Tolani was very excited about getting married to the love of her life. She had dreamt of how she would fit into the family. How her parents-in-law and her husband’s siblings would adore and accept her. Although initially, her in-laws wanted him to marry from their village. They had come around at her husband’s insistence.
She set up house and at first, all went well. Her in-laws visited from time to time and she made sure that she remembered special dates. She gave occasional monetary gifts to her in-laws and generally played the part of a daughter. She was well accepted or so she thought. Then she discovered that she was left out of the family WhatsApp group created by her husband and his siblings. Then she found out that family functions and occasions were planned without her input and she was often just informed about her roles if any whether or not it was convenient for her. One day, looking through her husband’s phone she stumbled across a family chat. In it, her mother and sisters in-laws had complained that she was lazy, dirty and that her cooking was tasteless.
She is an outsider after all
Titi married late at the age of 40 to a divorcee with two children both below 10 years old. She was a career woman doing well for herself. She has good looks, a great body and a great dress sense. Titi looked stunning and classy in everything she wore and that was the problem she had with her sister in-law. She always outshone them at family functions. As far as they were concerned, she was too flashy, had a chip on her shoulders and was not modest.
They made it their duty to inform her at every opportunity that she was a wife and not a daughter. The message finally sank in when she discovered at a family function, that the material (asoebi) she had paid for and wore to the party in the belief that it was exclusive to her and her sisters in-law was that chosen for the general guests.
Torera’s husband is the only male child amongst five females. Although he is the middle child, his mother and sisters dotted him. Nothing and no one was good enough for their king. As far as they were concerned, her job was to care for their brother and birth him an heir. Her inability to have a child for the first 5 years of the marriage became a source of torment and emotional abuse. Her husband’s family openly canvassed for a second wife to birth their much-desired heir.
Tinuke was not the first, second, third or fourth wife in the family neither was her husband the richest or most comfortable. However, for some reasons, her parents in-law always spent their holidays in her house. At first she felt honored, then burdened, then saddened. One day, she overheard her mother in-law referring to her as the slave who has been brought to take care of them.
The ladies whose stories I have shared have something in common, they are married into families that see and treat them as outsiders. Families that tell them in many ways that their husbands and not them are the recognized members of the family. They are being acknowledged and/or treated as appendages or relatives who happen to bear a common name.
Vocabulary.com defines an outsider as a stranger, someone who doesn’t fit in, who observes a group from afar. An outsider stands outside the group looking in. This definition stands true for many women in our society. We may not want to admit it. The truth is that, it is us women- mothers and daughters that ostracize the women that marry into our families. This is mainly because we feel threatened about their place in the lives of our men insisting that the wives need to earn their rights to be accepted as part of the family.
Husbands are normally immune from in-law troubles because men marry from and not into families. Secondly, men naturally do not have a desire to blend into the families they marry from. Thirdly, men do not need acceptance or relationships to thrive and that’s the main reason why they are quick to tell their wives to ignore or accept the behavior of their kith and kin.
Women on the other hand marry into families and are expected to blend into the families they marry into especially as they take on the name and identity of the families they marry into.
Many women have been traumatized by the fact that no matter the length of time they have spent in the family or how good they have been to members of their husband’s families they are treated differently from the women born into the family. This treatment is the bane of the mother/daughter / sister in-law fights. It’s the reason why many young girls pray that their prospective mothers in-law dies before they are married. It’s the reason why wives insist on being given their rightful places in their homes and why they create boundaries between men and their families.
Wearing the shoes, huh?
To women who have found themselves in such situations, my advice has always been
- understand that accepting a person takes a bit of getting used to and that most times the sidelining of the wife is not done with that intention in mind
- Do the right thing even though it is not reciprocated. Treat your in-laws as you would treat your parents and siblings. Love and care for your husband and children as best as you can.
- Everyone has their place. Don’t attempt to come between your husband and his relatives- sooner than later he will put them in their place.
- Draw your boundaries early and firmly, especially where your in-laws are unreasonable and toxic.
To the women and daughters born into families please understand how isolating it can be to belong to a family that treats you like an outside. Make conscious effort to make your sons and brothers wife’s welcome no matter what you feel about them. Try, at least until they prove you wrong and even then, give them space after all your brother or son chose them.
We and our mothers grew up in such circumstances but surely as our own sons grow and get married we understand better. How it can feel to be second place in our men’s life. How hard it is to hand him over to another woman? We must learn from history and refuse to follow tradition. We can change the narrative by accepting our sons’ and brothers’ wives into our fold. Ensure that they have a sense of belonging because truth be told, if we don’t treat their mothers well the children will always take their side and the fabric of our families which we head as matriarchs will be shredded.