The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Your Spouse or Mother, Who Should Come First?

My colleague and close friend is dusting her shoes, ready to take the famous walk down the aisle. She has wanted this from the time I met her six years ago and now it seems that her prince charming is finally here.

Well, maybe I have fast forwarded the events a little bit because they just decided last week to meet each other's families and do the introductions, but I just wanted to emphasize on just how much Elizabeth or Lizzy has been looking forward to getting married.

The problem is that now that the all important part of Lizzy's life if finally here, all of a sudden she seems unsure and quite terrified of the whole thing.

So, naturally the scientist within me had to be all up other people's business and prod until this "unnatural" behaviour was explained.

Soon-to-be-in-laws:

Here is my deduction - Lizzy loves to make an impression and is quite bothered by the possibility that her soon to be in-laws might not like her as much as she would like them to.

When Lizzy says "her soon to be in-laws", I soon gather that she specifically means her potential mother in law. At this point I am already looking around for the fire exit from this conversation but I am in too deep and she won't stop, but I dived right into it and I have to listen as she goes on and on about her insecurities and "what ifs".

We have heard all the arguments; that it is not your mother that is getting married and so she should not get a say on who or how your bride should be, that a mother has to feel some resentment towards the woman whom she's going to have to share the once undivided love she got from her son with, that there are no nice mother-in-laws and many more.

The question that lingers is, how does a man live with and love two women who do not see eye to eye? Should your potential wife be subject to approval by your mother and if so, what are the acceptable and unacceptable aspects that should be under review?

Should a guy give up a girl he had plans of marrying just to avoid being caught up in the middle at family functions or should he marry the woman he loves and expect his mother to respect his choice?

Lizzy's boyfriend is a mama's boy. I am not exactly sure what that means but I know that I would not like my girlfriend to put that label on me, but that's what terrifies Lizzy the most.

"He talks about his mother half of the time. I don't mind it, but now that I will be meeting her soon, I can't help but wonder what is going to happen if she does not approve of me, if she's having a bad day or maybe has had an altercation with an Elizabeth and does not like Elizabeths," says Lizzy.

So as Lizzy thinks about what dress she is going to wear, if she should have make-up on or not and things she should talk or not about, I set out to get some experiences from guys that have gone face to face with "The Mother- in-law" to get some intel for my friend Lizzy.

Respect for decisions:

Janet loves her mother-in-law! I thought I'd start with this, at least to give Lizzy some hope. Janet says that her mother in law is thoughtful, loving and does not meddle in her marriage.

She respects her decisions and always asks for her opinion before giving advice to the son. Sneer all you want ladies but yes, there is a good mother-in-law out there!

"It's all about respect," explains Janet. "I try not to take her son away from her. She was the first woman in his life and it's possible that she will always be the most important. I can live with that, she is his mother; nothing comes close to a person's love for his mother. It does not mean he loves me any less, but he also needs to know situations when his mother comes first and when it is all between him and me. As long as everyone knows their place, everything else will take care of itself."

Now truly inspired by Janet's story, I talked to Martha, set to blow away the cloud of gloom set above our beloved mothers by our lovely wives.

Her description of her mother in law however, makes Hitler sound like a little neighborhood bully that soon goes away. Not exactly what I wanted to hear but we are not here to judge, or are we?

Not visits but stays:

"I love my husband, but his inability to stand up to his mother makes me nauseous! I wouldn't entirely blame him though; the woman is nothing short of a temptation. God must consider me a really strong person to think I can handle her. Her's are never visits, but rather stays, and when she comes around, I will not hear the end of it; about how his poor boy has grown thin, how my children are not being brought up right, the list is endless. I don't know how she can criticise my parenting so much, I am living with one of her children and I can pin point quite a number of areas she could have done better!" says Martha.

Going by Martha's story, I think there must be a grain of truth in all those anti-marriage jokes that men crack. Being caught between the woman who raised you and the woman you have to spend the rest of your life with; your partner in crime and life, is no laughing matter, but according to my friend Kevin, you can pry yourself from in between the rock and hard place using diplomacy.

According to Kevin; a junior associate in a Nairobi law firm (who is not married), it is a man's fault if there is animosity between his mother and the wife.

He feels that a man should be able to stand up to both the women in his life and tell them when they are wrong and when they have crossed a boundary.

"It is our mothers who constantly cross these lines by wanting to run their sons' marriages. This is wrong and the man should stand up for his wife and tell his mother to keep off. The wives however also make some very unreasonable demands, like not allowing their husbands to spend on the mother or give her money. Whichever the case, the guy should be able to stand up for what he knows is right and tell whoever is wrong that things will be done a certain way. It is not disrespectful to your mother, telling her that the woman you married was your choice and the best one for that matter. She should respect her and address her not as an intruder in your family but a part of it," Kevin explains.

First impression:

Meeting each other's parents for the first time is indeed a big issue because first impressions are usually the lasting ones but emphasis should be on the relationship after that.

If the relationship between your spouse and your mother is a sour one, you will most definitely be caught in the crossfire. My advice; you do not have to try to please everybody.

Focus on making your spouse your first priority, even if it upsets your mum. If your mum has healthy behavior, she will gracefully step aside and encourage you to make your spouse a top priority.

She will value your needs as a couple and be respectful towards your spouse. If, however, your mum has destructive behaviour, she will try to manipulate you with guilt to keep you in the role of an obedient child instead of allowing you to be a loyal spouse.

She will feel entitled to call or visit whenever she wants, and will get offended whenever you try to draw healthy boundaries.

So, instead of concentrating on being a good daughter-in-law, which is not a bad thing- put more effort in being a good wife and regardless of what kind of mother-in-law you have, you will be okay because your husband will always have your back, it is only fair that he does and everything else will fall in its rightful place.

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