I had the opportunity once to sit with my grandmother who narrated to me the sour experiences of living with her mother-in-law and all her husband’s siblings in the same house for close to two decades. That was a time when by the Yoruba culture, she could not even call any of them (including the one younger by 17 years) by their first names.
In such a setting, even if the wife and mother-in-law were the best of saints, there couldn’t have been peace in that house just as a car with two drivers cannot know peace. The system of home governance that the grandma is used to can never be the same as that of the young wife. It was largely in this context that wives and mothers-in-law got their bad names.
I think starting from our parent’s generation, it has become very clear that generally speaking, save some exceptions, it is not advisable to mix a wife and the mother-in-law permanently under the same roof.
Outside the context of conflict highlighted above, there are a few other scenarios that lay a foundation for possible frictions between a wife and her mother-in-law. For some, it is the question of attention. Male children have a tendency to be very close to their mothers and have them as confidants especially where the father is very strict or had passed away at an early age.
The coming of the wife sometimes reduces the closeness and sole attention that mothers have enjoyed. We should understand why it may be therefore tough for these kind of mothers to let go of their son just the same way it can be tough for fathers to release their daughters to another man in the name of marriage. It’s why some of them shed uncontrollable tears at those wedding ceremonies at the point of handing the girl over to the Priest for onward transmission to the groom.
Mothers in this category need to learn to accept the new season in the life of their son. They should recognise there are so many roles the wife will play in his life that they can’t play. She should be seen more as an helper coming to help them nurture their seed from where they stopped rather than a competitor. And it is possible for a man to be close to his mother and wife at the same time without any conflict especially if the mother has adopted the two of them as her children and plays the role of intercessor, adviser and encourager rather than dictator, manipulator or impostor.
There is another phenomenon which is real in many cases. The mother had painstakingly raised her son with all her resources over the years especially where she was a single mother. When the son begins to earn, the first thing he thinks about is getting a wife. So usually, it is the wife that comes in to enjoy the money while the left-over is sent to Mama. Even the best of mothers-in-law could easily get jealous and begin to disdain the wife as coming to reap where she didn’t sow while the real sower is eating crumbs.
We men particularly need to watch carefully in this area. There is a need to ensure we do not permit such sense of neglect on the side of our parents. As we take care of our wives and children, we must ensure we take very good care of our parents also. Some of them literally suspended their own lives just to get us to where we are today.
A wise wife who is marrying from this kind of background will also seek to neutralise any such feeling (even if only imagined to exist) on the side of her mother-in-law by constantly giving to the mother-in-law from her own purse no matter how lean the purse. Just keep loving and giving to her. Give her a feeling that she really has a daughter in you who hasn’t come to eat Mama’s fruit of labour but has come to give her an extra channel of enjoying the fruit.
Some very wise husbands who know this tendency of ill-feeling could exist and want to neutralise it deliberately move all funds to Mama’s account from their wives personal account. She is the one who calls and says, “Mummy, I just sent 100K to your account for your upkeep for March.” When she calls her son to thank him, he says, “it’s my wife you should thank Mama. She always goes extra mile to ensure you’re comfortable. Most of that money sent is hers. I don’t even know anymore if you’re my mother or her mother. She loves you to a fault.”
Love will always be an antidote of jealousy and envy. Maybe nothing is more impossible than loving someone and being jealous of them at the same time. Wives must warm themselves into the heart of their mothers-in-law by calling them often to check on them, being truly concerned for them, buying them gifts frequently and giving to them generously from time to time. When Mama grows to love the wife passionately, it becomes impossible for her to be jealous of whom she loves.
Finally, grandparents who want to grow to become loving mothers-in-law have something more to add up. I call it accommodation. It is the skill of recognising that your adult children and their spouses do not necessarily have to adopt all your convictions and ways of doing things on all subjects. Please allow them to run their homes and their lives as they deem fit. Have a large heart grandma. Do more of praying in secret than speaking and bullying. Commit them to God and the word of His grace. Do not turn yourself to a nuisance. Respect their independence without undue interference
I know several contemporaries who blocked their parents and parents-in-law on all their social media platforms even after marriage. Means they are dealing with those kind of parents who want to continue to control their children’s home with the same philosophies that ran theirs. Such a mother for instance who believes even after becoming an adult, her son still ought to submit to her will likely become a tyrannical and manipulative mother-in-law who will grow to be hated passionately by her daughter-in-law.
Unfortunately, men are often weak in confronting their mothers when this stepping out of boundary begins and then they leave their wives to fight a battle that isn’t theirs to fight. It is the duty of a man to protect his wife from every form of harassment in his own family. The fighting is his to do and not his wife’s. Conversely, it is the duty of a woman to protect her husband and launder his image with her family.
Interestingly, we find an example in the Bible of an unusually strong and cordial relationship between a wife and her mother-in-law in the book of Ruth. That’s our model relationship and I think we need to spend some time to study the factors responsible for this miracle for our own instruction. Come along as we do this in the coming weeks.
Peniela Eniayo, Akintujoye.