The first time I visited Iyebiye’s parents, as I was concluding the final burial ceremony for the mountain load of pounded yam set before me, some portion of the malt drink poured and soiled my shirt. Mumsy upon discovering suggested it was better to wash it off on time. I made for my guest room to change. As I brought the shirt out, I wanted to hand it over to Madam ‘Biye of course to help out in washing it. To my greatest surprise however, Mumsy stepped forward to collect the shirt.
“Don’t worry, I’m going to wash it.”
“No Mummy, you wouldn’t have to. Toyin will…” “Just bring it.”
I nearly entered the ground. In a short while she told me she had washed and hung the shirt in my room. I was blown away. By that gesture, I believe she was making a clear statement: “I do not see you as merely a son-in-law, I’m adopting you as my son.” As little as that gesture was, it exploded in my heart the love I already had for her.
Already because even before I met her or Dad or any of the siblings, I had been loving them. I had been instructed for years by the story of Ruth and Naomi that if you truly love someone, you will love his/her people no matter who they may be. You can’t love a product and not love the producer. You can’t love a product and not appreciate the environment where the product was cultivated.
Yes, it’s possible to begin to focus on the negatives – whatever you consider the negatives of your own in-laws. But what about the fact that the image of your partner that you so love is their image. Every virtue and blessing that has attracted you to the life of this man or woman, they sowed the seed and cultivated it with great sweat and cost. When they could have given excuses why they couldn’t afford to send him to school, they took loans and used all their life to pay loans just to send him to school. If he wasn’t educated, you wouldn’t have even considered him an option. Today he drives big cars as a product of his education and you sit in front but mama and papa in the village are still trecking about. You’ve come to reap where they laboured. The least you can do is to love and honour them as a sign of your recognition of their painstaking investment over the years.
Brother, those siblings of your wife were the ones who watched over her while she was young and constantly bulied in school. They were the ones who waded off those who wanted to take advantage of her naivety. They provided a loving environment where she has been able to grow up wholesomely. That you have a very wonderful woman that you are willing to do anything to have is a product of their labour at a time when you were still nowhere to be found. You need to acknowledge this fact and honour and love them for helping you to preserve a precious seed for your own exclusive enjoyment for life.
This is the very foundational understanding that precipitates a compelling love for your in-laws regardless of their flaws. It is an extension of the deep love you have for your partner. Without them, there could have been no him or her. More than that, it is a product of the recognition that your partner and all that make them so irresstible are a product of their labour of many years which you will enjoy at no cost for the rest of your own life.
When you totally accept and embrace your partner’s people, it does something more, it wins you more love from your partner. These family members are their love objects. Don’t be carried away by some of those cold wars that could exist between siblings or mummy and daughter or Daddy and son. Deep down, that doesn’t affect the love of family that they share. If you disrespect them, put them down or decide to ignore them, you inadvertently reduce your own love in your partner’s heart. If rather you love them, adopt them as your own parent and siblings, welcome them to your home, go extra mile for them, your partner will love you deeper and deeper.
When you’ve demonstrated over time that you love your partners family so deeply, if there’s a cause for you to disapprove anyone’s action or correct anyone’s misbehaviour later on or say no to anyone’s request, your partner will be able to welcome it graciously because s/he will know your disapproval is never a product of your lack of love and acceptance. But you need to clearly demonstrate the love and acceptance first of all.
I admit that marrying your partner’s family can sometimes be tough. It is often more difficult compared to marrying your partner because while you can easily engage your partner through reading the same materials and interracting with the same agents of indoctrination so you can think more and more alike, you can’t do that with your in-laws. You can engage your partner in logical arguments to show why some of their opinions are flawed but you can’t engage your father-in-law that way and yet severally, their positions and arguments are fundamentally flawed.
Marrying your in-laws involves more of accommodating them than changing them. It requires a lot of tolerance and large-heartedness. Sometimes your good intentions may even be misinterpreted because your backgrounds are not the same. Your partner can easily understand but not your in-laws. They don’t have all the information that your partner has to be able to properly interpret your actions.
And some families are more difficult to love because they themselves have never known love. And no one can give what he doesn’t have. Their culural and social background makes them extremely judgmental and pompous. The “Jesus” they possess in their hearts is very little. Yet, you will have to adopt them as your people. Much grace is needed here definitely and the grace is available.
It all begins with your own personal determination to love them. Ruth had not yet known what manner of people Naomi had when she declared, “your people shall be my people.” If your heart is prepared to love your in-laws as an outflow of your love for your partner even before meeting them just like Ruth, I can assure you that you’ll be able to flow in love much more easily no matter the challenges. I have found that there is no one that doesn’t respond to love no matter how difficult s/he is. You may be rebuffed and misunderstood at the beginning but keep loving. There is no opposition that withstands the force of determined love.
If his or her people do not become sincerely and deeply embedded in your heart as your own people, it will show and there will be much trouble. You won’t want them to visit you for instance. So when his Mum asks to come for a brief holiday, the answer will be no and he won’t be able to understand why his own mum has suddenly become an outlaw in his own house. Can be her mum too. There will be several quarrels regarding why the family’s money is being wasted on some extended family concerns. Soon, there will be secret financial appropriations and then counter-appropiations and then resentments and then everything has scattered. Surely, for the kind of peaceful and loving marriage that we desire, his people must become truly and excitingly, your people and vice versa.
In the coming weeks, we will delve deeper and deeper to glean wisdom on how to swim in the murky waters of in-law relationship. One thing is clear, this is so important. What has turned some former lovers into sworn enemies has nothing to do with the relationship between the two of them but some transferred anger and bitterness emanating from in-law relationship blunders. We need to know how to approach this successfully so we can grow into a big, loving and happy family. Please come along as we together glean wisdom.
Peniela Eniayo, Akintujoye.
©Peniela Eniayo, Akintujoye| firstname.lastname@example.org