• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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BusinessDay

Blending family traditions

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While couples usually choose each other, they certainly don’t opt for the in-laws that come their way from both sides. ANNE AGBAJE offers the male perspective to this contentious issue

Banji thought his in-laws would only reside at his place for a week. So when they arrived, he treated them to the best hospitality he could offer.

At the weekend, he took his brothers and sisters-in-law to the club while on his way back home from work, and stopped by at a farm shop to purchase frozen food for the whole family. Naturally, his in-laws felt they were in for a great time; hence they decided to stay for two extra days which turned out to be weeks and eventually months. Before long, their protracted stay resulted in little fights between Banji and his wife.

“They’re here for the week,” says Banji. “In-law jokes are as old as the hills, and a sure sign that we’re not the first to come into such conflicts. There are many reasons why we find it hard to adore such folks, but it always boils down to the impact we feel they have on the relationship. They are the ‘third party’, after all, and bound to be an influence. The problems arise when we feel this influence becomes invasive, but aren’t able to express ourselves without risking a big row.”

Attempting to blend family traditions and lifestyles is never easy. It takes open communication and a sincere desire to get along with new in-laws. The most important thing is not to meddle in other family members’ affairs, but to give and take within each relationship.

“Getting along is often impeded by misplaced loyalty,” observes Bayo Adeojo, a father. “Clinging to parental loyalty is a major obstacle to overcome when developing successful marital relationships. Adult children need to become more loyal to their mate than to their parents. It’s in the best interest of everyone involved for the new couple to establish their loyalty to each other rather than to the parents who raised them. Failure to negotiate a loyalty switch causes a tug of war that uses the child as a rope being pulled in different directions by different family members. Sometimes the loyalty switch can be devastating for a parent, but letting go is part of the inevitable process of growing up.”

Family experts, meanwhile, say parents’ exaggerated opinion of their child’s desirability and eligibility can cause additional problems in a marriage. Parents who think their child married “beneath them,” for instance, are never going to accept the spouse. This struggle of acceptance and loyalty can cause tremendous strain on a relationship.

“When the married child carries around this exaggerated opinion of himself and his family, it can lead to unfair comparisons,” explains Seun Adigun, a family psychologist. “If a man negatively compares his wife’s cooking to his mother’s culinary abilities, then he is comparing plums to prunes, so to speak. While his wife may have a few years of experience in the kitchen, his mother was stirring soup and poking pot roasts long before his wife was even born.”

Adigun says another common beef about cooking surrounds family celebrations and legacies that are passed from one generation to the next. “A marriage is not just between two people, but between two family legacies. Unrealistic parents may feel betrayed by children who adopt traditions from another family or create new traditions,” he adds.

In most cultures, mothers-in-law on both sides have a particularly nasty reputation to overcome. The stereotypical scheming, won’t-untie-the-apron-strings mother-of-the-man-you-married is a myth that a man has to overcome. Even so, practising tolerance and leniency in judging others sounds like a good idea for outlaw in-laws of all ages, sexes, and nationalities whether they live next door or thousands of miles away.

Bola Orilonise, a counsellor, offers that creating a safe distance between families is always the best option. “After trying to openly communicate, sincerely get along, and set realistic expectations, sometimes the only solution to strained relationships is to put physical distance between the offended parties for awhile. Today’s mobile families aren’t as close as they used to be in previous generations, with college, career, and friends making convenient excuses for young people to escape from troubled families and move to new locations. Distance may help keep the peace and help the heart grow fonder. Weekly telephone calls to catch up on events could be all that’s required to maintain a healthy relationship with the in-laws,” she explains.

“We don’t choose our in-laws and a woman who must marry me must love me, love my parents!” exclaims Seun Onajobi, a father of four. “There is no passionate love affair to be had here. It’s the wife who means the world to us, but parents still come as part of the package. Issues often arise because we just cannot bring ourselves to embrace them as some kind of surrogate mother and father. It’s all down to torn loyalties, of course, which can make it near impossible to have a calm and rational discussion.”

Although most relationships are fragile in the beginning, when they start off on equal ground, they continue to develop and strengthen as the marriage matures. When the marital relationship succeeds, the relationship with the in-laws usually succeeds, too.