigeria has a solid infrastructure, or mindset shift for this.
Unless the parent is unable to walk or care for themselves at all, they should not remain a fixture in their son‘s home. More often than not, there are mother-in-laws who indefinitely park themselves in their son‘s house. This is not right. Unless, the son AND his wife have agreed to have the mother-in-law for an extended or indefinite amount of time, a mother-in-law should refrain from nesting or becoming a fixture in their married son’s home.
No matter how comfortable, or a good relationship a woman may have with her mother-in-law, there is always the potential for competition of the husband’s attention, as these two women answer the same family last name, but assume different roles. This puts the man in a very precarious position. It is why it is up the man to delicately and firmly explain to his mother the boundaries set in the home of him and his wife. I have a friend that actually moved out of her and her husband’s home because the mother-in-law was becoming increasingly bullish toward her and how she ran her home. She told her husband that she and the children would return back once it was determined when his mother was leaving. This is real life folks!
Mother-in-laws visiting their children abroad should view their visit as a time of refreshing and vacation and offering help (ie. occasional cooking, and light help around the house, when possible) to their daughter-in-law. A conscientious mother-in-law should not be asked to do basic things. For some of you wrinkling your nose at idea of a mother-in-law helping in the house, let me explain. There are some mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationships I have seen where the mother-in-law does absolutely nothing in the home and expects to be waited on hand and foot by the daughter-in-law, even in instances where the daughter-in-law works full time, and has young children. If you are a mother-in-law and you exhibit this type of this behavior in your son and daughter-in-law’s home, you must refrain from it. You will sow a seed of resentment in your daughter-in-law, promote discord in the marriage, and put your son in a difficult position to choose between you and his wife.
According to the Bible, when a man marries, he becomes one flesh with his wife. Mother-in-laws exhibiting bully management behavior, bring spiritual problems in the marriage that could manifest physically, which might birth the by product of divorce. Dear mother-in-laws out there, do not be viewed as a woman who practices learned helplessness, or lacks courtesy in your son’s home. Your grandchildren are watching you, and so is your daughter-in-law. Let it be said of you that you were a gracious, helpful and kind woman to your family during your stay with them. When you exhibit these virtues instead, you foster harmony in the home and the delight of the family.
Depending on the married couple’s situation, I do not endorse a mother-in-law staying in her son’s house beyond four to six months. In some instances a mother-in-law may stay an extended period of time if she is a big help in the house, or for some other reasons (ie. health, immigration status) Even in those other instances, the couple must be in agreement TOGETHER under what auspice or reason the mother-in-law is staying. Again, it is up to the couple to determine how long the mother-in-law should stay.
Dear African men, it is up to you to help pacify potentially tense moments between your wife and mother. While you are to respect your mother, your wife should never have to compete for your attention, and never take second seat to your mother.
Also, it should never ever be compared a wife’s relationship with her own mother and her mother-in-law. I have had to explain this to my husband and let me break it down for you all. I know my mother’s temperament very well, and she in turn knows mine. I can tell her something in loving authority and she knows when to back off. A married woman can’t fully do that with her mother-in-law, no matter her best intentions and how respectful she may be. If a mother-in-law wants to get back at the daughter-in-law, she can make a mountain out of a mole hill if a daugher-in-law does not do or behave in a manner she wants. So, again never compare a married woman’s relationship with her mother to that of her mother-in-law.
For all daughter-in-laws, respect your mother-in-law (even in instances where she may blatantly or unconsciously disrespect you) BUT if a moment for correction is needed, go and remind your husband and give factual account as to what disagreement came between you and your mother-in-law and have him talk to his mother first. If that doesn’t work seek wise counsel from another or gently, but pointedly visit with your mother-in-law on the matter.
Married woman, you are the manager of your home, and any matters that undermine or question your positional, God designated authority as wife and mother in your home needs to be addressed immediately. No married woman should be bully managed in their home by their mother-in-law. If you are, then your mother-in-law will eclipse your role as wife and mother in and you will begin to face very difficult challenges ahead.
If there was something tasking that my mother-in-law would want me and my husband to do for her and we knew we were unable to do so (due to finances, time, manpower etc), we just plainly told her no. You and your husband must be a formidable unit. Trust me, when a mother-in-law recognizes this, she will have no choice than to be mindful of this before she says or does anything. Be kind, but pointedly exhibit when necessary that your kindness should never be mistaken for weakness.
Dear African husband, in marriage, your spouse is your priority. The Bible says he who finds a wife obtains favor from the Lord, not he who finds a mother. Love your mother, and respect your mother, but when she is under the auspices of your care and in your home, she must be made aware of her boundaries, early on, otherwise you are left with two emotionally charged women who may become passive aggressive to you and one another, or worse yet, directly aggressive toward one another. Remember, when night comes, you sleep with your wife, not your mother. Therefore, there’s merit to the treasured saying that a happy wife equals a happy life. Do not ever allow your wife to feel second place in your marriage when it comes to her and your mother.
Photo Credit: PINTEREST