There was a family of close knit brothers. They were four in number, no sister and the age difference between each of them was about 2 years. The eldest of the brothers by sheer hard work, time, chance and favor made it good in life and he took his brothers along with him. He paid for their education and ensured they got good jobs. Somewhere along the line, he got married and started to bring up his own family. His wife was at first accommodating of his brothers and treated them like her own until the brothers started marrying and settling down and as the women became more entrenched in the family, each of them began to carve out their nuclear families from the general. At first it was subtle, then pronounced, until the brothers had no option but to distance their families from each other though they still maintained their closeness but it hurt them really bad that their wives and children couldn’t love themselves as they did.
A mother had all boys and no daughter but she was not perturbed for surely her sons will marry and their wives will become her daughters. She looked forward to those days as she had vowed that she would be friends with her daughters- in- law mainly because she remembered what it was like to be ostracized in the family she had married into and so when they came, she welcomed them warmly into the family, loved them like her own and enjoyed a beautiful relationship with them all.
A wife was distraught, she had practically grown up with her husband, they had meet at university, gotten married early and given birth to children. She had a good relationship with her in-laws or so she thought. They didn’t interfere with their marriage whether for good or bad. Then her husband died and she found out that she had been tolerated and not loved, respected but not liked for although her in-laws never fought her or demanded anything from her husband’s estate they didn’t ask after their welfare nor did they look for her and her children. As far as they were concerned, they had died with their son and brother.
In another instance, a wife was astonished beyond belief, her husband had just died, was barely buried when his family came, stripped their house bare of all valuables and turned them out in the street. When she asked why, she was told he was owning some of his siblings’ money and that since he was dead, the only way to recover same was to sell their belongings and landed property.
And in yet another; they had been married for over 10 years and she had not had a child, had not even got pregnant once. Her husband was an only son and his mother and sisters were up in arms for they needed a boy who would carry the family name. One day he met a young girl, one thing led to the other and she became pregnant, he confided in his mother and sisters and they hatched a plan. The girl became a distant young cousin who had gotten herself pregnant and was sent to live with one of the sisters so she could be properly managed. The child grew up in the sister’s home and the wife had several interactions with him without knowing he was her husband’s son until one day she sighted his birth certificate when he was starting secondary school.
The stories I have recounted have all happened in real life and they tell of the dynamics of family life especially as regards to in-laws. In some, the marrying of wives brought about a weakening of the bond between siblings, in others the siblings ousted the “wife” who was the stranger in their midst. There is a delicate balance to maintaining a good relationship within a family as the children start to grow and marry and it behoves us women in particular, being custodians of the home and eventual matriarchs of the family, to ensure that the relationships within our families are healthy.
As mothers in-law, we must understand that the major role we have played in our son’s life has come to an end and we should be willing to take the back seat, open our homes and hearts to the woman he married and help her to find her place in the family hierarchy as well as understand that a majority of his time and money will be spent on his new family.
Our understanding of the undeniable fact that our place can never be taken by anyone including his wife should make us content with being relegated to the back space.
As sisters in-law, we need to understand that our brother’s wife is now our sister not an outsider, that even though we may have shared confidences with him in the past, he must be left to build memories with his new family. The new wife should be accepted as part of us, we should include her in all the family events and occasions and she should not be relegated to being feed tidbits about what is happening in the family whose name she bears. Remember, in the not distant future she will be referred to as the matriarch of your brother’s family.
As fellow wives, we need to understand that even though our husbands come from the same stock, they have different paths in life and that we are not competing against each other. Our individual levels of comfort will be different and we must ensure that we are not jealous nor look down on each other. Where our husbands are close, we should not allow ourselves to be used to separate them and where they have not been close, we should see it as our duty to ensure they close ranks for our children’s sake. Our children and their cousins should not be made to feel superior or inferior to one another and we should not be upset if our husbands help his siblings out financially.
Finally, the truth must be told and it is that fathers, brothers and husbands also have a role in maintaining the peace in the family dynamics. Too often, most men pretend not to notice the power tussle playing out in their families either because they are afraid of offending their mothers or sisters or because they enjoy being the center of conflict between the parties. They wink at injustices in the home, turn a blind eye when their sisters disrespect their wives and vice versa; they look the other way when their wife maltreats their siblings and their children and become docile when their mother takes over the home. It is shameful that most men would rather cower before their mothers and siblings, pander to each party’s whims in private, try to appease them individually but will never take a stand for what is right.
I have two children and they are pretty close, they have such a strong bond and have each other’s back in the journey of life after all, one’s siblings are ones’ first best friend. However, I am mindful that at some point in their journey in life their alliances must shift from each other to their individual families and it is my prayer that they marry people who will not turn them against each other.