Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Art of Living With Your In-Laws

With my in-laws back living with me alhamdulillah, it took me to thinking about living harmoniously and issues of control, privacy and co-operation.

I enjoy my in-laws extended visits, especially the long meals, the long walks and the long talks, with laughter late into the early hours of the morning at time. This means that at the moment our home is busy but pleasant. It hasn’t always been this way though and it has taken a bit of work and growing up from everyone to get to this point.

Mum-in-Law

The first time my mother-in-law came to stay there were tears, arguments and sulks on both sides, with my poor husband trying to mediate as best he could. We are both fairly strong-willed and used to getting our way. We both had to learn that sometimes it is better to step back and let small things go.

The second time my mother-in-law came to stay, she had already been diagnosed with Hepatitis C and we were not sure how much time she had with us as she had been told her illness was untreatable. I wanted to keep her happy and as well as possible given the situation. She wanted me to be happy and at ease with her. The small things seemed so irrelevant, we had reached a point where we were both willing to capitulate to the others way of doing things.

So I suppose for my mother-in-law, the art of living together involved not “sweating the small stuff” as it were, letting go. If she wanted more chilli in the curry, fine. I didn’t want to hoover that minute, fine.

Of course, it’s not always small stuff. During a stay with her in Pakistan, she wanted me to take my hijab off for a wedding, I was mortified. I had to ask for assistance from hubby, who waited until my mother-in-law was within ear-shot and commanded sternly “just because you are going to a wedding, don’t think you can take your hijab off”. I was killing myself with laughter. That’s not to judge her harshly, because a year later when she came to stay with me, she left wearing hijab and abaya mash’Allah.

There was also the matter of control, at first I felt I could not cook what I want, leave the house in a mess if I wanted to or spend my money how I wanted to. This was not because of anything she said but because of my assumptions and because she would not sit still. She has worked hard and been careful with her money her entire life and sickness has not changed that habit. If the cooking or cleaning or laundry was not done she would rush to do it her way. So I learned to get it done myself at the first opportunity or delegate to my husband or brother-in-laws with the maxim that “your mum is ill, she needs rest, so get this done before she does” – I can’t believe this worked.

I also had to deal with my assumptions that she thought me lazy, spendthrift, or wasteful. She has never actually said any of these things so I need to give her the benefit of the doubt. I had to remember that I’m an adult and I can spend my time and money in the way that I choose. If anyone says anything about this, then I can take their comments on board and thank them for their concern but then totally ignore it if I choose to.

Father-in-Law

Living with my father-in-law was a whole different kettle of fish. I think he is wonderful, he is the doting parent that any girl would wish for and we have in common a liking for the things that bore the entire rest of the family: history, museums, academia (we both loved Stonehenge, whilst the everyone else could not see the interest in a bunch of old rocks). My youngest brother-in-law (I have five mash’Allah) once said to me that even if he brings five more daughters-in-law, he’ll still adore you more than the others put together. So you can imagine we have a mutual fan club there.

We weren’t without our teething problems though. Dad-in-law wasn’t aware of when he could be critical. So his comments about my cooking, how well my sister-in-law dressed and how beautiful she was knocked my confidence quite a bit. This was not intentional and if he had known he would have been mortified. I had to learn though to accept how I am and to accept my cooking as it was. I had to remind myself that I don’t have to impress anyone but Allah (SWT) and that I didn’t need anyone’s approval. I still don’t have much confidence in the kitchen, but I’m not too fussed anymore about what people think about me.

Regarding privacy, during the in-laws first visit, I was breast-feeding Gorgeous, so I had to make it very, very clear that when my bedroom door is closed, no-one comes in. That has held so that when I need quiet- or alone- time I can just go in my room and shut the door.

Brothers-in-Law

My brothers-in-law are my age and younger so we share a mind-set, however, they are also non-Mahram for me. I have written about this before and although I think highly of all of them and we have a relationship of mutual respect (and they all make me laugh myself silly), I still dress modestly when they are around and cover my hair, including at home. This can feel bothersome at times, especially as I want to look nice for my husband, but I am now used to it and to be honest this is not a problem when we only have the older brother-in-law with us because he is rarely home.

Uqba bin Amir reported Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) as saying: Beware of getting, into the houses and meeting women (in seclusion). A person from the Ansir said: Allah’s Messenger, what about husband’s brother, whereupon he said: Husband’s brother is like death. ~ Muslim 8:26:5400

Although there is no obligation in Islam on a woman to care for her in-laws, there is an obligation to care for our parents. If we viewed our in-laws in the same way as our parents, with the same empathy and concern, we would be willing to change our behaviour a little and guide them gently to adjust theirs. Also they ARE my husband’s parents and because he is wonderful and I truly believe he deserves paradise, I want to help him serve them and make his way to his reward insh’Allah.

Finally, we will all one day be old if death does not reach us first. The way the elderly are treated today is sad and frightening. What is to say things will be any different from us – alone, uncared for and robbed blind? I believe that we are paid back for what we do (Allah SWT is truly just) and if we care for our elders perhaps someone will carefor us. I also know that children learn from what we do and not what we say. If we make caring for our elders, even difficult ones, the norm in our homes, they might just extend the same treatment to us as the perfectly natural way to behave.

“And your Lord has commanded that you shall not serve (any) but Him, and that you shall show goodness to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, say not to them (so much as) “Ugh” nor chide them, and speak to them a generous word.” ~ Quran 17:23

Narrated 'Abdullah: I asked the Prophet (PBUH) "Which deed is the dearest to Allah?" He replied, "To offer the prayers at their early stated fixed times." I asked, "What is the next (in goodness)?" He replied, "To be good and dutiful to your parents" I again asked, "What is the next (in goodness)?" He replied, 'To participate in Jihad (religious fighting) in Allah's cause." 'Abdullah added, "I asked only that much and if I had asked more, the Prophet would have told me more." ~ Bukhari 1:10:505

22 comments:

  1. Masha'Allah what a lovely post and one I truly enjoyed reading very much...I salute you and the beautiful way in which you handled the relationships...even an old lady like me can learn a lot from you :-D

    Take care xxx

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    1. A lovely article. Alhamdulillah we should try our best with in laws but NOT go out of our way in terms of priorities: our children, husband and home. In laws must treat us like their own daughters, it is purely reciprical unlike our parents who are our obligation. I am glad there has been a postive change in your relationship but it seems like it only came about because your mother in law is terminally ill. Unfortunately, we all can not enjoy that luxury and so have no choice to grit and bear. All the best.

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  2. What a great post sister, what a great post. First of all I have to thank you for sharing it with us. :-) May Allah reward you because you helped me with this post, it's not important how exactly you helped. Hope you will write more of these kind of posts. Thanks again.

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  3. Assalam-alaikam,

    Sis Washi,
    behave!! You're not old.
    Also, this post is not to say things are perfect, I just let things go more (or act deaf!!)

    Sis Alisa,
    it's good to share these experiences because I know so many sisters will follow down the same route.

    Sis UmmSaaz,
    jazakh'Allah-khairun for your kind comment.

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  6. Truly inspirational. I am a non-Muslim western white male. I currently have my mother-in-law living with me to help look after our three children while my wife returns to work.
    I was searching the web for inspiration about how to live with this sometimes fraught and difficult situation. And I confess your worlds have humbled me and made me re-consider my own anxieties around having my wife's parents live with us.
    You have helped me to see that I need to give (my mother in law in particular) more freedom with my children, maybe let a few things go that I would not normally consider acceptable (too many treats, giving-in to tantrums etc.) Ultimately my children will learn to respect their Grandparents and subsequently the elders in society more if I set them a good example.
    Thank you for sharing your wise words with us.

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  7. Ican very much realte to this, its very nicely put, and its inspired me too that it doesn't really matter if i am typical pakistani living with my in laws. its better than them living on their own in the days when they really need their son and me.
    thankyou

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  8. Jazakhallahkhairan sister, for this wonderful and inspiring post...i have a mother-in law who just moved in with us-who is both mentally and now physically handicapped...and alot of the work piles up on me...not to mention the frustration...but sometimes i forget that perhaps Allah (swt) is giving me an opportunity to earn a reward in helping her,inshallah...reading posts like yours helps remind me.

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  9. Anonymous16 June, 2010

    Jazak Allah Khair for your post. It helped me find comfort in the fact that I'm not alone. What you said perfectly encapsulated how I feel. My mother in law lives with us and is extremely sweet and respectful. I find it difficult because I had all these dreams of creating a home with a husband but find myself hesitant to do so because I don't want to step on her already established ways. The other thing is that she is always home, literally! I find it hard to get down time without retreating to my room and then feeling guilty about it. I just wish sometimes I could have the space to run the house the way I wanted to. Like you said in your post, you didn't feel comfortable doing things and you were hesitant to do things even though no one was saying anything to you or stopping you. I feel the same way--I was used to living with my parents before who knew that I liked to be out and about and now I feel I need to explain where I'm going and for how long. I didn't think i'd need to do that once I got married and was living in 'my' home.

    I will revisit your post and find comfort in the words you and others posted. Jazak Allah Khair again.

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  10. Interesting perspective. Definitely a positive way to look at a difficult situation. I got married about two years ago. I grew up in the West and my in-laws are from Pakistan. Simply put, I've been raised in the U.S.A. We do have islamic values in my mothers home of hijjab and prayer and remembrance of Allah. However, we also had some Western values of independence, privacy, freedom, etc.

    Almost a year ago, I had a baby and my in-laws came to visit and it was just a nightmare in the beginning. My mother in law was used to having servants. She had too many expectations of me and not much of anyone else. One day her children(adults) were out, and I was upstairs taking care of my baby and so I could not tend to her as much. She said to my husband "what kind of wife is she" I was mortified. I cried my eyes out. I had never been so hurt in my life. My image of my mother in law was tarnished. I was having difficulty with breastfeeding as well as other problems associated with post pregnancy. What started out as a short term visit turned out to be a long term ordeal where they started to live with us.

    We faced many challenges. Sometimes my in-laws do not like my food as for them it was "too spicy" or "not enough salt" or "sour" or you name it they have said it. I still get nervous every time I prepare a meal, whether they will like it or hate it. Cooking used to be fun for me but now it is a very psychological ordeal. Sometimes my mother in law would get upset if my husband took me out rather then her.

    It was worse in the beginning then it is now. I think everyone needs an adjustment period. I feel that I'm still not quite there yet. Again you have to consider that I spent nearly 20 or so years in the West and she has spent nearly 50 or so in South Asia. I still feel that she has doubts about my competence.

    Things have improved slightly. However, it is still challenging. It's not easy being at home with hijjab most of the time. I always dreamed of having a home with my husband and children. Where I can let my hair down and just look magnificent for him. But the fact of the matter is, he still thinks I am beautiful, hair up or down. I'm sure he feels it as well wanting to be with just me. But the way I see it, I have a mom, I have brothers. They will get married someday and I want their wife to be a reflection of me. In that, I treat my mother in law with love and respect and if I do that then its "what goes around comes around". Insha Allah my mother will also be treated with love and respect by her daughter in laws.

    I do not talk back. If something upsets me, I sigh, take a step back and re-evaluate the situation. I figure if I get upset it won't hurt anyone but myself. The situation is what it is. I have faith that things will improve maybe they will figure things out and realize sometimes a woman and her husband need space. But until then all I have his prayer and all I can be is respectful and after that it is ultimately up to Allah.

    But the fact of the matter is that I love her son. And she raised him since birth. So regardless of how she may treat me at times, she created this beautiful creature and who grew up to be a caring, kind, compassionate human being. He is amazing to me. And I love him with all my heart for the sake of Allah as well as as a person. So for him I can be patient and kind and Allah is aware. And insha Allah, I will be rewarded for my efforts.

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  11. Subhanallah what a wonderful post. I have personally suffered so much abuse that I feel I can never say its water under the bridge. I have a wonderful husband and he has two brothers and three sisters all of whom the mother in law has poisoned against us. The disagreement came over some business issues and for the past 10years we are the black sheep of the family. When ever we go to their house we are treated like ordinary guests not least to say family members. It breaks my heart because my husband has good heart and he definately did not derserve this and as for me my mother in law did not like me from day one. I feel because of me my husband's mum will never truly make up with him.

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  12. Anonymous26 June, 2012

    Salam, reading ur post is too good to be true, i love my husband more than anything in the world.. but my in laws do not want to leave him alone, when we got married they decided to live with me. Why me?? So they can turn my life to hell... I cant even say a word to them and its been 3 years.. and i dont complain to my husband... Theyre old but they are the most annoying people on earth... I seriously. Cant wait for them to get the hell out of my life for good...

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    1. Anonymous23 July, 2012

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  13. Anonymous29 June, 2012

    Assalamu alaikum, I struggle with this issue a lot, and have spent 4 of my nearly 7 years of marriage living apart from my in-laws before moving back in with them. I just don't see why I am in the wrong for wanting a normal life, with my own home where I can raise my children in the way I want. It saddens me that there are so many sisters out there who are being made unhappy by these cultural expectations. I sometimes even think about living on my own with my children and letting my husband live with his family, so I can have some independence from them.

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  14. salam, oh my gosh i don't know how you do it sister ive been living with my mother in law, husbands sister, his brother and wife and their kids for 4 years now and it is killing my marriage. i am a white convert and my husband is bengali we discussed living arrangments before marriage and he said we would live in his mums house for maximum of 2 years and then move out so i agreed. We got married and i moved in and fell pregnant a year and a half later that was when i spoke to him about moving out soon. He refused to move out and said this is our home. We have had countless arguments over this my son is now 2 and a half and i have just had another baby! Now i am stuck with 2 kids in 1 bedroom but he still does not see a problem even though i stress that i am unhappy with the situation. Islamically when your husband arrives home after seeing numerous beautiful women not wearing many clothes you are supposed to be looking nice for him to appreciate you as his wife. You can't do this in your inlaws its embarassing having a full face of make up and nice clothes on like that. So it is not possible to fulfill your duties as a wife. Oh and the interfering is unbelievable, seriously it is never ending! I want my kids to be brought up according to islam not according to culture but when you live with your inlaws they constantly poke their noses in. I am now going to move inshallah with my husband, if not just me and the kids and he can stay with mummy. I have told him i am sorting out moving out for us but he says he is not going to go so it will be my fault that the marriage breaksdown! I have been patient and have put up with enough crap now i want my own space where if i need to go to the toilet during the night i don't have to get dressed like im going out before i leave my room! Subhanallah it is ridiculous i don't know why these men bother to get married they should just stay with their mums. Cos my husband isn't bothered about the tears i cry over the situation but after i told his mum i wanted to move out she was fine with me then my husband came home late from work while i was in our room she started the crocodile tears about us leaving. How selfish shes only worried about what other people will say not about me or our marriage! And hes only bothered about not making her unhappy but its ok for me to be unhappy living here.

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  15. assalmo alaikum very difficult i have in laws constantly visting me and staying for stretches of more then 2 months there is no privacy and i am emotionally and mentally disturbed and am only in this marriage for the sake of my children.May Allah give us all the strength.

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  16. Subhanallah,

    It brings me great comfort to read of so many sisters with similar situations as me.
    I too have issues with mother in law and grandmother in law. They both make my life difficult with my husband. They backbite and complain about small things. Like the food, the way i dress, how much time i spend with my husband or them. Constant complaining.
    My husband doe not let it affect us. But when we are with his family we do not get any privacy, or a moment alone. If we go off for a few moments they come hunting for us... calling and shouting the house down. Even going out alone together to spend some time, we are given orders when to be back.
    Alhamdulillah, they live in a different country. And now i know how to deal with it better. Let it go in one ear and out the other. And do what i want. Of course i am kind to them... but i wont let them hurt me with thier words or insults.

    My husband wants to move back to our "home" country in 5 years time. We will have our own house about 40 mins walk from his family. But he wants his mum to move in. I can cope with just his mum alone. So alhamdulillah i can make things work, inshallah!

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  17. Anonymous27 June, 2013

    I am none muslim my son is a converted muslim and my daughter in law is a muslim where can we get help with our relationship

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    1. Hi Anonymous,
      I suspect that the same place non-Muslim's go would be helpful - i.e. relationship or family counselling of some kind. We don't have formal priesthood, but a local imam who is trusted and experienced might be a useful source of help too. Might be worth checking out family counselling groups such as:
      http://www.sakinah.org.uk/4466.html
      http://www.sakoon.co.uk/

      Sorry can't offer better advice.
      I hope you can find a way to get on and that your son finds a way to balance the rights of his mother with the rights of his wife.

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  18. Also they ARE my husband’s parents and because he is wonderful and I truly believe he deserves paradise, I want to help him serve them and make his way to his reward insh’Allah.

    This brought tears in my eyes, what a wonderful mindset. Your blog made my day, thank you for that.

    May Allah (S) makes you successful in this world and hereafter.

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