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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Marriage: the Ultimate Goal for Women?

wedding

When Abraham Maslow talked about self-actualization – which is at the peak of his hierarchy of human needs, did he picture in his head that for women, perhaps their peak experience would be achieved through marriage only and nothing else they dared deceive themselves believe was self-fulfilling? I seriously doubt that.

However, it has come to be accepted by many in societies around the world that no matter how successful, confident, psychologically balanced or secure a woman is, if she is not married, then she is one sorry miserable and lonely individual. The adjectives even get worse when she gets pregnant out of wedlock!

All that money and she still can’t get a man to marry her?

No man would wanna marry such a successful woman. She would intimidate him.

She is so beautiful yet no man wants to make her his wife.

Oh wow congratulations on your engagement, finally!

Whenever a woman announces her engagement, the most common reaction from her friends and relatives is a positive one, ‘congratulations!” Unfortunately, it’s not always the case for men. For the latter, the pronunciation of an engagement is usually received by this reaction, “oh hell, there goes freedom!”

When I was being prepared for my marriage just a few weeks before the traditional ceremony, I remember one woman saying to me, “you wanted marriage right? This is what you get and you should work hard to attain that goal. Do you think it comes easy?” Because these statements were delivered in the local vernacular, the impact was thrice the intended outcome.

K-party pic

On my bridal party (kitchen party)

I was very stressed during that period because as most African women know…and especially Zambians in this case, getting ready for the traditional marriage ceremony is most likely the most stressful and humiliating process a woman can ever go through during her journey to marital bliss…especially a woman who was not raised very traditionally!

I cannot emphasize how many times I thought about giving up on marriage during that whole experience. Despite it being done mostly for my own good, I did not appreciate the fact that almost all the women that surrounded me during that time kept on telling me how lucky I was to be getting married and how I should prepare myself mentally to deal with my husband’s infidelity in the future.

I kept wondering, is my future husband also going through the same lessons as I am? Is someone also telling him, “Watch out for that Annie, you better treat her well so that she doesn’t run off with another man.” I don’t think so. They were most likely telling him about the things he should expect from me as a perfect wife and very little about what he should do to be a good husband. If I remember correctly, not once was I told what I should expect from a good husband! It was like it was enough that he chose to marry me in the first place. I did not appreciate that.

Being the kind of person who is not very used to being told what to do and being stamped on by women whose names end in the suffix ‘inlaw,’ that experience and many others after that were very awakening. I did not take kind to the fact that such behaviour was not from men, but by women themselves towards their fellow woman!

If anything, I was only able to make it through that whole process due to my husband’s support, a man who does not buy into the concept of wives being a man’s slave.

How is it that when a wife becomes pregnant and delivers, it is the man’s swimmers that are congratulated on their delivery but if a wife fails to become pregnant, it is her womb that is cursed and insulted? I think that as long as no tests were taken to prove the efficiency of either party’s productive parts, if the man’s swimmers are the key to a woman’s pregnancy, then the swimmers should be shamed publicly for failing to deliver.

I mean, why would anyone kick and trample an oven for failing to produce bread if no dough was put in it in the first place? It doesn’t make sense at all. If you start out believing that the swimmers are kings of pregnancy, then keep with the trend all the way. Don’t change ships just because the weather is bad.

From my experiences, I have come to understand that sometimes…and mostly, women opt for marriage as a symbol of commitment; a means for them to be exclusively committed and dedicated to that one person, to raise a family with that person and to have someone to lean on during life’s journey. It’s a companionship thing, I am sure Maslow would agree with me.

It is not always that a woman will get married just so she can have exclusive access to a bank account or have someone take care of her because she has failed to do so on her own. When these things come, they are like a bonus and sure as hell they should be if she is going to dedicate the rest of her life being his helper. Yes it is very likely that a woman will choose marriage as a means of attaining self-actualization but marriage in itself is not the actualization being sought after…it is simply a means to an end. And this end can be attained through other means as well but it is always fun and fulfilling if the journey is filled with love and companionship.

I have been told so many times before that the major problem men have with women is that they always tend to portray themselves as victims of society or men, always forgetting that the women themselves are catalysts of that reality. And they are very right! It is a bitter pill to swallow but the truth is that most of the times my femininity has been bruised; it has been at the hands of my fellow women.

A few years ago I saw a post on Facebook from a female friend that read;

Stop walking tall and acting as if you own the world because everything you have belongs to your husband. You were nobody before he married you. You did not work for any of that…. Success is not a sexually transmitted disease.

I cannot even begin to tell you how offensive I found that post to be. In fact, I was mostly offended by the author of the post than the contents of the post itself! I do not know about the woman who was being talked about but whether she was a ‘nobody’ or not before he married her, she must have contributed her efforts somehow to whatever she became after marriage.

Whether it was her beauty, her laughter, her ability to care for someone enough to cause them to want them to marry her…and whatever else went on between them behind closed doors, if the man was still with her, then she was definitely doing something to earn her keep in that marriage.

I refuse to believe that marriage is the ultimate goal for women. The only reason it works is because it has a legal clause to it and with it comes the possibility of proudly raising a family of your own that will love you unconditionally.

Just as Maslow stated, it is not guaranteed and its certainly very rare that during the course of their lives, people will actually attain self-actualization.However, to reiterate a point here, marriage in itself is not what makes a successful and fully self-actualized female.

You have to remember that by society’s standards, a man is the one who gets down on one or both knees to beg a woman to marry him. Why would anyone stoop so low just so they could make something out of the person they are asking to marry? Can’t we conclude then  that there is a dame good reason why anybody would get down on his knees to ask for something? Isn’t it obvious that they need something from that person?

It is that which they need and that which the woman expects from them that makes them equals, although we all know who actually gets to wear the pants. But, the bottom line is that they are both bringing something to the table. Any person who gets the chance to get laid on a daily basis or reasonable basis is dame lucky in my opinion.

And certainly any person who as a result of a few seconds or minutes of pleasure gets another person to carry the proceeds of that pleasure for nine months and then release the heavy product through a very small and narrow gate…if you have anybody that has ever done something like this for you or you are hoping that they one day do it for you, believe me you are the luckiest bastard to have ever lived!

And you better recognize.