Happy New Year guys! I know it’s July, but when one wakes up is his or her morning. Think about it, whether one rises at 6am or at 12noon, one still has to go through some, if not all of the usual first up routine. And as the wonderful writer Chinua Achebe says “it is morning yet on creation day”. That was all a long winded way of saying that I regret being away from here for most of the year. Life is happening to me guys, life is happening. In the most wonderful of ways, but still all very new and sometimes stressful. Raising a family is one of the most delightful, yet all consuming sacrifices/gifts any human could ever ask for. I am thankful, but I am also overwhelmed and at times, left with absolutely no energy or reserve for anything more. Anyway, I am here now, to try again to continue my rambles here in this freedom square. I have written this blog for almost 6 years, and I am thankful for all of you, and for the traffic that flows through here.
While raising a family, I reckon it is all the more difficult when one does not have the support of the proverbial “village”, the support of a trusted community of extended family and the familiarity of known spaces and structures to help to raise your family. That brings me to the topic at hand; getting along with your partner’s/spouse’s family/mother in law. For this post, I am more interested in relationships with the mother in law for the ladies in relationships.
You see, when a woman raises a son, the emotional connection and society’s nurturing of boys can be quite different to girls. Don’t we love to spoil our sons and raise them to be entitled? Boys are raised with privilege; especially when it comes to life skills of the nurturing or domestic kind. Mothers spoil their boys, it is a fact universally acknowledged, which is probably why that feeds into the other universally acknowledged fact that “a man who is in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”. Why? One might ask. Because some men (traditionally, of course all that is changing nowadays) need to be looked after. Apart from birthing the heirs, who else is going to do the cooking and cleaning and all that great stuff? But I digress.
Mothers prior to the appearance of the wife, looked after their sons. They want him to be loved and nurtured and they want him to be obeyed and listened to and treated like a king. In addition to all these, mothers were the sole proprietors of their son’s love and adoration and affection before the advent of the wife. I think this is why there always seems to be a competition when a woman becomes a serious contender. There are 4 kinds of mothers-in-law:
The Nobody Is Good Enough For My Son kind
This is the kind of mother in law who you can never ever impress. She tells you exactly how her son likes his shirts ironed, and how hot he likes his jollof rice, never mind that his taste may have changed over the years. With this mother in law, everything is a competition. She is concerned that you are replacing her and there is nothing anyone can do or say to change her mindset. She will throw curveballs your way everytime she has a chance, and does not hide the fact that she does not think you are enough. I bet you fight with your husband every time this mother in law visits.
How to get along with this kind? Just make your peace with the fact that she raised a good man (hopefully he is one), she’s probably lived half of her life so you cannot really change her. So what do you do? As hard as it sounds, you have to tolerate her. Ask for her ideas for family gatherings, or just life in general, and make sure to give her some positive feedback when you have put that extra curry she insisted that Jim likes in his jollof rice. When she comes to visit, prepare yourself mentally and stay busy to take your mind off her sniffs.
This mother in law is literally the worst. She’s the kind who will ring your husband in the middle of the night, and insist that your first child, whom you carried for nine months, never mind the hyperemesis gravidarum you suffered in the first trimester, and the subsequent pre-eclampsia and fourth degree tear you had post delivery, be named after her father. She’s the kind who wanted to see your wedding dress and immediately decided it was too revealing, long sleeves and all. Do you remember taking a drive around the auto stores looking at that lovely SUV or perhaps the Eco friendly cars, then suddenly your husband changes his mind to an ugly 7 seater MVP in order to fit your unborn family of 4 children? That was all Mama meddler. Now you have an ugly 7 seater that you hate to drive, even though you have only one child named Afamefuna (thanks to Mama Meddler), sitting in the back. You fight with your husband everytime this kind of mother in law visits.
How do you manage Mama Meddler? Your action plan will depend on a) Is hubby a mummy’s boy? OR b) Is he a reasonably independent son. If he’s a mummy’s boy, girl, you better make friends with Mama Meddler and ring her as often as you can. Co-opt her into your planning, I know it is hard, but do you want your second child to be named after her great-aunt? Do you want your marriage to end in divorce? It can all be managed in the meantime until family life becomes so busy that hubby is fully integrated into this new lifestyle and stops running to her with every decision and difficulty. In the interim, suggest things that you want to happen for your family to her and bring her to your side. She will most probably claim it as hers, and voila, suddenly her meddling is working for you. The best solution to this is really not to marry a mummy’s boy, but I guess there’s someone for everyone.
If he’s the second kind i.e reasonably independent and logical, then perhaps agree on a family decision making process and keep tabs on when things have changed. Do not suggest that the idea came from his mother, but highlight the timelines for the change and ask about the evolution of the plans, and where the changes emanated from. If he’s logical, he may begin to see a pattern and the relationship with his mum will evolve to “keeping you informed”, and not “asking for your opinion”.
The Genuinely All Embracing Mother-In-Law
If you have this kind, then you have lucked out. She’s genuinely a lovely woman who embraces you with open arms and is thankful that her son has met someone who completes him. This mother-in-law makes it easy to have a new family and just lets you get on with your lives. She dotes on her son, but has no attachment issues and wishes you all well. Mind you, some of these all embracing mothers-in-law may be a little bit suffocating. Some chat non-stop, offer endless words of advise and gifts, visit quite often and maybe even call you more than they call their sons. Listen, take it. You may feel that you do not need another “mummy” because your mother is probably already driving you nuts. However, think about the good sides; it is definitely better than having a meddler or someone who doesn’t think that you are good enough. Who knows, there maybe days when you wish for a shoulder to lean on and she may be there to support you.
You will get along with this mother in law by tapping into her wealth of knowledge regarding your significant other’s upbringing. She will be delighted to tell you stories of him as a young child, she will probably be delighted to host you to visit on holidays without criticising and inspecting your every move. Chances are she will make a spectacular grandmother to the grandchildren. Make the best of her and let her be a wonderful binding ingredient for you and your family.
The Mother-In-Law Who Does Not Care
The final kind of mother-in-law is the one who probably lives in the same city as you but does not visit, and has no interest in your family. Many women prefer this kind, but there’s probably a vaccum in your husband’s life if he does not have a present mother. There may be buried issues there regarding his upbringing, so in as much as this can be a relief from the first two kinds, you may wish to uncover the reason behind this deficiency just to make sure it does not affect the relationship you have with your partner/spouse and the children going forward. Make a point to send birthday wishes, and mother’s day wishes and Christmas visits if you can.
Finally, I think that sometimes we go into relationships with the fear of the famous “monster-in-law”. Some friends have told me that they went into their marriages ready for the “battle” of places with the mother-in-law. In some cultures, newlyweds live with the parents in law, and this can make things a little more intense. It is probably not a terrible idea to be self-aware and to put your best foot forward while engaging with the entire family (not just the mother) of your partner/spouse. Going into any situation with our backs up tend to manifest themselves in our body language without our realisation.
What would I do?
I’ll do my very best to get along with her, this is someone who’s played a key role in raising my loved one, I’ll try to be myself with them, or shall we say an improved version of myself. I’ll reach out and stay connected, I will most probably follow my husband’s lead.
Chances are -you’ll be ok.