In Nigeria, the relationship between wives and mothers-in-law can be full of resentment. Other times, it’s nothing but pure bliss. ‘The Mothers-In-Law’ by Pulse will be exploring the dynamics of these relationships to find out the rules guiding the Nigerian women of today in them.
The Mothers-In-Law: She makes me feel like I’m raising my child wrongly
I wish we were closer but I don’t think that’s possible anymore.
The very first story in this new series, is as told by *Monisola whose young marriage is going all smoothly except for the one time her mother-in-law came to stay for one month after the birth of her child. Among other things, she speaks about the discomfort of having her child-caring methods questioned in her own home. Read on.
Would you say you had any serious fears about having a mother-in-law issue prior to your marriage?
I don't know, I guess I was just lowkey scared. And you know, all these Nollywood movies also have a way of showing you that mothers-in-law are usually wicked and difficult so I guess I was just a little scared. But my husband had flown out of the nest for a while so he wasn’t so clingy with them like that. He was already independent and I think that might have helped too.
What were you expecting before meeting her? Did your own mom tell you anything in preparation for the meeting?
I think because my sisters are married and I already saw them with their mothers in law so I already got a vibe of how mothers-in-law can be and all of that. But my mum was also very helpful with some of the tips she gave. You know, things like, if they [my in-laws] are going to the kitchen, I should follow them, if they are carrying broom, I should carry with them, and that I should just make sure that I acted like one very responsible person who comes from a good home sha.
And what was your fist impression of her?
So meeting her was quite good. She was really, really nice. She hugged me on the very first day we saw and that surprised me. She was very happy. We didn’t talk much - she’s not much of a talker anyway. But it was really nice that at least, she was really welcoming and that was good enough for me.
Do you ever feel like you are under some microscope? Like under some pressure to be perfect and stuff?
Oh my God, yessss! When we had our baby and she came to do Omugwo, I felt like I was walking on eggshells in my own house. It wasn’t like bad or terrible or anything like that but it was just… somehow… I wasn’t so free.
Prior to that, we would just see each other and go our separate ways. That was the very first time I’d be spending that much time with her and this happened in my home so that meant I had to be cooking and cleaning and trying to make sure everything was perfect and I literally just had a child.
It was a lot oh. I and I really just felt like I was under a microscope which was quite strange to me. Mind you, my own mother was here first before she came and my mother was always helpful, especially with making the meals for us. She was always like “you know you just had a baby, you better go and rest so you can get your energy back.” My mum was always cooking and cleaning around here and all of that.
But it was obviously different with her so I was walking on eggshells pretty much and counting down to the day she’d leave. Not because it was a bad experience or because she was a bad person or anything but we weren’t having anything to say to each other, we were not talking. Just the basic stuff. “Good morning ma” “Yes, ma.” “Your food is ready ma,” and stuff like that. And even more stuff on that cooking end, she’d tell me that whenever I cook, I should cook for her. So that was also stressful small because I don’t even like cooking that much. I’d probably have just made indomie for myself and sleep but with her around, I couldn’t do that. I’d always have to make full meals like Amala and all that. So all of that, in addition to the fact that there was a new baby I had to care for, it just made it all a little stressful.
Oh, and on that baby gist. She also used to complain about me expressing milk and other aspects of caring for my baby. She’d be like “Oh, when I had my own children... bla bla bla.” Not necessarily comments she made with the intent to hurt but they just always didn’t come out well. Fam, this is my first child. I know you are trying to be helpful but still…
So, it’s a combination of all of these stuff that made it a bit awkward to have her around. And mind you, she stayed for over a month and it was always just me and her with the baby. So, yeah, that wasn’t so easy.
Wow. Sorry about that
I guess it is what is.
What is your relationship with each other like now?
Oh. It’s a very civil relationship. I’m just respectful of her. I don’t think that mother-daughter type relationship will ever be there because she is not very outspoken. But the relationship is OK. Even when she is not here, she tries to call me almost every day to check on the baby and all that. So it’s basically those ‘how are you?’ conversations.
Would you say you’ve had any special moment with her or what is the best thing she’s done for you so far?
Best thing she’s done has to be to raise my husband the way she raised him. And for me personally, I also think being kind enough to come when my baby was born and staying for a while, bathing the baby and all that was really kind of her. And I am grateful for that. I think that’s it pretty much.
Any terrible moment you want to speak of?
Thankfully, I haven't had any of that.
If you could choose to have any type of relationship with her, is the present relationship what you would have chosen?
I think I would have wished that we were closer, actually. I see a lot of people and how close they are with their mothers in law plus I know my mother always used to wish that we would have with our mothers-in-law the kind of relationship we have with her… but I don’t think that’s even possible. LOL.
But I wish do we were closer sha, I wish we could talk longer on the phone and when she’s around, I’d have loved it if we had stuff to gist about but I guess what we have now is OK too.
Studies show that for most wife/mother-in-law relationships, tension arises out of feeling judged or criticised. Have you ever felt this type of way?
Oh, yeah. I’ve felt judged. Maybe not in a wrong or bad way but I felt it regardless. Especially after I had my baby, it was like everything I did was being watched and she didn’t approve of me doing certain things. I mentioned the bit about expressing breast milk earlier. She felt like I should be feeding my baby directly from my breast all the time since there’s a bond it creates and of course I do that.
But, as my own mum would always say, íf you can express, express it so that you can have time to rest and other people around can sometimes carry the baby and even help you feed the child. And there’s also the fact that babies at this age tend to feed a lot and I didn’t even want my baby to become too clingy to me, if you know what I mean.
Oh yeah. I feel you. You want your baby to be cool with being held by other people as opposed to you alone
Exactly! But my mother-in-law didn’t approve of that and it just always made me feel judged. Then there were other comments which I really can’t remember now, but they were just stuff that got to me even though she may not have meant some of them. But that breastmilk part got to me most so I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.
Do you see yourself turning out like your mother in law to your own daughters in law?
I don’t think so. I think because my generation is more exposed, I think I will be more encouraging… if that is the word. Their generation is not so exposed so that’s why she had that opinion about expressing breast milk
One time like that, she was talking about how her daughter never did it and how she never did it as well. She breastfed her children for more than a year… etc. I think I will be more sensitive to all these things because I have gone through them. I mean, this is the Internet age and I have this to my advantage. So I feel I will be more sensitive to my daughter in law if and when I have one.
Most common issues, especially around this part of the world often include MILs visiting without notifying you ahead, Black tax, and elongated visits. Which of these can you relate with?
Well, I can’t relate and we never had any visit up until we had the baby. So I’m not sure I will have such issues. I hope I don’t sha, because I don’t like unexpected visits oh. Please.
*Name changed to preserve subject’s anonymity.
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