Most women can relate to the numerous unpleasant tales of in-laws, unfortunately especially mothers-in-law, wreaking havoc on their marital happiness. In the least, this can mean unpleasant family relations, at its worst, a complete breakdown of the relationship and even dangerous family-sanctioned infidelities.
With tongues wagging, for some mothers no one is good enough for their baby boy, especially if the daughter-in-law comes from the loktions or Ikasi, or cannot tell the difference between a fish and steak knife. Some of the stories are petty and comical; yet there is a great deal of trauma in these relationships.
The way mothers in-law lash out at a daughter-in-law can be very "diplomatic," with below the belt comments flying with hardly any notice from anyone around. Her so-called visit to the newlyweds' home can become an inspection meant to shake, make or break a newly married woman.
So, the new bride makes a green salad as it is easy and looks great on any table. She also makes sure the carpets are vacuumed the morning of her in-laws arrival. Of course, father in-law will tag along to see how his boy is coping, but most fathers-in-law are just easygoing fellows at this point really.
"Max, my son always enjoyed his vegetables fried and a little vinegar here and there and he just thought the world of his mother," she smiles, picking at her food and waiting for the daughter in-law's response.
And so begins a string of casually flung comments: "You know, my son is starting to look a bit thin, could it be that he is not eating well. You on the other hand, you are looking rather fat or Max is spending so much, eish! Is this cloth for the floor or washing the dishes, it is too dirty to be in the kitchen sink, don't you think?"
My friend tells me she discovered a sure-fire method to reduce such delusions of starving her husband. She found out her mother out-law, as she refers to her, does not like cats, so she got one from the SPCA this past Christmas. Now she is considering buying a small dog. Not just any small dog but the energised and super friendly Jack Russell.
Her husband, of course, has no problem about his weight, and makes comments like, "You, know how Mama is, she is showing you love." Really! There seems to be a feeling among older women that the woman her son marries will not do her best. Is it competition that drives women to constantly harbour this animosity? And yet the man involved is not even aware of this?
One friend recalled a story from some part of Southern Africa where a man took his mother on his honeymoon trip, thankfully booking two rooms. On the second morning, the bride woke up to find the husband missing again. In panic, she went to Mama's room to inform her of his odd habit of disappearing in the morning, a worrying trait in these early days of the marriage.
She knocked on Mama's room and there was no answer. Luckily, her husband had requested for two sets of keys for them to check on Mama, who has blood pressure and diabetes problems. She rushed back to her room to collect the keys, returned, opened the door, and there was her husband lying in his mother's bosom. That was the last she saw of him and moved on.
Another dear friend married immediately after leaving school; she fell pregnant whilst in school from the first man she ever knew. She moved to the husband's house. On several occasions, the family sent her back to her homestead to learn how to make sadza or pap. After some time, she made it to everyone's satisfaction and she lived happily for a while with her husband.
In time, the husband would not come home some nights, claiming he spent the night at his mother's. Sure, she thought. For reassurance, she asked her mother-in-law, who comforted her and told her that he was fine, and yes he sometimes slept at her place, as he did not want to drive home too late at night. It seemed somewhat odd, as she lived a stone's throw away from the mother's house, but she accepted the explanation.
In early 1998, she fell pregnant with their second baby. She gave birth and within weeks she was hospitalised with the sick baby. Unfortunately, the baby succumbed to meningitis and pneumonia and died.
Returning home, she found the house empty; her husband was at his mother's with the older child, also sickly. She went there and found her husband in bed with a woman, previously introduced to her by the mother as a cousin from afar.
The cousin was pregnant as well from her husband. Incest, she screamed. No, it was not incest. Mother of her husband knew this, for years and all the neighbours thought it an arrangement agreed upon. She left her husband, and her sickly son made his way to heaven in the next months.
She committed suicide in 2001, after she could not cope with her thinness and taking several fattening tablets to cure her HIV+ status. She died alone. Her ex-mother-in law has blood on her hands for having kept the other woman from her. The husband and so-called cousin passed away within days of each other.
The United Nations has declared 2010-2020 as the African Women Decade. It is time that we as women celebrate together as women. Love, respect, compassion for each other will save the day. Rather than view each other as competition, women need to work together - and that includes in our families.
For women on the verge of their son's nuptials, please, treat your new daughter as you would want any of your loved one's treated.
Glenda Muzenda- Raftopoulos is the GEMSA Network Coordinator. She enjoys all life's gifts in doses and writing is her passion. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.
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