Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a lovely wedding in the company of my mother and her friends. I do not know how or why, but at some point during the reception we started talking about mothers-in-law. Some women (who were in the minority), had only good things to say about their mothers-in-law.
The other majority (my mother included) had a range of horror stories to tell. Based on this and other conversations, it would appear mothers-in-law are a force to reckon. History is replete with tales of mothers-in-law who have caused havoc on their hapless daughters-in-law.
For some strange reason, conflicts between mothers-in-law and sons-in-law are not as common. So this had me thinking why we have all the drama with mothers-in-law.
Let us start off with the basic understanding that most mothers-in-law love and adore their sons. Most societies in Africa place a premium on sons and the mothers who sire them. This premium attitude translates to mothers fussing and fawning over their sons and treat them as if they are semi-gods. This attitude leads many mothers-in-law to believe that no woman (except themselves) is good enough for their precious beloved sons.
Any woman who wins a slice of their son’s heart is treated like an enemy and all manner of weapons are unleashed on the object of their son’s desire.
The weapons used in this fight can range from mild verbal jabs to full blown cannons of ultimatums and declarations. Such conflicts end in either of two way - the son’s love interest prevails and marries her boo, or she surrenders and moves to more receptive territory.
In those instances when a son’s love interest prevails, it would make sense for the mother-in-law to call a truce and retreat. Yet this rarely happens. Most mothers-in-law consider the marriage as a major milestone to begin the full frontal attack on their daughters-in-law. These attacks come in various forms.
In some instances, you have the consultant/advisor attack, where the mother-in-law appoints herself as the must-go-to-person for the marriage to survive.
This means the mother-in-law must provide approval for anything that happens in her dear son’s household - be it purchase of tissue paper or weaning of children. A daughter who fails to consult such mothers-in-law is treated like an enemy.
There are other mothers-in-law who attack through smear campaigns. These ones like to spread the word to all and sundry about perceived failings of their daughters-in-law.
If they think their daughter-in-law is wanting in matters hygiene, they will let the whole world know. If they think their daughter-in-law is not as good as their preferred choice, then they let the world know. This type of mothers-in-law will not rest till the whole world knows what a villain their daughter-in-law is.
Honourable mention goes to mothers-in-law who choose to take residency and dish out their venom in person. This is by far the most dangerous type of mother-in-law because she sees and hears only the evil that comes out of her daughter-in-law.
Once a mother-in-law moves in, it can only mean days of unending misery and pain.
These live-in mothers-in-law will use all manner of tricks to ensure they remain top of their son’s affections - which might still involve calling their grown sons baba and toto, or making them their favourite dish.
It will also involve making snide comments about their daughters-in-law’s parenting skills or about any untoward habits like consuming copious amounts of wine. Resident mothers-in-law are often hell reloaded and all efforts must be made to ensure that residency status is not granted to hostile mothers-in-law.
However, the most annoying mother-in-law is the one who has a troupe of soldiers working for and with her. God help you if both your mother and sisters-in-law do not like you - for it can only lead to serious catastrophe.
Sisters-in-law have been known to add fuel to daughter-in-law mother-in-law conflicts. Sisters-in-law can cause serious damage and very few women have been known to survive the double attack of sisters and mothers-in-law.
Back to our conversation with my mothers friends. The word of advice from the seasoned daughters-in-law was simple: always maintain a safe distance with your mother-in-law but if she comes for you, fight fire with fire. I guess that makes for some sound advice.