In Laws

A two years old girl named Himaya was playing in the grass in front of the river while her mum named Sonia was watching her with one eye and following what her mother in laws was doing and saying with the other eye. Himaya had a white dress that became larger and larger from her ribs to her feet. A pink line of flowers was surrounding the dress at each level. It gave the impression that the dress had stairs with a pink colour in between them. Her hair was attached with pink and white elastic. Her shoes were white and the laces were pink as well. Sonia and her mother in-laws were wearing black scarf with white lines and a long brown dress covering them from head to toe.

While Himaya was playing, her mum and her grand-mother were looking at the river without exchanging words. When the mother in law was opening her mouth, it was to tell her daughter in law to pay more attention to Himaya. Although Sonia was doing what her in-law was asking, she nonetheless mentioned to her that there was nothing to be worry about because she was taking care of everything. Sonia did not venture to disobey Himaya grand-mother. She knew that doing so would simply make her life miserable because the moment they would get back home, all her brother in-laws including her husband and perhaps especially her husband and sisters in-law would hear about it and she would be scolded for refusing to take care appropriately of her child. Her husband in particular would be irritated because she would have embarrassed him in front of his family and brothers. Indeed if she was able to disobey to his mum, if she did not respect her mum’s husband, it meant that she did not respect anybody in the family especially him. The translation of that was that he was not able to control his wife and therefore was weak. He was not a real man if he was not able to make his wife do what he wanted her to do. Even worst was that, there was a possibility that she was the man in the house. His brothers would invite him to increase his control over her and to be less lenient than he had been before. It could also go to hands if they found it necessary. There was absolutely no way she would go there.

In front of them, she would not even be able to explain herself because it would only make matter worst. Just the fact that she answered that everything was alright and she was taking care of everything without any problem was already extremely risky and courageous. She could get in trouble for that. In the past, whenever she had been in conflict with her mother in-laws, all her sons and daughters were against her and were telling her that Himaya grand-mother just had the best interest of her kid and she knew how to raise them because she had raised all of them. It was therefore in her best interest to learn how to do it from her. They added that they did not understand why she wanted to keep her grand-daughter away from her. They told her that she should not be jealous of her daughter and that her daughter and herself would benefit from the attention and care that she was willing to give them. Instead of rejecting it, she should feel happy, privileged and should definitely encourage such behaviour.

It was indeed the way things were in her family. The traditions wanted them to live together except for the girls when they got married. Sometimes though, even if the girls were married, they would stay in their parents house if the husband had not established himself very well or if she was pregnant and was alone with her husband. Indeed, if she was pregnant, staying in her parents’ house provided several advantages. Instead of being alone in her apartment with her husband, she was taken care of by her mum, sisters in laws and sisters who were not married yet. They gave her food, massages, support and she was able to rest without any problem. This usually happened for the first child and sometimes the second and third if her husband did not have his own family. If he did have his own family around in the same city he was living in, his wife would go in his own family instead of hers.

As for the men, they were supposed to live in their parent’s house. It was not so much that they could not afford taking another house for each man who was married but the traditions made them stay together. They were stronger, united and they took care of each other. Everybody was looking out for the others. It was also a great way to save money. It helped to keep the money in the family, to control the spending and to control the behaviour of the members of the family. It also gave some leverage to keep some money aside in order to buy an apartment or a house later.

By staying in the house, the girls the men married, were supposed to learn from their mother in-law how to behave, how to take care of the house, how to take care of their husband directly from the knowledge and wisdom of the woman who raised them.

It was helping everybody. They all benefited from these arrangements. The downside of it was that they did not have their privacy. They could not decide matter for their own family. Everything was done in the spirit of togetherness and the girls and sometimes the men did not have much to say about the decision making even if they did have their own ideas. Everybody was fighting to have his opinion heard. As it easy to imagine, this situation did not give the women in the family much place to voice their opinion unless they knew how to manipulate the men or the situation to their advantage. They would either try to convince their husband to fight for what they want or when the discussions would take place, they would try to move the situation in one direction or another depending on what they want and their ability to cease the momentum.

In these circumstances, women had to use all tools available to them. They had to have their husband support as well as the support of other men in the family. They had to present themselves not only as perfect wives but as well as perfect sister in-laws and perfect daughter in-laws. It represented several advantages because when the time to ask for what they needed would come, it was the person that was the most loved that would receive the most. Their case would be helped by the character they would have shown over the period of time preceding the discussion to determine who gets what.

Therefore they would do everything they could to present themselves as the most deserving of their trust and they would appeal to the imagery of the woman they like the most. They would do anything to fit that image. This created a sense of competition between the sisters as well as among the sisters-laws. All the sisters were fighting for the role of the most perfect one and pushed back the sisters-in laws and the sisters in-laws were doing everything they could to be regarded as the most knowledgeable, the most helpful and the most caring. Among the women, the ranking usually was the mother, the sisters and the sister in-laws. This ranking could change according to the ability of either the sister in-laws, or the sisters to play people within the family.

The one sister everybody would love could have a seemingly power to rule over the others sisters and also the sisters in-laws. The one who was regarded as the most respectful and supported everybody when ever it was needed among the sister in-laws could rule over the sister in-laws and if they were smart, their influence could be even higher than the one of the sisters. There was therefore an unsaid competition among them. Everybody was fighting for the stronger position in the family.

It was within this context that Sonia left the house because she wanted to breathe. When her mother in-law said that she wanted to follow her, she did not say anything. She did not mention that she wanted to be alone. She just agreed. She could not fully answer what she would have like to answer to her when she was telling her how to raise her child. Too many things were at stake. One mistake could plunge her and Himaya and to certain extend her husband as well in a situation where their position could be compromised. She would not let that happen.


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