You are currently viewing Intimate Affairs: I don’t want a mother-in-law, by Funke Egbemode
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I met a woman, a mother-in-law, in Jordan. I mean at the River Jordan while I was on pilgrimage to Israel many years ago. We were on the same bus and in the same prayer group. It was an intensive 10-day of praying, fasting, except only when we were eating or sleeping. But this lady struck me in a different way. We got talking and she told me her main prayer points. As we stood in River Jordan, she told me she was there for her daughter-in-law. The poor girl, she told me, had a difficult pregnancy that saw her in and out of hospital. She could neither eat nor sleep well, and to worsen everything, she had to deliver by caesarean section. She felt it was too much for a 28-year-old girl. Her daughter in law was pregnant again and she wanted God to intervene this time.

‘I want the poor girl to have a smooth, healthy pregnancy. I want her to also deliver naturally. I know God can do it, in spite of whatever her doctor told us’. Those were her words.

I think young ladies who say they do not want mothers-in-law as part of their marriage package need counselling, love, guidance not condemnation. They were not born like that, trust me.

She got inside Jordan and prayed passionately. Now, if you had read the story of Naaman in the Bible, that day, I understood his reluctance to pray in the Jordan as the Prophet instructed. Jordan was dirty, full of gigantic cat-fish no one dared catch, I believe, and grasscutter-like creatures who beg for sweet and biscuits.

My ‘friend’ got in and prayed hard for her poor girl, her daughter-in-law. ‘Lucky girl’, I said to myself. What did she do to net a mother-in law who went to River Jordan, in far away Israel, to pray for her?

Anyway, I stayed in touch with this nice lady even when we got back to Nigeria. Indeed, we set up a WhatsApp group where we all stayed in touch and prayed. God answered my friend’s prayer. The ‘poor girl’ ate and slept well and delivered her baby like the Hebrew women. No CS, no episiotomy.

Who wouldn’t want a mother-in-law like this? Who would have a mother-in-law like this and not pray that her daughters and sisters find a second mother in their husband’s mother?

Gbemisola and I are members of the same women group in church. If you are a member of RCCG, you will know the name of our group. Anyways, I was in the car with Gbemi about two weeks to last Christmas and she was dishing instructions out like cheap pepper. First to the cleaner, then the caterer and then the electrician.

‘Hello, are you planning a party that I’m not aware of’?’ I asked.

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‘Noooo now, it’s just Christmas and New year like everybody else’. Gbemi explained in between more instructions to the plumber to go and check that all heaters and flushers worked.

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‘Mama, please explain. How many people are coming to your house that you are buying so much’?

It just happened that Gbemi’s three children, their spouses, her four grandchildren and her three siblings were all coming over for Christmas and she wanted them to all feel like they were on a proper holiday. So, she was going the extra mile to fulfil a promise she made to herself years ago after years of pains in the house of her in-laws.

According to Gbemi, ‘Christmas or any holiday with my parents-in-law always left me ill and unhappy. I always ended up in the hospital after each holiday. I had to cook, clean, go to the market in addition to taking care of my three children. It was the wives’ duty to cook and serve the visitors. It was work from dawn to dusk. It never was a holiday for years. I stopped looking forward to sharing space with my mother in law at Easter, Christmas or any family event.

It was not as if they couldn’t afford cooks or washerman. I think my mother-in-law simply just enjoyed seeing her son’s spouses doing all the toiling. Maybe because her own mother- in-law put her through the same torture. Until one Christmas, I stood up to them all and said Christmas would be with my husband and children. That was the end of Torture December.

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Gbemi made up her mind that she will never put any of her daughter-in-law law or brother–in-law through the ordeal she had to endure for years.

‘I employed a caterer who’ll cater for our meals. There’s a house help who will wash. My son’s wives will put up their feet. I’ll even call hairdressers to make their hair. I want them and my grandchildren to look forward to coming to my place all the time. I want them to enjoy their visit as much as I do.

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Gbemi had a choice of perpetuating the Torture December tradition. She chose to abolish and replace it with Leisure December. If your mother-in-law put you through hell for years, it takes grace and divine wisdom not to see mothers-in-law as evil beings.

It is wives who become mothers-in-law. It is mothers who become mothers-in-laws. Mothers-in-law are also mothers to daughters who have to contend with or enjoy good or bad mothers-in-law. So, it is a girls-thing. It’s about women creating bad precedence, mean traditions and watering them or being just witches flying in broad day-light shamefully and shamelessly.

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Tola is one of those Gen-Z young women who don’t want a marriage package that comes with a mother-in-law. She doesn’t wish anybody dead. She just doesn’t want to go through what her mother went through in the hand of her grandmother. She had been assured several times that she might just be lucky and end up with a husband with a kind mother but she’s too scared, I believe, irredeemably, by the trauma of her childhood. She said she doesn’t want to risk it

‘I know God is able to bless me with a great future but I believe He also knows my fears, understands my trauma. I want my marriage to last forever. My mother wanted same. She worked so hard at keeping her marriage together. She wept, prayed, did everything but because she could not give my father a second child and a son, she was frustrated out of her home after 14 years of marriage. My mother moved out into her own small flat. My father married a new wife who gave him four more girls. My mother was accused of witchcraft, held responsible for my father’s inability to have a son. My mother worked hard all her life to solely support me. She died two years after I graduated. In her sleep. She had a heart attack, according to the doctor. But I know heartbreak was also a huge factor. Her life was one long battle.

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‘Yes, not all mothers-in-law are mean but I don’t want to find out. My fears are not different from those women who will not marry men who are jobless. After all, a jobless man can become a billionaire next year. I’m just too scared and scarred to even date a man whose mother is still around. Mothers are great, mine was but a man’s mother? I don’t want the troubles.’

Tola has a point. On the surface, she might sound ‘wicked’. But check out her story. Perhaps, if her mother was alive, she might have helped in her rehabilitation, but the fact that she died, leaving Tola, an only child with a father who believed his wife was a witch? That would leave any girl with fear. Deep-seated fears.

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Whether mothers-in-law are witches or blessings is a matter of experience because we are all products of our experience. However, whichever way you look at, it is all about we women.

Whether mothers-in-law are witches or blessings is a matter of experience because we are all products of our experience. However, whichever way you look at, it is all about we women. All parties involved are women. Of course, the men involved have been known to pour gasoline on the fire, either out of lack of wisdom or plain thoughtlessness. They fail to see the long term consequences. Come to think of it, men can make and unmake the relationship between their wives and mothers. Some men are just careless. Maybe some even enjoy the politics and tension. But I refuse to make this about the men. This is all on women. We really need to do better, especially as mothers.

On a last note, I think young ladies who say they do not want mothers-in-law as part of their marriage package need counselling, love, guidance not condemnation. They were not born like that, trust me. They must have loved their grandmothers at a point, right? Then they started seeing that grandma was not so loving. They saw their mother crying each time ‘Mama’ was around. The shout, the accusations, the fight, the broken home all leave a mark on a girl.

Women just need to do better in the way we treat one another in the school of marriage.

*Egbemode (egbemode3@gmail.com)

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