Naomi and Ruth. The story of how two women can come to love one another so deeply because of their love for one man, a son to one and a husband to the other. But their love went beyond the man because even after he was departed, Ruth’s allegiance to Naomi remained to the point where she left her own homeland to live in a strange land with her mother-in-law, to become part of her people and to worship her God.
I have been married six years and there are days I am afraid I am a terrible daughter-in-law.
I guess many of us women are. We are afraid of being unaccepted, judged, left out, hated or isolated even as we try to be part of the new family. We may feel like we don’t care to get cultrured into the new family. W may feel fragile and as if we are walking on eggshells. We may wonder if we will ever get to be besties with our mums-in-law. Or we may feel bulldozed to familial relations we are unprepared for.
When I got married there was the excitement of getting a new family – new mum, new dad, more brothers and sisters. But beyond the excitement was mostly fear. Suppose they hate me? Suppose I don’t like them? What will happen if I am a terrible daughter or sister-in-law? Suppose their expectations of me are too high? May be they won’t approve of me or my ways or the way I am raising the children or taking care of their son? May be they will think I am the worst thing to happen to their son.
I thank God that for the most part my fears were misplaced. My mother and father-in-law are real easy to get along with. My mum-in-law made me feel at home in her home and made herself at home in mine. I felt accepted.
I love my mum-in-law. She is a godly woman with a gentle spirit, hardworking, brilliant, generous to a fault and a home maker with a big heart for her children, their spouses and her grandchildren. I could never have asked for a better mum-in-law.
Is our relationship perfect? Of course not. We can go for a while without calling each other. I wish we visited her more often. I wish she did not live so far away. I wish we did more things together. I wish she could teach me to cook like her. I wish we were tighter. I hope to make us tighter.
I spoke to a woman, now with married sons, who had a rough relationship with her own mother-in-law to start with.
Chipo says her husband’s mother did not initially like her because she came from a different country and was not afraid to tell her so. The older woman would have preferred that her son married a Kenyan and one from his own community.
She remembers visiting his shags and feeling awful and out of place because she could not understand the language or eat their food – githeri primarily.
“I would just take tea and may be nduma and eat when we went back to Nairobi. With time I started preparing food in Nairobi and carrying it home,” she remembers.
She says she pushed the relationship.
“My mother-in-law would be going to did ndumas and I would insist to go with her. She would tell me that I won’t know how to dig and I would tell her that I will learn. My mother in law saw my determination and started warming up to me. She would even look forward to the food I would bring and started telling her other daughters-in-law, Kenyans, to be like me,” says Chipo.
By the time her mum-in-law passed on, she says they had become best friends.
“We would stay up late into the night talking, me struggling with my little Kikuyu and her with her little English. We would laugh and talk. Sometimes my husband came down and tried to follow the conversation, then he would give up and go to sleep as me and mum talked on,” Chipo says.
She says it’s up to daughters to love their mothers-in-law and the relationship will become easy.
“I just loved her. I just loved her,” Chipo says emphatically.
“So how do we build the relationship further?” I ask her.
“Visit her often, take her a gift for you and also let the children carry a gift specifically for her, separate from the usual things you will be carrying home,” she advises.
She suggests gifts like shawls, warm blankets, handbags, cups and tea towels.
“You may think she has so many other cups so why buy her more but just buy. She may keep them up there but she will always know these came from her daughter-in-law.
“Stay with her even if you do not have much to talk about. It becomes easier with time,” says Chipo.
Julliet Muthoka has ana mazing relationship with her husband’s mother. She says the secret is that she didn’t try to change her husband’s re;ationship with his mother. In fact she tried to fan it more.
“When we got married, I didn’t try to change my husband’s routine in her life. We visited mum every month and when the kids came she started coming over instead. Now that our children are bigger, we take them over to stay with her on random weekends and they love it. Whenever my son gets in the car he asks if we are going to cucu’s?,” Julliet says.
She says she lets her mum-in-law be herself in her house. “I told her to cook food she loves the way she loves. People wonder how my mum-in-law is my go-to person when I have nanny problems. This one time I went through so many nannies until she told me to stop looking for a girl and to relax. She would take care of my house and my children until I got a good nanny. I would come home from work to find she has made dinner and fed and washed the children,” Julliet says.
“She gives us our space when she’s in our house. The kids love her and I think because she feels accepted by them she loves them in return,” Julliet adds.
Her mum-in-law has so become a part of their lives that they are taking her on holiday this August along with the kids to treat her.
“She’s very excited,” Julliet says.
Other tips to foster a great daughter-mother-in-law relationship?
- Take care of her son. And don’t push him against her or make him choose between the two of you. He is still her son. He may be all grown up but in her eyes she can still see him pink faced and covered in blood as he let out his first cry. She can remember the nights he kept her awake and the rushes to hospital emergency rooms because he was just being a boy. He will always be her little boy so don’t cross her path by trying to harm him or you will encounter mama bear. Notice to all husband beaters/emotional abusers.
- Give her time. It takes time to get to know you, to warm up to you, to learn your ways. Relationships take time.
- Make her feel at home in your home. She is now your mother, not a stranger or a visitor. Give her a comfortable space when she visits and allow her her space. Encourage her to become part of the fabric and culture of your home. Invite her for birthdays and celebrations and just… Allow her to cook with you or for you . Let her know she is always welcome in your home and not a burden.
- Do things with her alone. Take her to your church, or the mall or market. Treat her to a pedicure. Go shopping for make up. Be girls. Julliet remembers taking her mother-in-law to the animal orphanage and the elder woman was very excited. “You should have seen her. She still asks us when we are taking her back there.” If both of you are the quiet type seek out places that do not require too much talking but that create opportunity to “smell” each other’s passions and world views, like the museum or for a show.
- Don’t judge. She has flaws and weaknesses. So do you. She is not you. She doesn’t keep house the way you do or cook like you or handle her finances your way. Let her be. Respect her age.
- Respect her wisdom. If for nothing else, she has been around longer than you. She may not know about the modern ways to raise kids but she has changed nappies, nursed fevers, fed several children and schooled them well enough that you fell in love with one of them. Respect her. Listen to her opinion. Even seek it out. She will feel honoured that you care about what she thinks. Ask her for advice. Ask her about her son. She knows him better than you do.
- Visit her often; and don’t deny her access to her grandchildren. The joy of old age is to enjoy your grandchildren. If you live near her send the kids to her on random weekends and on school holidays or let her come house and baby sit while you enjoy a weekend out. Get to know her. You may make a friend for life.
- Help out when she is in need. Send money. Take shopping. Help her renovate her sitting room. Surprise her with that thing you know she has been budgeting for.
- Make amends when things go wrong. Hurtful words will be said. There will be gossip. You will openly or secretly disapprove of her or the way she does things. Needs will go unmet or ignored. Always reconcile. You are family.