Have you managed to live with your in-laws for a substantial period of time? Do you find that you’ve developed a superpower that allows you to deal with almost every difficult social and professional situation life throws at you? Well, you’re not alone! This secret society of Muslim women exists, whose success stories of living in an extended family are unsung.
Often treated a cultural relic, living with your in-laws is often an economic necessity or a transitional phase for many couples. Here’s a compilation of advice on how living with in-laws can become more than just “time lost”, but instead a chance to develop a few character strengths…
Deferring to the house rules of a mother-in-law always feels harder than doing what your Mum says. And usually when there are other young adults in the house, any double standards stick out like a sore thumb. Readiness to take a few comments and criticisms is a quality worth nurturing. Good communication is hugely important in families but to achieve that you will have to put your ego on the line. Put simply, if you want to give feedback, you must be willing to receive it. And receive it you will. Even if it seems unreasonable, it’s necessary to give people the space to be able to express their feelings so that issues don’t fester and misunderstandings are dealt with in the open.
It’s easy to behave nicely in the workplace or with your friends because you’re only with them for a few hours. And if you’re tired, emotional or it’s that time of the month you can always excuse yourself. But living with people is 24/7 exposure. You will make mistakes. You will snap at people. You will be lazy. You are a human being and you are fallible and if you keep denying this to yourself and others, there will be conflict. Get used to facing up to your mistakes and saying sorry when you ought to.
- Sabr (patience and forbearance)
You married your husband – but you didn’t marry his family. You may not love them and sometimes they may not love you. Where this situation arises one of the most liberating things to realise and embrace is that you don’t all have to love each other live together.
Fear Allah and don’t fear people; honour your responsibilities and don’t let your behaviour be dictated by other people’s mood-swings. Remember: you will be asked in the grave about how you treated other people and whether you fulfilled your responsibilities. You won’t be asked “how did so-and-so treat you?”. The way people treat you does affect the way you treat them – but make sure it’s not the only factor that influences your manners.
Remember your upbringing, remember your principles and remember your manners. It is very likely that these are the very qualities that Allah will test in you. We expect the previous generation to be flexible to our needs – but if we are truly a modern, enlightened generation, we should have the capacity to excuse and forgive those who are stuck in their ways.
Think about all the times where a husband has had to make a choice between making his Mum or his wife happy. Answer: Don’t make your husband choose! ‘Wife’ and ‘mother’ are two very different roles. Create room in his life for his Mum and encourage him to use it – and maybe suggest ways he can make his Mum happy. Although you’re not obliged to your mother-in-law, you should know that your husband’s love for you will be even deeper if you treat his mother with respect. As the saying goes; blood is thicker than water.
People will tell you that you need to be patient, but we hear less about how you need to be generous. Remember how we learn that giving sadaqah does not make you poorer? Well, the same is true with your love and your time. If you are generous with your love to those who have a right to it, it will not make you any less loved. If you give up your time with your husband so that he can spend an afternoon with his mother, you will have more baraka in the time you spend with your husband. Be generous to your mother-in-law. Let her show her love to her son; it won’t diminish his love for you or make your love for him look like any less.
Punishment is a state of mind. You might be spending your day cooking and cleaning, whereas you used to be in the library; but there is something to be learnt in every stage of life – it’s just about finding a way. From listening to podcasts whilst cleaning the toilets to learning traditional recipes that have been handed down for generations, there might be an opportunity to grow that you’re missing out on.
Resourcefulness can make the difference between thriving or constantly waiting to get out. Every living situation has costs and benefits so don’t make a habit of focussing on costs.
Remind yourself of the benefits – and strategize on how you can maximise on them. Things don’t just happen because you wish they would – or because in somebody else’s house it happens. Is there a particular day of the week or time of day that the children are likely to have a positive time with their grandparents i.e. not when they’re tired and will put the kids in front of the TV? If you have older children, is there a specific skill they could learn from a grandparent e.g. making roti, good handwriting. Children will always have a natural respect for someone who teaches them something and the elderly will gain satisfaction from having relevance in their grandchildren’s lives.
- Owning it!
It’s important to create familiarity in an alien place. So, lay out your desk the way it was, put your books out the way they were and take ownership on your personal space, however small that might be. Maintain regular contact with your friends and family – even if your husband is the bee’s knees, don’t forget your old network.
And don’t feel guilty to carve out “me” time. This will make your lifestyle sustainable. The key thing to note here is realise that very few people will voluntarily offer it to you; you have to ask for it and have the confidence to do so.
And the elephant in the room: housework. It’s very common that women of an older age have become consumed by housework, like an unrewarding career that they’re locked into and are either dying to escape or wanting to drag everyone else into. Work out a ritual of tidying and cleaning that is comprehensive and workable and then get out and live your life. Try to lead by example, rather than leaving a mess behind and walking out of the door for your mother-in-law to clear up.
We hope that you benefit from some or all of these ideas and hope that anyone living with their in-laws can take some courage so that you can make it work!
About the writer:
A Muslim Mama whose excellent education simply didn’t prepare her for life as a mother to 3 children.
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