When you come down to it, life is all about dealing with human pettiness. And there is no class of human beings that deals with more pettiness than newly-married wives. They are always under so much scrutiny from pesky relatives who think newly-married wives are superhuman who must fulfil their every silly demand, before they decide if they are good or bad wives.
All families have gossipy and demanding female relatives who know how an ideal wife should act and behave. Never mind, they are far from ideal wives themselves. There are brothers and uncles who somehow think that a woman is only a wife if she can cook ugali wa wimbi and has the patience to boil kuku ya kienyeji to a soft and tender piece of meat. Needless to mention the mother-in-law who went to school in hell and father-in-law who bosses everyone around like a dictatorial school principal.
A newly-married wife will have to deal with all these people at various stages of her marital life. It takes the patience of Noah building an ark to deal with them. We must give women credit for managing these people’s expectations without losing their heads. At a typical family gathering, dietary needs are so diverse, you need to have the managerial skills of a restaurateur to even mildly satisfy the needs of gluttonous relatives. There will be vegetarians, diabetics, obese people, the carnivorous and may be Adventists. All these have such diverse culinary needs that you must honour. Some just sit pretty and can’t even wash their hands in the sink. Then there are those adults who don’t how to use the toilet, arrghhhh!!
Even as she tries to deliver her best, there are those who are out to look for mistakes in her cooking. They will monitor how transparent the chicken soup is, the ratio of rice to meat in her pilau, how thick the tea is and how soft or hard the chapatis are. And if it is a western Kenya family, the quality of ugali is ranked higher than even good manners. I know many men who would rather introduce her relatives to a woman with a rotten attitude as long as she can cook ugali, rather than a kind woman who doesn’t know how to measure the water-flour ratio and how long the ugali should simmer and stay on the stove.
Granted, women must have the bare minimal skills to help in fulfilling their communal obligations. I detest the baseless demands relatives put on their kins’ wives. It is unforgivable for these relatives to think that these wives are but labourers whom they can abuse and misuse however they want. Even worse are husbands who are complicit in the continued frustration of their wives at the hands of their relatives.
Nowadays, more and more wives dread going home for Christmas holidays or funerals. They dread dealing with hostile aunts who hold grudges for more than 29 years. They dread dealing with uncles who are impermeable to reasoning. Men of my generation should understand that our women grew at a different time and they will never match the resilience of our mothers. Besides, their nine-to-five jobs heap a lot of pressure on them and they need a breather as much as the men.
Most of the relatives who exert undue pressure on wives, and go about gossiping about them, come from the villages and do not understand how different city life is like. They still have a notion that wives are objects to be tossed around. Yet in many towns, it is the wives who are breadwinners. That means they are the hunters and the men have become the sit-at-home bums who should fulfil the stupid expectations of their relatives.
A good man is one who stands with and for his wife amidst the criticism and gossip that can tear her heart apart. You have a personal reason why you settled on her. She may have her faults that people may try to amplify, but it is your duty to ensure that you keep the thoughtless relatives at bay. For wives who are often oppressed, silence is not the best way to deal with it. Always express your displeasure at the gossipy or demanding relatives, and tell your husband to tell them off because there is no substitute for peace of mind.