This weekend my mum-in-law is flying back to Pakistan after staying with us for the last five months. She is here for about six months every year and her coming and going usually means lots of change in our home and family routine.
I have written before (in The Art of Living With Your In-Laws) about how I initially struggled to get on with her, but how eventually we found the middle ground and learned to live together without upsetting each other – letting small things go and learning to accept our differences. Two years on, I view her parting with mixed feelings.
Living with your in-laws can be challenging, even after so many years, I occasionally still find myself a little resentful or fed up. One of the difficulties I faced was my mother-in-law’s poor health. This made her much less mobile and consequently all of us less mobile as we didn’t like to leave her at home on her own for too long.
I also struggled with her anxiety and depression in the beginning. I found myself coming home from a long day at work to spend time trying to reassure her and cheer her up. Over time, alhamdulillah I have noticed her depression lifting and this being less of a problem, but in the beginning I found it wore me down each day.
Probably the hardest I found was not being able to say no to her. So if she wanted to go somewhere, or come early from somewhere it had to happen that way. If she wanted certain things to be cooked or household chores to be done, I felt that they had to be done, even if I thought my time would be better spent in a different way. In this way she is very similar to my mum and as with my mum I couldn’t say no. I think the way I have been raised embeds obedience very deeply and to refuse to do what a mother or mother-in-law asks feels equivalent to being a bad daughter or daughter-in-law. As always, as I write this, I am finding a lot of this is in my head and I let my over-thinking hobble me like nothing else can.
On the other hand, when she has been well, she has helped with the school run and the housework. She watched the kids whilst hubby dropped to work in the morning. She minded the children when I needed to pop across the road to get a carton of milk, saving me the frustration of spending 20 minutes getting three children ready to go across the road to pick up one thing.
She was also a second feminine influence in the home, contrasting to hubby’s obsession with building work and vehicles and the two boys’ rowdiness (and obsession with construction blocks and toy cars). She and Little Lady are fast friends, with Little Lady sneaking out of bed to get into her grandmothers bed.
Most importantly though, I believe it is extremely beneficial to have an elder in the home for so many reasons. They are in a position to pass on their life lessons so that we don’t make the same mistakes they have – in both the small matters and the big ones. They give us a powerful sense of our own mortality. Having my grandmother live with me for two years meant that I learnt to value and treasure each day of health and mobility – you may hate housework, but there might be a day when you wish you were well enough to do these things for yourself.
The blessing that elders bring to our homes are also invaluable: spending time engaged in dhikr (remembrance of Allah SWT), getting up for tahajjud (the might prayer). Spending time making dua for each and every one of their family members – what is there that comes close to a mothers supplications for her children?
Some of these things I will feel the loss of in our home, I am a little worried bout how I am going to manage, now that I have gotten so used to her being here. Mum-in-law is likely to be back in a few months insh’Allah (in time for a family wedding insh’Allah). In the meantime, I plan to let the laundry pile up, and the dishes, guilt-free...