IT’S likely that we all know of a woman we admire greatly; a woman who embodies everything we imagine one would want in a daughter-in-law, or a sister-in-law; a woman who has the interests of her husband at the fore and centre of her life, but in spite of all this, is thought to be completely inadequate by her mother-in-law. Do you know a woman like this?
Southern Sister with Thembe Khumalo
Wicked mother-in-law stories abound; and are probably only overtaken in frequency and intensity by wicked daughter-in-law stories. To be fair on the elder party though, I don’t hear them complain about the women their sons married as often as I hear complaints about mothers-in-law dramas.
Amazingly this is one struggle that transcends race, culture, age and class and causes misery and bickering for families the world over.
So that gets me wondering what it is about a grown man that makes his mother and his wife both claiming him as their territory, fail to come to a workable power-sharing agreement.
Most of us have shared even before we were born. We lie in a womb that a sibling has occupied before us; we suckle at the same breast; we share meals and toys and wear one another’s hand-me-down garments. We share our parents’ attention and our teachers’ instruction and the affection of our pets is spread right across the whole family. But none of this really bothers us.
By the time we set forth into adulthood, we are well accustomed to the notion of shared rights and shared responsibilities and we enter into marriage with an understanding that the resources we share may well be spread beyond the wall of our tiny nuclear family to include other members of the clan on both sides of the bridal table.
All of this works fairly smoothly until the first clash of the mother-in-law with a new bride.
Sometimes where the power base is slightly skewed, an older sister-in-law takes over the combatant role of the mom-in-law. I always wonder what it must feel like to be a man and watch the two most important women in your life bicker over you.
It must be a powerfully affirming thing; because surely if you ever doubted that you are loved and wanted and precious, you would know it when someone is prepared to curse another for the pleasure of being the one closest to you.
The crazy thing about this ridiculous power struggle is that we all want the same things – for the same person! Surely every mother’s desires for her son is that he should be happy, successful and live a worry-free, peaceful life with his family. And surely every wife desires, good mental and physical health, peace and prosperity for her husband? Where then do things go wrong and why?
Some believe the conflicts arise out of the desire to control all of the good things I have mentioned above, but I know that everything we believe about true love refutes this argument.
Control and love do not seem to be natural bedmates to me. If a man I love (husband or son) is fully functional in his mental faculties, then there really is no reason for me to control him. Right?