We have been talking about advice for some time now and I just remembered that during the countdown to my wedding day, my husband and I had various levels of counselling; both solicited and unsolicited advice. Sometimes some of them came in the form of whispers initially but as I have carried on in this journey of marriage, their significance has grown larger . One of the most profound words I heard came from a wise Professor who told me “Your mother-in-law is not your mother, so don’t treat her like your mother”. I was so relieved to hear this as pretty much everyone else had said the opposite. I am a friend to my mom, and having known her all my life – we’ve got banter! We can argue and deliberate on issues. She gets my personality. How long will it take my mother-in-law to get me? Will she even want to? These were the kind of thoughts I was having as I pondered about the woman who was going to come into my life on a permanent basis in a few weeks.
Marriage gives you a new family by law. People you would probably never ‘get close to’ become ‘family’ because you ‘fell in love’ and made the deal permanent. My husband-to-be was the only male in his family so I was really excited about getting sisters! I would finally get the chance to do a lot of things I had longed to do with the sister I never had. I was so excited about meeting the whole family over a Christmas holiday. As I flew over the oceans for this visit, I kept thinking about the inquisition I would get from this wonderful family that produced my husband-to-be. I imagined my mother-in-law grading my cooking skills by setting me various tasks, I imagined the girls asking about how I met their brother, and passing comments on my very basic fashion sense, etc.
Well I arrived, the Wife-to-be, Queen-in-waiting, and every other title I could think up….and I was not noticed. I planned for absolute acceptance or rejection, but I never saw ‘indifference’ as an option. The family had so many other things going on that my presence was barely acknowledged. My Fiancé made some attempts to include me in conversation but it felt like too much effort. This was not a great foundation. I understood that the entire family had not been together for a while and there was a lot of catching up to do, but I couldn’t help feeling left out. Not being able to speak the native dialect did not help either. It honestly wasn’t personal. It just happened to be that there were more important things to get on with. I was homesick! My first Christmas without the family I had known all my life. And talk about differences; I nearly had a fit when I realized we were having white rice for Christmas and not Jollof or Fried rice!
Another amazing word of advice I received in my early 20’s, was to make excuses for people. Give yourself a reason for their behaviour. This has really helped me so, so much. Since I have no intention of deceiving myself, I try to understand the people in my life, so that if they mistakenly cause me pain, I can see things from their perspective and forgive a little more easily. My in-laws have tested this principle in my life on many levels. For example, when one of my new sisters came to study in the town where I live. My husband and I had spoken briefly about having family over. We were not against it but we knew it should not be for a long period of time, especially in the early years of our marriage. I thought my family will be the ones crashing at mine often as my father’s house has an open-door policy. As we talked about my new sister coming, hubby said she would stay for 3 months and find her own place since she was very independent. I prepared my heart for a year. She stayed for two years.
There were many times I had to hold my tongue. My new sister had lived on her own for many years and had her own way of doing things. I didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable so I went out of my way to accommodate a lot of her habits which I was not happy with. Sometimes I would picture myself talking to her about something that was bugging me. I would try to imagine her response and I would decide to keep quiet. Looking back, I probably should have addressed the issues. She didn’t know what was bugging me – it’s not like she woke up in the morning with new ideas of how to frustrate my life, no. She just acted as she would in her own house. I was so bent on making her comfortable that I neglected my own needs in my own home. I discussed some of these things with my husband and he also felt I should have called her out on some of the issues. However, the one thing I really wanted to call her out on, when I told my husband about it, he sided with her! Thank God I held my tongue.
I learnt a lot about myself in those years and I’ve started preparing myself to be the ‘Sister-in-law’ my siblings will need and even the ‘Mother-in-law’ my children will need. Even while writing this I’ve wondered, what would my Sister-in-law say about me when given the opportunity?
Being different doesn’t have to be terrible. Remember that marriage is a very new beginning. I remember my husband saying I was too familiar with my siblings and they don’t’ respect me enough. That was his view. I felt he didn’t have any fun in his family as everyone was too serious. His view meant that I couldn’t do some things I had previously done with my siblings like going out for certain events. A year into our marriage he said he wanted to improve the relationship he had with his siblings because he has seen the benefits of the relationship I have with my siblings. Other issues are still under consideration, but it is so cool to see how we are both changing and improving each other and our families. No matter how much you love your spouse, there will be differences to deal with. Your attitude in the matter is key. Yes, my family is amazing and anyone blessed enough to become a member of my family should thank God forever; but the person who said, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” was not joking.In short, that is one statement that comes up as a whisper whenever I am about to flip to the other side.
We may not always have been the ones to receive a piece of advice primarily and as such, they may appear like little whispers when they come into our subconscious. I do not think this should undermine their value as we can always use these to improve our relationships.
Do have a great Bank Holiday Weekend.
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