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Published Muslim Views December,2008

The ‘mother-in-law joke is an old chestnut that resonates throughout the world, irrespective of class, culture or faith. At its most basic it is woman against woman, a struggle for power, control and establishing boundaries.
It is extremely prevalent in our community that women are raised and programmed to nurture others, especially our children. We reach the point that when we are no longer needed, we feel as if we have been deprived of oxygen. When we have raised our child, be it son or daughter, to the best of our ability, we need to trust their choices, and we have to respect the partner they have taken, however we may disagree. According to Clinical Psychologist, Ferial Johnstone, when two people marry, each one comes with a covert contract of what a marriage should be. This contract is influenced by what they observed in the marriage of their parents, what they have heard from others, as well as the influence of the media. For instance, the young woman may have a mother who had a career, and so she expects that she will be working as well. Her mother in law may have stayed home and will unconsciously judge her for the fact that she is not devoting herself totally to husband and children. Through lack of communication, tension develops. The older woman constantly compares the younger woman with herself and finds her wanting. She in turn picks up that she is not good enough. The tension builds up and results in passive/aggressive behaviour. This eventually results in a full scale blow up when a seemingly insignificant incident acts as a trigger. When we judge others, and have certain expectations, we destroy each other, instead of being supportive and loving.

Johnstone says that most of the time we operate from a power dynamic, we come from a background of either oppression or justice. We oppress others depending on where we are at. Mothers fear the loss of their sons, particularly if she is a very strong person, and has a very close relationship with her son. She feels that no one is really good enough for her son. When she fears losing, either her son, or control, the unconscious behaviour is unjust and unfair.
The young woman, on the other hand, sees a very strong person, and her perception is that she needs to establish her territory. Unconsciously, she sets her boundaries; it is self-protective armour, which enables her to have a safe place in which she can operate.
There are really no evil mothers or daughters in law, each one of us act according to our perception of a situation. Najmunesa Solomon, Cognitive Therapist from PEG, attributes this to VALUES, PERCEPTIONS AND BELIEFS. She says that we all are raised with certain values; these values influence how we view life. Ultimately, these perceptions become our beliefs. In the case of the woman whose mother worked outside the home, she believes that she does not have to stay home, she can have a career. The mother who had always sacrificed her own needs for her husband and children believes that her way is the best way.
Another example is when a young woman learns that her mother had suffered under her own mother in-law. This colours her perception of what it will be like when she some day gets married.

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Unconsciously she builds up a resistance to possible abuse, and sets her boundaries from the outset. The mother in-law, who may be an angel, becomes aware of this, and reacts accordingly. Unfortunately, we are unaware of how our perceptions influence what we believe should be, and we end ripping each other apart.
So what is the solution?
The Older woman
•    Women need to realise that our children come through us, not for us. They are entrusted to us By Allah, but they belong to the future.
•    As difficult as it may be to accept, they reach the stage when they no longer need us, they will not run to mother with every little problem.
•    Once you realise this, you have a choice: either chew your nails and wail ‘my child does not need/want/love me anymore, and in most case blame the daughter in law; or you can pat yourself on the shoulder, not with Kibr, but in gratitude, and say: ‘Alhamdulillah, I did a good job”
•    If she gives you grief, try not to complain to your son, the last thing a man wants to do is choose between his wife and mother.
•    Trust, respect and accept your child’s choice of a life partner.
•    Motherhood moves in phases. Like royalty, when the new queen is crowned, the older woman becomes the dowager, and this role can be very rewarding. You now have all the pleasure, and none of the responsibility.
•    Realise that you will always be your son’s mother, but you can never be his wife.
•    Respect your new daughter, Allah has chosen her to bring your grand children into the world. If for nothing else, honour her for this.
•    Think back to how you felt as a new bride, all fired up with importance. Recognise where she is at and try for compassion.
•    The younger woman.
•    Try to focus on the fact that your mother-in-law was chosen to bring your husband into the world. If for nothing else, honour her for this.
•    If she gives you grief, try not to complain to your husband, the last thing a man wants to do is choose between his wife and mother.
•    The best thing to do is to tell her how she makes you feel, but do this with love and compassion.
•    If this does not help, just be pleasant and try to avoid too much contact.
•    As Ferial Johnstone says, communication is the key, but communication done in anger and frustration is counter –productive.
•    Make your marriage contract overt, that is, spell out your expectations.
•    A good thing to do, according to Najmunesa Solomon, is for the young people to list 10 values that they got from their respective families, compare them and focus on the similarities. Most marriages founder on the differences in values, which can be as low as only one or two.

•    Realise that you are the wife, but you can never be his mother. Jannah lies at the feet of the mother; it will be a supreme act of love if you help your husband to attain his Jannah.
•    Look at your children, try to see yourself as a mother in-law; with compassion, and try to understand where she is at.
Finally, do not be tempted to fall into PHDS (pull her down syndrome). There is no point in two women metaphorically trying to destroy each other. You both love the same man, and if you have nothing else in common, hold onto this fact, for the sake of Allah.
©Jasmine Khan

Whether it's praise, love, criticism, money, time, power, punishment, space, sorrow, laughter, need, pain, or pleasure... the more
of it that you give, the more of it you will receive.
If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another. If you wish to know that you are safe, cause another to know that they are safe. If you wish to better understand seemingly incomprehensible things, help another to better understand. If you wish to heal your own sadness or anger, seek to heal the sadness or anger of another.
Write the wrongs that are done to you in sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble. Let go of all emotions such as resentment and retaliation, which diminish you, and hold onto the emotions such as gratitude and joy, which increase you.
Arab Proverb
It's surprising how many persons go through life without ever recognizing that their feelings toward other people are largely determined by their feelings toward themselves, and if you're not comfortable within yourself, you can't be comfortable with others.
Sydney J. Harris, 1917-1986


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