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Mother-in-Law x2

Hama Hama, Lo Malak as-Sama

A mother-in-law is a mother-in-law, even if she is an angel of heaven.

(Egyptian proverb)

As Julie is due to deliver our third child later this month, my mom and her mom arrived today to help out with whatever they can. They will stay with us two weeks before and two weeks after, raising the eyebrows of many of our Egyptian friends.

The attitude of Americans to a mother-in-law is probably well known to most of our readers; the proverb above signals this may be an international sentiment. In traditional Arab/Egyptian culture the mother-son bond is very strong, trumping even the relationship between a husband and wife. In fact, it is not uncommon (though this is changing) that a newlywed couple move directly into the housing compound, if not the family home of the husband itself. This puts a new wife in subjection to the mother of the groom, and a competition can develop for the son’s/husband’s affection. Furthermore, marriages traditionally were encouraged/arranged to be within the extended family or tribe. Close proximity of relatives is seen as a societal strength; it can also be a stimulant for mother-in-law friction.

No cultural explanation is necessary to wonder about how two mothers-in-law might jostle over the attention of grandchildren. Both will wish to help; both may have different ways of helping, or more dangerously, different advice about child rearing in general. The wife-mother-mother-in-law triangle can be difficult to navigate. Spread this out over a month … we have received sympathies from both sides of the Atlantic.

To put the reader at ease, and moreover any family which might be reading, my mom and Julie’s mom have a good relationship. They come from two different but neighboring states, but as they live near the common border the two families have exchanged visits even when we are not around. Both have left husbands behind to themselves; neither has traveled extensively alone. We anticipate this visit will have a positive bonding experience between the two, and with two and soon a third grandchild to go around, there will be ample opportunity to divide the affections. Both Julie and I enjoy the other’s family, including the mother-in-law. People raise their eyebrows, but we just chuckle and express our appreciation for them coming.

Of course, we will know better in a month. We think they are angels; might the Egyptians have a clearer perception?

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