Marriage: In the Eyes of a Sister and Daughter In-law

They say blood is thicker than water. What do they mean by that?

Even in marriage…does it still apply?

African women

When I told one of my friends that I would write about in-laws in my next blog, you should have seen the reaction on her face, epic! Her question to me was; what if your husband sees it?

I had not mentioned to her yet in what context my blog would be yet she assumed that I was going to be writing something very bad. But since when did the word in-law become synonymous with negativity? Is it possible for one to have a good relationship with his or her in-laws? And most importantly, why are women the ones that are mostly entangled in the in-law wars more than men? Why is it common that most people will treat their in-laws – whether daughter, brother or sister in-law as rivals? Who exactly gets to win in these competitions and what price do they actually get? What role does money play in all of this?

To convince myself to finally write about this topic that has baffled me for a while, I reasoned that despite it being a touchy topic, I would do my best to not bring my own wonderful in-laws into the picture. Even as I said this in my head, I couldn’t help laughing. It’s gonna be hard to talk about this subject without drawing from my own experiences. However, today I just want to talk about a sister or daughter in-law in general…but mostly in Zambia if am being specific.

I don’t know about men but for most women, when we start to consider a man as a potential marriage mate, we look at the following things; our love for him, his love for us, personality, for some – relationship with God, his career, ambitions, his family background (and this mostly involves evaluating our potential in-law – rich, poor, or breadwinner of the family?), and another important factor that most women won’t admit – a consideration of his salary!

Some people believe that when you love someone then it shouldn’t matter how much money he has. Well, that’s very true but if you are considering one for a potential marriage mate, it should matter how much money they have or how much the both of you have or will have in future because with marriage comes more responsibilities that will require you to actually spend money irrespective of how much love you have for each other. But of course, there is always the option – to choose to die together in poverty – sometimes love can be tragic too.

Because I am a woman, I tend to have a bias towards women in some of my topics but that is because I am one myself and I share first hand most of the experiences that women in general go through. With this in mind, I believe that the in-law relationship is mostly complex for women than it is for men. I could be wrong!

Let me start with the basics first.

Why are women prone so much to the in-law drama?

It is generally believed that men are the breadwinners of the family and women are the caregivers and keepers of the home. The man will provide the finances and the woman will administer those finances and at the same time take care of the family relations to ensure peace and stability in the home. This situation puts the woman in more contact with the family members than the man who is mostly out of the house trying to make a living. Although both of them have responsibilities towards keeping the family together, the fact is that the woman will have more to do with it than he ever will because within her lies the potential to either break or build a home.

In Zambia, when the parent in-laws come to visit the home of a married couple, the man will greet them without needing to get down to the floor while the woman will first need to get down to the floor before she can address either of them. It does not matter which side of the family they are coming from, this welcome ceremony applies to both sets of parents. Already, the footing between the man and woman is on different levels so guess who’s at a disadvantage?

For most parents, it will matter what level the woman will bend down when greeting them and this is very important because it has to do with respect. The man of the house will chit-chat here and there and can even excuse himself to go watch a game in the bedroom while the woman goes to the kitchen to tend to the guests. Depending on the relationship – whether they are her own parents or her in-laws, she needs to approach them strategically.

God forbid she decides to serve them chicken because then she would need to go through every piece in the pot to ensure she doesn’t serve the ‘wrong piece’ to the wrong person! How the woman will deliver her food to these people will tell them more about her upbringing and depending on the kind of in-laws she has, it will inform them whether she is a good wife to their son or not…yes, just a piece of chicken and the level of kneeling can do that! By the way, keep in mind that while all this is going on, the man is somewhere watching a Real Madrid game or cursing at Wenger or Anchelotti for the bad formation of their players.

Earlier, I talked about the things that women look out for in their marriage mates and it was for this reason – the kind of family that a man comes from…and here I mean whether they are rich, middle class, poor…if he is breadwinner or not, his ambitions and his salary, his love for you, etc will have a lot to do with how your relationship with the in-laws will be like. This is what I mean:

If the man is rich, those close to him will question your intentions toward him – are you genuine or looking to rise up the social ladder? There is nothing wrong with this of course because, who wouldn’t want to protect their assets? But, it is the approach and the extent to which they will pursue this line of inquiry that will determine the kind of relationship the in-laws will have towards each other.

If the man is poor…this word somehow doesn’t sit well on my tongue so let’s say if the man isn’t well to do, his parents might expect that he marry someone who might help him become better in life and this would mean someone with a better financial standing. However, I do suspect that it’s easier for people that are ‘poor’ to get along with their in-laws because there are times when lack of money can make families draw closer to each other whereas too much money can cause a lot of divisions. Sometimes, it’s the total opposite.

When the man is the breadwinner: A lot of families have this kind of arrangement in Zambia. For me this is the most challenging kind. When a woman comes into the life of such a man, it is natural for his family to get worried; how will things change once this woman enters their lives? If any change is seen in the man after meeting this woman, she will be held responsible; he doesn’t support us as much as he used to, when you ask him for money he sends the exact amount you asked and doesn’t add anything like he used to before he met her…etc.

They say that money is the root of all evil?? Most of the challenges that couples face in marriage would have a lot to do with money be they communication, infidelity, etc. It used to be so easy for me to make judgements on my own sister in-laws (the women married to my brothers) before I got married but the moment I got into a serious relationship and was ready for marriage, my eyes got opened because then I could see things from both point of views.

Someone once told me that ‘your in-laws are not your friends and you should never treat them as such, especially your mother in-law. Fear your in-laws and hold them at arms-length.’

But I also remember the Reverend who married us say this in church;

“Treat your husband’s family as you would treat your own. This one is not your mother in-law,” she had said, pointing at my husband’s mother. “She is your mother.”

Having lost my own mother just a few months before my wedding day, I was excited to gain a new mother figure in my life but the truth is that I was also very confused! How exactly was I supposed to treat this woman people where telling me to fear and others telling me to treat as I would my own mother? I am afraid I still haven’t found the answer to this question.

I have always struggled to understand the dynamics of the in-law relationships. I believe that the way one treats their own siblings should be how they treat their brother or sister in-laws. But is this even possible? You can be free to shout at your kid brother if he does something wrong. He will get mad at you and not talk to you for a while but eventually you will reconcile and move on as if nothing ever happened. But if you upset an in-law like that, will the ending be the same?

Blood is thicker than water.

Literally, or figuratively??

…I have heard a lot of people say this. But, does it apply in marriage? If the two became ‘one in marriage’, then doesn’t that make them a complete part of each other’s families? Who then is closer to whom and should there be such a comparison in the first place? It is like asking a man who between his wife and mother is more important. I think that anyone who asks such a question deserves a punch in the face.

The idea that women should be held responsible for a man’s change in behaviour after marriage is both true and false. Why do I say this? Firstly, it should be expected that after a man marries, he should, by his own efforts strive to start behaving like a married man. Secondly, once he is married, it should be expected that his family will no longer be dealing with an opinion of one, but of two people who became one. And this takes me back to my point about money. One of the things some men fear about getting married is having to share or report their financial status to someone. When you are single, you have the freedom to spend however you want but once marriage comes into the picture, you have no choice but to learn about budgeting.

If a man used to spend ‘limitlessly’ or within his means before he got married, the moment this changes, the first reaction from his family would be, ‘that awful stingy woman changed him.’ But did anyone ever take the time to find out why things have changed? Like I said earlier, marriage comes with its own responsibilities. Whereas a man only had to deal with one family before, he would now be dealing with two. And even though this fact hurts as hell – whereas his mother’s family used to be his first priority, it now becomes second. This is nature, as designed by God and not man. It is hard for any person who is single to accept this arrangement – as I did too.

Unfortunately, this is the point that most people misunderstand. Just because a man’s priorities have changed after marriage does not mean he has to forsake his own family or that his family should curse the new woman in the picture for having changed their son or brother. Only a fool would forsake those that have been an integral part of most of his life, the ones that gave him/her life and the ones that gave him a family.

Would I be wrong to say that most men don’t bother much about the in-law dramas that take place in the homes and the only time they ever get involved is when they have been summoned by the concerned parties to help with resolutions? Someone be dammed should they have to pick a side! It’s even worse when they fail to pick a side! The poor souls.

However, women are always up in these situations trying to make the other feel their weight. Be it at funerals, weddings, gatherings in general, in the homes…women brought together under the term in-law and under the same roof are too much to handle. It is amazing how a woman who is also married will take pleasure in making another woman’s life (an in-law) difficult. Is it really impossible to get along between women? Sometimes my species really amuse me. The things I have seen mostly at weddings and funerals can cause one to question the idea of marriage itself.

I think things might change a little for women if people thought about this old concept which is as effective as God intended it to be; treat others the way you would want to be treated if you were in that situation. Especially women…why all the hate towards each other? Sister in-laws (and this applies to me too, sadly)…if you are single, you will one day get married too! But if that never happens, don’t take it out on others. And if you are already married, have some respect for other people’s wives if you want others to respect you too. Do not abuse tradition by top-dressing it with your own ignorance. There is nothing like tradition empowering you to make the life of another woman hellish. Even in ‘in-lawness’ it is very possible to get along peacefully and when faced with problems, to address them maturely.

Because I am a sister in-law myself, both by own doing and through my own siblings doing, I want to strive to be the kind of relative they can be proud of…that even when problems arise, instead of treating me as an outsider, or treating them as such, I will choose to address the issues without so much as injuring my pride and respect as well as theirs. There are no scales on which love can be weighed, but families ought to love each other through thick and thin. It should never be a matter of blood or water or even oil. After all, before blood was formed, our own parents were strangers too. It takes two strangers to meet, two people that are not related to come together and unite their blood to make it thicker.

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