The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: In the Pink - Mothers-in-Law Are Not Necessarily Evil

If you went on the internet, you could find pages and pages of bad mother-in-law jokes, and in most of them, it seems to be a happy conclusion if she winds up dead. Surely, becoming a mother-in-law does not transform all the women of the world into such hateful cows?

I must admit I have heard one or two horror stories about mothers-in-law and one in particular stood out. This crazy mother followed her daughter to their very small apartment in the US - where the young man was studying and could barely afford to keep his new wife and the home going, let alone cope with his new mother-in-law.

Of course she insisted on living with them, and the young man relinquished the only bedroom in the home to his new mother-in-law, opting for the sofa.

As if that was not bad enough, the old lady insisted that no daughter of hers was going to be sleeping on a sofa, and so she slept with her daughter in the master bedroom while this young man lived like a bachelor in the allotted quarter of his own house.

Using the one bathroom in the house was also super-complicated, because he never knew when he would find mother-in-law exiting in her towels. Therefore, he resorted to taking his daily shower at a friend's room on the university campus. As if to add insult to injury, his mother-in-law began to imply that only men who were cheating on their wives needed to shower outside the home.

Meanwhile, whenever he left the house, his mother-in-law was constantly taking her daughter (his wife) to visit friends and relatives. On all these visits, she did not hesitate to advertise her daughter's availability for any 'capable' man to marry and look after her.

Let us not lose sight of the tiny detail that her existing 'incapable' son-in-law had paid for her travel expenses to visit the US in the first place.

Eventually, the daughter in question finally figured out on which side her bread was buttered, and she sent her mother packing. It was not a moment too soon, because the young man was starting to mutter loudly to friends about finding an alternative bride who did not come with a live-in mother attached.

This was the most extreme case I had ever heard, and while it is beyond imaginable, I don't think it justifies the idea that all mothers-in-law must be wicked witches.

If you are married to a man who tells you how his mother used to cook this or that better than you, then it serves you right for marrying him in the first place. I am sure while you were dating, you saw some signs that he was a mama's boy but you imagined you were going to 'change' him.

However, if you are the kind who thinks that any interaction or opinions from your mother-in-law must cease abruptly because you got married, then you need a reality check.

There is no manual for marriage and parenting, and you will find that you need all the help you can get. Your mother-in-law, just like your own mother, has been through it and discovered her own recipes, shortcuts, solutions and wisdoms and you'd be a fool not to listen.

Use what you want; politely discard the unnecessary, and gently let your spouse know if you feel boundaries are being crossed. I find this all out social warfare that has been declared on mothers-in-law to be unwarranted and exhausting.

I entered married life with a little apprehension, only to find that my mother-in-law was less interested in protecting her son from me and more keen to make sure he was keeping up with his husbandly duties. I now have two mothers who pray over me, listen to me whine, advise me, buy me clothes and spoil my children rotten - what's not to love?

Mothers love their children - they are expected to and there is nothing wrong with it. And when you have been in charge of looking and loving your child for years, you are bound to have some level of concern about whoever wishes to take over this job from you. However, overall, a woman's work is never done, and I think I will be more than happy to hand over full custody of my kids when they finally find spouses.

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