The relationship between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law has a long-standing reputation of being toxic, frosty and characterised with pettiness. But this is not the typical situation for everybody. As we mark National Mother-in-law Day tomorrow, two married women share their experiences on how they have navigated this intricate relationship and succeeded where many fail
Evelyn Makena @evemake_g
She is a close friend, supportive, always ready to offer guidance and my number one defender. These are the glowing words that Hillan Gatwiri uses to describe her mother-in-law.
When she got married five years ago, Hillan feared that her mother-in-law would not like her. Yet she understood the crucial role this relationship would play in either enhancing or dooming her marriage.
“My husband is the only son in a family of three girls and is close with his mum. I was scared and not sure what to do to win her over,” Hillan says.
Gradually, she won over her trust and soon the two hit it off and they have been pretty close ever since. When Hillan gave birth to her first born son, her mother-in-law was by her side, giving her pointers on how to take care of the baby and taking care of them.
“I learnt a lot from her on how to become a mother,” she says. Even after going back to school after the birth of her son, her mother-in-law was always ready to step in to help her, especially when she did not have a house girl. And in times when she has to deal with meddling relatives, her mother-in-law is always the first one to defend her.
The secret to having this wonderful friendship, Hillan says, has been learning to appreciate her mother-in-law. “Our great relationship did not just happen. It took time and effort. I understood that my mother-in-law is the first sweetheart of my husband.
Treating her well earns me favour with not only her, but also my husband,” she says. From the onset Hillan purposed treat her like she would treat her own mother. “You will not tell the difference when I am going to visit her or my mother, because I gift them the same way,” she adds.
Patricia Wanyonyi who has been married for three years enjoys a cordial relationship with her mother-in-law, Reginalda Wanyonyi. Her mother-in-law never misses a call from her despite her busy schedule, always brings her thoughtful gifts when she visits and never misses any of her event whether big or small.
“She treats me right, respects my will, decisions and my marriage. Not even once have I felt manipulated by her. She isn’t nosy. Her gentleness and gracefulness is humbling,” says Patricia, a nurse at Moi Teaching Referral Hospital.
She is one of the people she considers a big mentor in her journey of womanhood. Patricia admits that their friendship is still work in progress and did not just happen instantly. She partly credits the success to her mother who also had an incredible relationship with her grandmother.
“My mother started training me on how to relate with the in-laws even before I got married. She was specific about the aspect of space, respect and understanding them,” says Patricia.
Both Hillan and Patricia agree that respect towards your mother-in-law is important. “Whether dead or alive, the woman who raised your husband is to be revered.
You have no idea how much she laboured to make ends meet. Maybe, she never dressed well so that the son could go to school,” adds Patricia.
University of Nairobi, Sociologist, Gidraph Wairire, says that existing biases and attitudes about mother-in-laws have contributed to many soured relationships between daughters and mothers-in-law.
“Many people have chosen to believe the negative portrayal of mother-in-laws on television programmes, movies and music without giving the relationship a chance,” he says.
Successful mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships can, however, be cultivated when all parties involved understand their place and respect boundaries. “Naturally, sons are close to their mothers.
The mother needs to give the son space to start a family while the son needs to embrace the person coming into his life. The wife on the other hand needs to acknowledge that the mother-in-law is special to the husband and the first allegiance will always be to her,” he says.