African Mothers-In-Law: Responding to Folasayo Dele-Ogunrinde

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

“You are the other mother I received the day I wed your son. Your gift to him of love and kindness was how my heart was won” (Anon).

Generally speaking, there are two groups of people Africans love to hate and abuse and pour invectives on: mothers-in-law and the village witches. We never tire of blaming them for all our shortcomings, weaknesses, and headache and stomach flu. It must be the witch’s fault — or the fault of some unseen and unknown force — when one is barren, have confounding misfortunes or lapse into foolishness. It must be the mother-in-law’s fault if the husband is acting up or is playing games. Most mothers, we forget, raise men, not boys or sissies; therefore, it must be her fault when the husband is “playing man” in the presence of his mother.

Witches and Mothers-in-law — especially mothers-in-law — can never win the heart and minds of some young wives, especially the new breed African wives who have come to believe that their mothers-in-law are the cause of their unhappiness and all the disconnect within their matrimonial homes. But of course this blame game is not new. There is a rich tome of angst and bitterness and finger pointing against mothers-in-law. In folklores and written words and other medium of communication, there abound tales of the classic mother-in-law. The irony here is that today’s irritable wives would become tomorrow’s mothers-in-law.

A careful read of Folasayo Dele-Ogunrinde’s African Mothers-In-Law And The Cycle Of Abuse is simply a continuation of the gory tales — real and imagined — told by others: blame the mother-in-law for all your headaches and sorrow.

The crucifixion game aside, Folasayo also seem to have a problem with one of the central tenets of the African family: the unwritten contact between children and parents. She wrote: “If he also happens to be her retirement plan as is the case in a lot of African situations, you have to be bridled lest you meddle with the flow of cash. So you see, you’re fighting against a lot of odds.”

Now, where is the free and true born African man who does not want to be the “retirement plan” of his parents, especially his mother? I don’t know of any. It is the wish and prayer of all men, and indeed of all children, to be the anchor in the lives of their aging parents. What’s the implication of Folasayo’s complain? And why is she at odds with men who wants to be the retire plan of their mothers?

Yes, there are a few witchy mothers-in-law out there. I am not denying that. There are mothers-in-law who are naughty and knotty. However, compared to the number of women who behave like runaway trains and wives who behave as though they are the alpha and the omega — tyrants bent on lording over their men — I will side with mothers-in-laws any time any day. And what about the men, the fathers-in-law, I wonder what Folasayo’s take is on them. Or is this a case of “fathers-in-law can do no wrong”?

What I see, more often than not, are in-laws who attempts to moderate the excesses of some women. Sadly, these in-laws are tagged home-wreckers, the boogieman.

Needy, possessive and less-self-esteemed women generally have an ax to grind with their in-laws. These women interpret their MIL’s every move as being detrimental to their interest and skewed vision. They want and need their husbands’ twenty-four-seven; they crave his attention and approval every minute. Woe betide the MIL who as much as want to spend some quality time with her son or grandchildren without the approval of the wife.

Folasayo’s assertion that “It’s likely she’s also an abuse victim in the hands of her husbands’ family” reminds me of Oprahtized African women who claim abuse at every junction. If men as much as look at them in a funny way or rub them the wrong way, it is abuse. To them everything is abuse and about rights and choice and freedom. To such women, African men are nothing but supercilious, abusive and enslavers who needs to be schooled in the Western culture.

Such women are at the vanguard of abrogating the African culture — a culture they find too conservative and repressive. At the extreme, you will find such women carrying placards, waging war against polygamy, the extended family system, communalism and other aspects of our humanist culture. They forget that our culture is what has sustained us for generation after generation without which we’ll have no direction, no essence and no being. We are who we are because we are Africans; and we are Africans because of who we are.

Again, she contends that “the African wife has been silenced for so long by society in the name of culture and norms even in so called “modern” marriages.” Oh really? Folasayo writes as though the Western culture has the upper hand when compared to the African culture. And indeed, she forgets that the European and American culture did not just come about instantaneously. There is no big-bang element to it. It took time to be what it is today. It evolved. And in fact a sociological or anthropological study of the Southern region of the United States will show that even the Americans are communal and agrarian in some ways. She must not mistake Hollywood, Boston, Seattle or New York City for America. This is an evolving society; and in some parts of this society some women are still put in their place and “silenced.”

Folasayo recounted her experience with an ex-boyfriend and then lurched off a set of questions and suppositions, i.e. what to be done about “some relatives in the nth degree,” “what happens then if my future mother-in-law and his aunt bring trouble to my doorstep unprovoked,” “So you won’t defend me?” and “The funny thing is that these same in-laws will probably treat a foreign western wife with more respect tha

n an African one.” With such preconceived notions and suspicions, I wonder how the relationship would have turned out. I wonder.

After all her myriad complains she went on to say that “Mothers-In-law are great help when it comes to assisting with babysitting, especially for those who live in the West. They come all the way from where ever they are in the world to spend months, even years with their sons’ growing family. When this works out as a mutually beneficial plan, it’s great…”

There you go! I guess trouble-seeking mothers-in-law can also be useful and benevolent, eh? I guess they are useful only when they come over to baby sit the kids and cook and clean and do the laundry freeing the husband and wife to socialize and or to catch up on sex. I guess the MIL is useful only when she comes around to teach the kids the native language and culture and discipline.

Ms. Folasayo Dele-Ogunrinde and all those who regard her should know that the vast majority of mothers-in-law are not our enemies. They are our mothers and beacons. They can be our anchor in an ocean of uncertainties, a friend in our hours of need, useful spies in matrimonial homes lined with improvised explosive devices that can derail marriages. Marriage is hard and you need all the help you can get. Don’t make a bogeyman out of your mother-in-law. If she was that bad she wouldn’t have raised such a fine son for you to marry. If she was a troublemaker, she wouldn’t have raised the marvelous son whose life revolves around you.

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1 comment

Anonymous March 31, 2006 - 2:50 pm

I am so in love withthe writer of this article, She is so transparent, she presented her fact so logically I can cry. When I was younger and of course single, I have always prayed for a future husband that have good relationship with his mother because that's where it will all begin; If a man understands his mom, and how she thinks, it will make his relationship with his wife better, I don't know about other daughter-in-laws, what I do know is that because my husband happen to care for and deeply love his mother, he as well cherishes and care for me deeply; I know this because he has shown me this in several ways, and also his mother tells me this all the time. I have such a cordial and loving relationship with my mother-in-law, infact, she treats me like her own biological daughter, she does everything a mother could do for her child, and I will always remain greatful for all she has done for me since I met her and is still doing for me.I can never ask for a better mother.

Cynthia NJ.


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