Of Meddling Mothers-in-Law and Unhealthy Relationships
Today I feel compelled to explore and write about the link between meddling mothers-in-law and unhealthy relationships. Growing up as a girl child and then later maturing into a woman and soon to be, mother –in-law, I have often come across stories of mothers-in –law who make sure it’s a living hell for their daughters-in-law. It does not matter what part of the world one comes from, this seems to be a common occurrence worldwide. There is even a cliché which says that “it is impossible for two women to share one man”. This refers to the situation where a man’s mother will not let go but actually competes with the man’s wife for attention.
Why do mothers-in-law seek attention from their sons?
Some women, especially the older generation, lived with little or no affection from their husbands-perhaps due to the mistaken belief that good women were supposed to mind their own business around the home and not bother the man. Doing so would earn one a
nickname or labeling as being one with a “male spirit” meaning that, women do not do that. Other elderly women in the clan would even go on to chastise a woman for seeking affection and label her “of loose morals etc.” So most women seemed content to live a life of neglect, abuse and fantasized about love and care. Some women toiled for years after their husbands died early leaving them with a dual task of playing both mom and dad. So when the son matures into a man, he suddenly becomes attractive and fits the perfect replacement of his
father. After all they share the same totem/name and are addressed in the same manner. So many mothers begin to see hope of getting the attention they seek from this new man of the house. They even go to the extent of blackmailing the son if he proves difficult to mold. Threats of suicide if the son does not step up are common as he is reminded that his mother sacrificed and stayed in a loveless marriage for the sake of the children, including him. Thus many sons
are put into a corner.
How do mothers-in-law seek attention?
1. Some mothers-in-law fake illness so that they can attract the son’s attention. If he responds well, he will abandon everything to attend to his sick mother. A lot of Nollywood
movies have featured the scheming mother –in-law. One actress, Patience Ozokwor, plays the role very well.
2. A mother-in-law will pretend to visit her son, just so she can get closer and inspect and comment on how the daughter-in-law is performing. She criticizes everything that her son’s wife does and tries to portray herself as perfect and the only one who can look after her son well. She feeds her son with false stories ranging from what the wife does during his absence to how the wife’s background is affecting the marriage.
3. Some in-laws go to the extent of accusing the daughter- in- law of witchcraft. The
witchcraft card is played most of the time if the couple loses a child. Mother-in-law plays the victim, i.e. she has been robbed of a grandchild because her son’s wife is a witch etc. She forgets that the child belongs to her daughter –in-law more than it belongs to her. So she plays the wounded party and thus influences her son to shift focus from his wife to her.
4. The bold one will dictate and control how her son uses his money. She will demand as much financial support if not more than what the daughter –in-law is getting. After all, this is payback time.
A lot of strife and misunderstandings arise from this unhealthy relationship that the mother-in-law has with her son. She puts herself on the same pedestal as her son’s wife and thus competes for his attention. If uncontrolled or if the son is no wiser, these actions can cause the breakdown of what could have started as a loving relationship for the couple. Men who prefer
to share secrets or deeper things with their mothers place their wives in danger of displacement. What could start as an innocent close relationship between mother and son can end up being a platform to gang up against the daughter–in-law. It is a shame that this unhealthy cycle tends to repeat itself when the bitter daughter-in-law becomes a mother-in-law.
So what can women do to stop this destructive trend?
1. Seek love and attention from your husband and desist from compensating on your son.
2. When your husband dies prematurely and you feel that you need love and attention, by all
means, get married again. There is no law against re-marrying.
3. If you are in a loveless, abusive marriage, then leave. There is no such thing as
“Sticking it up for the children", especially when there is physical violence
involved.”- However, leaving the marriage should be the last resort after all efforts to fix the relationship have failed.
4. If your marital strife is being caused by your mother –in-law, perhaps master enough
courage and confront her, woman to woman but not in front of her son as he will be torn between the two of you. Tell her how you feel and how you are affected by her actions. She is now your mother too.
However,it is good to note that as time passes and new generations are taking over, there is more education and independence of women, and a shift toward more understanding among women. It is my hope that the next generation of mother’s- in- law will release their sons and give their daughters-in-law space.
Mosline Farawu is a writer of spiritual and intellectual articles that interrogate and shed light on women's issues . She lives in Zimbabwe, Africa and is a mother, life coach and entrepreneur.