By: Natasha Archary
The mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship is one that is often met with equal frustration from both women and is said to be the reason for many marital spats. Despite gender roles gradually transitioning to be non-gender specific, the patriarchal belief system is still a big factor in South Africa. Especially where the in-laws weigh in.
And so begins the constant power struggle with a wife trying to establish some common ground and exert boundaries and a mother-in-law whose valued opinion simply must be heard.
Boundaries and expectations
Marriages where the wife tries to build a close relationship with her in-laws have a 20% higher chance of ending in divorce. This is due largely to the gender discrepancy with how men and women view relationships.
A husband who has a close relationship with his in-laws or makes a concerted effort to improve strained communication with his in-laws is seen as an act of love by his wife. But when a wife tries to have a closer relationship with her in-laws and in particular her mother-in-law, she may have a difficult time setting firm boundaries.
Terri Orbuch, Ph.D. lead researcher and author of “Finding Love Again: 6 simple steps to a new and happy relationship”, advises all married couples to enforce healthy boundaries to give their marriages a fighting chance.
This led to me having many interesting discussions with other soon-to-be-married, married and divorced women, with a common thread found in the success or breakdown of their relationships with their partners. The strength or absence of a relationship with, yup you guessed it, his mother.
On behalf of daughters-in-law everywhere
Having been married for 7 years and recently divorced, I can vouch for every point on the list to follow. And I thought it apt to share a point for each of those years. Mind you, if I were to be completely honest, my list could in fact work itself into a “marriage gone wrong manual” but we’ll save that for my memoirs, shall we?
The aim of this article isn’t to incite further harm into your already taxed relations with your in-laws, but rather to serve as a means to empower women to stand up for themselves and their relationships. And this is the sole intention.
1. Stop babying your son
Dear mothers-in-law, this is meant with absolute respect to you and with unfiltered love for your son, please stop babying him. He is a man with a family all his own. A fully capable and responsible adult who has vowed to build a life with the woman he chose as a life partner.
A man we look up to with respect and turn to for strength. Love him. But don’t undermine him or pick apart the decisions he makes in his marriage.
2. Your way does not work for me
It’s a different time to when you were a newly married bride. Women are no longer defined by our ability to stir a pot and thicken stews. Your ideals and views on marriage are not mine. I may not be able to love your son the way you loved your husband but I am doing the best I can while juggling a host of other responsibilities that did not exist in your day.
3. Respect me as his wife
I may not have been your preferred choice. You may feel that I do not fit into your family unit. Or find that my millennial views on life are too liberal for your traditional family unit. My past, upbringing, looks, education, occupation, capabilities as a woman/wife/mother according to your standards is null and void. The point is that your son has accepted me for who I am, what I stand for and as his equal. If you cannot respect me as his wife, then please try to respect his decision.
4. No one is perfect
I’m going to make mistakes. As a married couple we’re going to fail in many areas. Remember that we are trying to build a relationship that is free from blame. And know that your son, is also flawed. We all are. What’s different is that we allow the mistakes because it’s how we learn, regroup and pick ourselves up to try again.
5. Let me discover the type of mother I am
Unless your valued advice is requested, allow me to falter as a mother and learn what works for my child and I. If at any point you feel you need to get involved with my methods as a mother, please ask yourself how you would have felt if the roles were reversed.
6. Do not speak ill of me to your son, my husband
If I have done something to displease you. If you feel I have failed in my role as your son’s wife. If for whatever reason you find to bring me up in conversation with your son, please don’t. You may not realise it but it’s actually hurtful to your son and creates nothing but tension in our marriage.
7. We both love him
This is something we can both agree on. I love him as much as you. It’s just not the same type of love and this is something you have to understand. I will never fully grasp the sacrifices you made for your son and you may never truly see what I have given up either. But love him I do.
We may never see eye-to-eye ever again after this. You may feel I have disrespected you, but mom-in-law if anything this is how I feel when I’m constantly with my back up against the wall trying to reach your high expectations.
If you could, take a step back and try to see things from my perspective, you’ll maybe get a glimpse of who I am and what I stand for.