Mother or Wife: Who Comes First?

by SOC Okenwa

When I wrote “Di Na Nwunye Obodo Oyibo” (Foreign Husbands and Wives) a month ago the essay generated a healthy minor controversy triggered by a thought-provoking response by one Mrs Patricia Daboh, an African-American woman married to a Nigerian. She wrote in her comments: “I find it amazing that you love your mother so much that you would rather drop the “love of your life” and marry someone of your mother’s nationality preference. I know what it feels like being pressured not to marry someone from another nationality, for I am an African American woman, and I am married to a Nigerian man. I believe you are happy with your choice, but I must admit, I find it a little shocking that a man would actually heed to the wishes of his mother, when he is suppose to be in love with a woman.

“The connection between you and your mother seem stronger than any other connection you have. As a wife, I would not like that one bit! When a man grows and matures, he should, if you believe in the bible, cleave to his wife, leave mother and father, and his wife and he become one flesh. A bond between a husband and wife should be stronger than that between a parent and child. Please do not take this negatively, but your devotion and loyalty to your mother over that of your own happiness is surprising to me and interesting.”

But other comments posted by readers contradicting Mrs Daboh’s views were note-worthy. One reader saw it differently from the angle she took it. Mr John wrote: “Patricia Daboh: A husband can divorce his wife and go home to mama for a good pot of soup. You only have one mama, and can have wives at different times of a man’s life. There will always be an ex-wife, or ex-husband, but never an ex-mama. Get that? Leave that part of the bible alone. The bible stories was not written with the African culture or even any other culture in mind, but the Isrealites’ stories. There is no way two can become one flesh. Two opposite sexes are joined together to procreate, any other thing is for social well being, which one can meet among groups of similar social interest.”

Another respondent to the thread named Godwin Kwushue had this to say: “This thing is just practical, have you seen a man or woman who will remain married to a spouse with mental problem? As far as your spouse is concerned you have outlived your importance. Your relative will not give up on you, they will take you to the end of the earth to make sure you are restored to sanity and good health. You will still remain their son and brother, they will be offended if anybody should maltreat you because of your mental state but your so called ‘for better for worse’ partner, who has pretended all along to be ‘one’ with you would have moved to someone else’s bed. Some people abandoned their safety net {family} on account of this phrase and when situation that they can not handle confronts them as a result of their marrying or ‘joined’ so to speak with a monster of a husband or wife they become overwhelmed and alone. People should always endeavour to be pragmatic. I have always told friends this, your wife and husband may go but you mother and father will remain till death”.

The question then arises against the foregoing backgrounder therefore: who between a mother and wife in a man’s life is more important? Who comes first?

Some people may argue that the question over who comes first between a mother and wife does not arise because of how they see things. But it’s important we put the question in perspective because a lot of homes have been broken on account of misunderstanding between mothers-in-law and their sons’ wives. A friend of mine got his wife divorced recently simply because the lady’s parents were ‘intruding’ and interfering in his marriage matters. He told me that because he showed love to his aged mother the mother of his wife equally expected him to shower the same amount of love and reverence to her, something practically impossible.

In the Holy Bible we are admonished by our Maker to honour our fathers and mothers. It is found in one of the ten commandments of God which Moses through divine guidance delivered to descendants of Adam and Eve. The important place occupied by our parents in our hearts and lives generally cannot be over-emphasized. Yet a lot of people observe that Biblical admonition more in the breach. They can afford to tell off their parents telling mama or papa to ‘go to hell’. Some fathers and mothers, admittedly, sometimes go beyond their normal moral boundaries while seeking to ‘control’ their children’s affairs and choices.

In the same Bible it is written that upon maturity an adult will leave his father and mother and build a home with his wife; the two becomes ‘one flesh’ united in marriage. But I believe that the Bible does not counsel us to abandon completely our dear parents while labouring to be two flesh embedded in one with a certain ‘stranger’ we took home as a wife. What I believe the Bible is saying in essence is that a time shall come when the child would aspire to be another child’s father or mother and by so doing becomes a father or mother himself or herself. So the cycle of paternity and maternity continues in perfect harmony with the human reproductive system as ordained by Jehovah.

A good pal of mine based in Germany once asked me during our meeting in Dusseldoff using a riddle. He was obviously piffed when I told him that I was missing my mother in the village! He had questioned: If in a tragic event in which I am travelling in a boat with my mother and wife and the boat is capsizing with me possessing the capacity to save just a soul, one of the women, who should be saved and who should be allowed to perish? In other words who would I prefer to live and who should die? Without thinking twice I answered him thus: My mother comes first and she would most definitely be saved!

You see I am in love with my wife quite alright but motherhood transcends any emotional attachment one could ever extend to a wife. As my reader Godwin Kwushue reasoned: “your wife and husband may go but you mother and father will remain till death”. Yes I have never seen nor heard of someone filing divorce papers against his/her mother in the law courts. Your wife can betray you, give you heartbreak or even connive with your enemies to kill you! She can harm you or even kill you pointedly without remorse, ‘mourning’ you thereafter, blaming it on the devil and inheriting your estates but sweet mother cannot do such things.

Finally to Mrs Daboh particularly I say thank you for your comments. When I had nursed that intention of marrying my former French girlfriend I think I was a victim of lust and infatuation and not true love. I was swept away by a charming woman who gave me sexual satisfaction; I was carried away by a “sex machine” that effortlessly seduced and subdued my entire system. I know better now and I have no regrets heeding my mother’s wise counsel.

While I may agree with you that “the connection between you and your mother seem stronger than any other connection you have” I beg to disagree when you postulated that “…but your devotion and loyalty to your mother over that of your own happiness is surprising to me and interesting.” My wife is a source of happiness to me quite alright but she is not the major source. And she knows that for sure! God and Jesus Christ are major sources of happiness for me; besides my mother follows before any other source. That is the truth and nobody can change that for now.

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Ngozi Asonye-Conners August 24, 2009 - 6:12 pm

Na wa oh… so much anger from Mrs. Ezeama… Everyone has their opinion and way of life and I believe that you really did not listen to what Mr Dabo was trying to get across… As a born-and-bred Nigerian woman (now living in America), I do agree that my mother was everything to me (God rest her soul). But I will take my American husband (who loves and respects everything Nigerian and is a wonderful, loving husband to me and amazing father to our children) over my father (who abandoned my mother in Nigeria with 2 babies and never cared for us ever since) any time. And for Mr. Okenwa (the writer of the above article), I find it very interesting how we choose to read and interpret certain areas of the bible to fit our needs and cultures (case in point what you have written and some of the replies given)… I am just saying (this is coming from someone raise in the church). And if you very right in your interpretation, what makes us think that other cultures/societies are not right in their own interpretation.

Toba September 1, 2007 - 2:55 am

This is one of those debates that I classify as "dont ask, dont tell"… both have the right to be loved……

Amarachi August 26, 2007 - 4:32 pm

Danielle, you really took your commets too far in my opinion. The statements about only American women mistreating their kids because they are on crack was out of line. You sound like one who is merely spouting things that you have 'heard" or you are woman scored. Did your husband of 25 years cheat on you with an American woman? And believe me, I know plenty of single and married African women who mistreat their children. Are they too on crack?

Danielle Ezeama August 25, 2007 - 1:45 am

I really enjoyed your article. It was very refreshing and interesting to read. Keep the articles coming. I am also someone who believes that a man should be good to his mother. I have absolutely NO problem with that. Afterall, it is his mother who gave birth to him, nurtured him and raised him to be the man I now call my husband. Therefore, there is nothing wrong in him putting the woman who gave him life over me.

Patricia Daboh, in the African culture, it is perfectly normal for a man to put his mother first. We do not come from a selfish, individualistic society like you do. When you marry an African man, you marry his family as well. If you cannot put up with that, then you should have NO business being married to an African man in the first place. I would not want my son to marry a woman like you who believes that just because a man is married, he should throw his mother in the back burner. You stated in your above post that some mothers maltreat their children. Well, in Africa, our mothers go that extra mile to raise us right and they sacrifice alot for us. They are NOT like the black mothers in America who are addicted to crack and start having babies at such a young age and out of wedlock at that. When they find out that single motherhood is not as easy as they thought, they begin to maltreat their children. No! African mothers are different. Most of them were married women when they gave birth to us. They love us and teach us morals and respect as well as our culture.

I don't know how you can expect your husband to put you before his own mother. Where were you when she was carrying him 9 months in the womb? where were you when she was screaming in labor pains while bringing him into the world? where were you when she had to sell her brand new wrappers so that he can go to school and also have food on the table? where were you when he was sick with malaria and his mother had to stay up all night long putting a wet towel on his body to keep his high body temperature down? where were you when she carried him as a child strapt on her back and walked miles to the hospital by foot in the scorching hot sun? Where were you when she instilled certain morals in him that you now find attractive and hence married him? The answer to these questions is that you were NOT THERE. Now that he is an adult, you a STRANGER from a totally different culture and VERY INDIVIDUALISTIC SOCIETY comes along and you want him to kick the woman who has been there for him his entire life out of his life because he made the decision to marry you? Just because you are going to clean and cook and bear his children. So what? His mother has cleaned and cooked for him for the most part of his life and still would if he went to his parents house today. Are you the first woman to clean and cook and bear children for your husband? Is that such a big deal? If your husband needed a kidney today, could you give him yours? Like the writer of this article rightfully mentioned, one can have an ex-husband or an ex-wife but never an ex-mother. One has only ONE mother and our African mothers are there for us till they pass on. You, a wife, can never beat that!!

I can now see the reason why some African and Carribean mothers do NOT want their sons marrying women from western individualistic societies/countries. You people DO NOT understand OUR AFRICAN culture and how the family, both immediate and distant is VERY important to us and an INTEGRAL part of OUR culture. Since you Americans don't understand that, then you should have NO business marrying an African, and I mean that!! I really feel sorry for your husband's mother. You are the type of woman that does not want her husband taking care of his aging mother because he made the terrible mistake to marry a western woman who comes from a society were the family has completely DISINTEGRATED and you only think about yourselves and no one else. Our men need to open their eyes when choosing to marry western women like yourself seriously! Please, try to abide to the African culture for as long as you are married to an African man OR marry a fellow American like yourself where you can forbid his mother from coming to visit your matrimonial home. But please, DO NOT try that with an African mother-in-law! If you do, watch how fast your marraige will disintegrate. Take it from an African woman like myself who has been married for over 25 years.

Patricia August 24, 2007 - 9:55 pm

I appreciate your follow-up article, for this subject can be very controversial indeed. One point I would like you to think about though is that there are many "mothers" in this world that neglect, harm, abandon, and even kill their children. Therefore, their connection to their mother is not as strong as yours or mine is. I live in South Carolina, and my mother lives in New Jersey. I call her daily and visit her when my job allows. My brother and sisters live in New Jersey, so she is very much loved, nurished, and cared for. I cannot imagine life without my beloved mother. If my mother and husband were in a boat and it was capsizing, and I had to make a choice as to whom I would save, it would be very difficult, for I love them both–but in different ways. I cannot say, with 100% certainty, that I would save my mother over my husband, or my husband over my mother. I really do not know, and I hope I never have to find out. I must admit, though, if my husband told me that he would save "his" mother over me, I would seriously contemplate his love, devotion, and commitment towards me. No woman wants to be upstaged by another or loved less than another woman (whether it be her mother-in-law or another woman). It would make me feel horribly bad and not as loved to know my husband, whom I bore children for, cooked and cleaned for, devoted my life to would let me "drown", and save his mother over me. Although I would not want my mother-in-law to drown either, I would not like him to save her over me. I am being totally honest now. I think we need the wisdom of Solomon in the bible on this one. Nevertheless, I admire your honesty–even if some of your views are different from mine. Different cultures are raised with different values, morals, and ethics that govern who they are. Perhaps your mother's advice was best in reference to your decision not to marry the young woman in question, for your life seems to have turned out nicely. You see in America, a man is considered to be a "mamma's boy" if he shows more dedication and love towards his mother than his own wife or his own personal convictions concerning his decisions in reference to his life. Here it is frowned upon by women when they are sizing a man up for a serious relationship. Yet, I have to admit that I have given my son advise concerning a particular woman, and he did not heed my advise, and he is still paying for it with great unhappiness. Love and lust may closely resemble one another in feeling (as you stated), but the outcome is very distinguishable in the end. If you are in lust, you can, and will, be able to move on to the next "lustful" situation. Perhaps if my son had heeded my advise, he would not be suffering. He calls me weekly, and we are extremely close as well. But it is hard to hear the unhappiness in his voice and listen to his many problems. This is a hard one to determine–MOTHER OR WIFE–I still say wife though, for as a wife, I like that better. (selfish maybe / who knows). Great follow-up article!

Owena August 24, 2007 - 8:27 am

Good follow-up article. It boils down to different cultural perspectives and choices. I do, however think it unreasonable to ask my husband to put me first and ignore his mother. Does that mean I am de-valuing myself and the position I hold in his life? No. It just shows that I understand his love for his mother much like I love my own mother and father. As long as he doesn’t disrespect me or have a problem when it comes to doing things for my own mother then all is cool. In Nigeria, it is a long held belief that when one marries, they do not only marry the person but the whole family. This can be a pain but with communication and understanding I do believe that here should be no trouble and strife in married life between a non-Nigerian and a Nigerian. Such issues should be ironed out before marriage takes place anyway.

Oh yes and when I talk about choices I mean that if a Nigerian married to a non-Nigerian decides that the wife of is the paramount source of his love more than his own mother and decides to put her first in keeping with her cultural beliefs then that is good too. Personally, I don’t see how a man that is mean to his mother can keep and treat a wife well but then again it is all about choice and the way a person chooses to live their life. That was a good informative read though.


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