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Read Letter

Of In-Laws and Akara Balls

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Lagos. Lagos is the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria. When people talk about Lagos they tend to imagine a continuous landmass stretching for miles unend. But that’s false geography. Lagos is not a stretch of landmass. It’s more like Venice. To bring the lesson home, think of akara (bean cake) balls floating in a hot mass of vegetable oil. That’s Lagos. The vegetable oil represents water and the bean cake balls represent several islands. That’s a vision of Lagos. By the way those bean cake balls are a local delicacy your taste buds must familiarize themselves with. Combined with maize corn pap or the cassava granulate popularly known as garri, you have a deliriously dangerous combination.

The archipelagic vision of Lagos is a rather crude simulation of marriage relations. No marriage is an island on its own, no marriage can be. Life’s complex sociology insists this must be a truism. Now on the surface, marriages seem to be autonomous islands, like those bean cakes floating in a sea of hot vegetable oil – But if you want to enjoy marital life, there are certain familial relationships you must cultivate in your spouse’s family. And you begin cultivation of those familial relationships before marriage. If you wait till after marriage, you’ll pay a price. You need an inside knowledge of the family you’re going to marry into. You need the help of someone who has lay of the land. Someone needs to feed you insider information on your intended’s family so you avoid missteps, mistakes and misdeeds.

In terms of familiarization with you, you will find out your spouse’s family is broadly divided into three groups. The first group will comprise those who take to you immediately. They’ll just like you. Either because their brother has finally brought someone home; or because they’re just nice people… Or just the fact you’re novelty. Whatever the case, some people will just like you. You will do well to bond with those. Then there’ll be those who resent you, and that for a variety of reasons, most not necessarily connected with you. Though to be honest some brides don’t exercise wisdom in relating to would be in-laws. Same with grooms. Some of your in-laws may dislike you out of envy, or because you displaced them from primacy. People protest change and protect their territory against outsiders. To these people you’re an outsider, even interloper. And there are many cases of sisters-in-law disliking the new bride. Mothers-in-law too.

If your boyfriend is an only child or only son, the in-law battle can be fierce and spirited. If he’s the last born, a familial over-protective layer often envelopes such. The family and the sisters may team up to protect his supposed interest, and to determine if you’re “right” for him. Through their actions they unfortunately portray that the young man needs serious assistance in the choice of a spouse. It’s worse if you’re older. Some will believe you took advantage of his younger age. Equates to inexperience. Where he’s an only child you may find yourself in serious competition with his mother. God help you if he hasn’t cut off the umbilical cord. Then he’s joined to his mother. She’s in control. Sometimes mothers-in-law imagine themselves first wife in a polygamous set up. The son’s bride, second wife.

It’s very important your fiancé is able to hold his own in these settings, that he has a mind of his own. If he lacks a mind of his own, the family will second-guess every decision you take together. And it’s not easy dating a man without a mind of his own. No decision will be concrete unless ratified by his family. And if things are not properly handled, or with wisdom, you’ll become public enemy No.1 in that family. If your man can’t stand up for you, you’ll be pitted against the formidable configuration of his family. Even if the individual members of such family have their differences, they will gang up against a common enemy – you. You don’t need to be enemies with anyone in his family. Don’t go spoiling for unnecessary fights. Exercise wisdom. The strategic direction you ought to take is how to own your man! Once you secure your man you have leverage in negotiating social contract with the rest of his family. Never ever forget to own your man. It’s a very powerful leverage in family set-ups and negotiations.

Now, there are those in this group you’ll never win over. Nonetheless love everyone. Be firm in dealing with situations but cut slack for some people and make allowances of understanding. Or they’ll work you up constantly and your marriage will be in a constant state of siege. May you have a wonderful mother-in-law. But not everyone will be lucky. Some mothers-in-law are indeed monsters-in-law. If you must fight in these circumstances pick strategic fights. Or you’ll find yourself flailing in all directions. When we flail in all directions and blindly, we tend to hit even those who love us and care about us. Settle the issue with your man first so you have critical support and reinforcement. Or you’re on your own.

The third category of people is the Lets-Wait-And-See group. They need facts to make determinations about you. You need to win this group over. They’re the moderates. They cast the swing vote. They tend to be fair. They will look at facts sincerely before pronouncing judgment. It’s important they have access to facts. But don’t expect them to swing against your mother-in-law even though they understand. That’s just how it is! But they’ll give you quiet encouragement, and supply you wisdom. Cultivate their love. Fathers-in-law in general tend to be benign. Most are too glad to have a new “daughter” in the family. There are of course exceptions to this observation. Some fathers exploit their sons and daughters. Some punish their ex wife by punishing their own son or daughter where the boy or girl grew up with the mum. Human nature is a wonder. Stuff happens!

Be careful about his aunties. They tend to exercise quiet power behind the scenes leveraging influence on the mother. They use the power of suggestion to execute their agenda, planting thoughts in the mind of the groom’s mum. And some can be deceitful. They smile to your face but whisper against you behind your back. The key in all these is your boyfriend, or fiancé or husband as the case might be. Both of you must be tight. I wish you the best in your marital endeavour!

Your mentor, LA

© Leke Alder |

Tags : Marriage, in laws

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