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Well, Jil, to be honest with you, there are 3 types of mothers-in-law. You have the good, the insouciant and the… what has now come to be known as the erm… monster-in-law. May you be so fortunate to have a loving and kind mother-in-law.

It’s unfortunate that the term mother-in-law has almost become synonymous with tyranny and colonial authority. Yet some mothers-in-law are so wonderful they are a factor in the love the woman has for their son. Same holds for the men. The truth is some men married their wives for the love of their mother-in-law. But some mothers-in-law are so oppressive their son’s marriage is only holding because of the special grace of God!

There’s the case of the mother-in-law who landed a vulgar slap on the face of her daughter-in-law, right in front of her son! She left an indelible memory of unprovoked aggression on the face of her daughter-in-law turning it into plasticine. The truth is, only the son can protect his wife from his mother. If he won’t, you’re in a difficult position. Unfortunately, not many sons can confront bad behaviour in their mum. There’s that inexplicable mother-son inhibition. May have something to do with feeling guilty for all the milk taken in infancy. The milk for some mothers was given on credit. In reality, there are very few people with the emotional energy to confront a mother-in-law who’s a monster-in-law.

As a daughter-in-law you’ll come off in very bad light being confrontational with your mum-in-law. If you’re African, there are cultural refrainments and considerations. And culture can be powerful. I suggest you and your husband have a constitutional conference, if you’re in this predicament. Why are some mothers-in-law this way? Why are they local government terrors? Has nothing to do with you really. Unless of course you did something untoward like being disrespectful.

A mother-in-law wants respect be she African, Asian, Arabian, American or European. The manner of expression of respect demanded may differ but the principle holds. If you’re meeting your African mother-in-law for the first time, it can’t be wise to be culturally disdainful. You’ll come off as a product of poor upbringing, lacking in manners and tutorial resistant.  If the bad blood from your mother-in-law proceeds from your magnificent display of lack of wisdom, you brought it on yourself. It’s not a sign of “exposure” to culturally disrespect your future mother-in-law. The least you can do is respect her age. You’re not yet in, mind you! And she can give you a lot of trouble. A whole lot of trouble! She can truncate the wedding; or make it emotionally expensive. She’s that powerful. You don’t need such trouble.

But some mothers-in-law don’t proceed from provocation. They have an intrinsic capacity for distemperate comportment. Often times they’re battling their own demons – their pasts, their pains and disappointments. If they’ve been neglected or badly treated growing up or in marriage, they simply reference their reaction, channeling anger. And sometimes it’s envy. They’re envious of their daughter-in-law. Envious she got a good man in their son.

Sometimes it’s possessiveness. They want to hold on to their son. Won’t let go. Both of you are now two girls tugging at a doll. Sometimes it’s angst. They graphically portray their treatment in the hands of their father or mother, or guardian. Or husband. And sometimes it’s just bad influencers in the form of extended family members and “friends” – envious lot!  Some people are very impressionable. They just follow the directives of others; influenced to afflict the home of their son.

And then there’s the bad aspect of certain culture that sees wives as disposables and interchangeables. A wife can leave a man at any time but a mother can never leave, the justification says. Yet the scriptures say a father and mother can forsake their child; that a mother can forget her suckling. What’s the basis of comparison between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law? “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cling to his wife” seems so straightforward! The scripture is not, “For this cause shall a man marry and cling on to his mother.”

Now, there are power variants of the bad mother-in-law. Some are colonialists. Some are extension workers. Some are continuing education mother-in-law, and some are avatar mother-in-law. The colonialist mother-in-law wants to commandeer her son’s home and marriage. She’ll take over the kitchen, dictate what goes on in the house, even lay down laws. The extension worker mother-in-law wants to extend her home into her son’s home. She sees both as a continuum. She feels she can move in and out of her son’s home like it’s an architectural addendum to her abode. The continuing education mother-in-law wants to keep dictating instructions to her son, telling her full grown son what to do. The avatar mother-in-law wants to replicate the life she wished she had through her son. She lives through him. The end result is an oppressed young wife who’s a tenant in her own home, with a resident permit in her matrimony.

I blame the sons for this kind of situation. He needs to define boundaries for his intrusive mother, though respectfully. He needs to make it known to his mum it’s not her home. Such mums won’t stop! Not without nouthetic confrontation.

A matrimonial home has specific constitution. It does not include the mother-in-law. As a wife you must be wise and firm with such mother-in-law if you want to be happy in your home. Respectfully lay claim to your home. Don’t be rude. You can’t be. She’s your mother-in-law. Trust me, such a mother-in-law won’t take what she’s dishing out to you; or allow her daughter to be so treated.

A good mother-in-law treats her daughter-in-law like her own daughter; cares for her, prays for her. A good mother-in-law does not intrude into her son’s matrimonial home and affair. A good mother-in-law does not compete for the affection of her son with her daughter-in-law. There’s no basis for it! A good mother-in-law does not seek to tarnish the image of her daughter-in-law, or turn her into a social fodder.

A good mother-in-law is a blessing, not a burden. She must not become a goddess who must be appeased. A good mother-in-law will not visit physical violence on her daughter-in-law, or facilitate one. A good mother-in-law does not selfishly seek to destroy her son’s home. She respects her son’s marriage. A good mother-in-law is graceful, accommodating, benevolent. She’s understanding and generous in disposition. A good mother-in-law mentors her daughter-in-law.

May you be so lucky, like Ruth. And may God give your husband knowledge and courage.

Your mentor,


© Leke Alder 2014

Tags : Mother-in-Law, Matrimonial-Home

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