Balancing Mother-Wife Relationship!

Thoughts on Mother's Day

The low point of my recent visit to Pakistan was meeting a friend who has essentially severed relations with his mother. Seeing that once-cheerful and easygoing young man, now full of seething resentment, was truly painful -- all the more so, for I was ineffective in helping him set things straight.

In a comparable situation several years ago a relative, after his marriage, had behaved in a similar way. Married to an insecure woman given to constant nagging, her spouse decided that the only way to survive was to surrender completely. Men like this begin to believe the fallacies of victim hood imposed on them and after a while they become their greatest proponents.

There are many wives guilty of exacerbating such problems. In order to maintain a stranglehold on the husband, his parents (the in-laws) are painted the darkest shade of black. My relative's mother was an ailing woman and he had been her favorite son. I thought of the awful guilt this man would feel if his mother was to die with their relations still strained.

I told him he needed to understand that all relationships are different, but that parents and spouses each have their place. Although lives and routines intersect, the dynamics of a relationship should not be displaced -- not if you want to avoid big trouble, especially in where matters of religion are concerned.

I advised the young man to mend his relations with his mother soon, for later regrets would be unchangeable. Later that evening I found his wife pacing my bedroom like a caged lion. "If he divorces me, I am not a professional and I have nowhere to go etc. etc...." she lamented to me. My reassuring remark, that "I never told him to divorce you" resulted in an elevated hissy fit. Clearly, the lady's insecurity was so enveloping and had become so entrenched in her mind that she believed her survival depended on the demonization of her mother-in-law.

Various verses in the Qur’an deal with maintaining, not severing, relations. (See: Qur’an 4: 8, 36; Qur’an 16: 90; Qur’an 17:26; Qur’an 24:22) But Surah Muhammad states it most succinctly:

"Then, is it to be expected of you, if you were put in authority, that you will do mischief in the land, and break your ties of kith and kin?" (Qur’an 47:22) The commentary of these verses is worth reading, for it underscores the premium that is placed on the maintenance of relationships despite disagreements and conflict.

When I was able to calm the young wife and explain my actual intent, she came up with a conspiracy theory: the mother would get her son to start divorce proceedings as soon as he started speaking to her on a regular basis. The wife's venom and ranting are still a vivid memory. Thankfully, however, the man normalized relations with his mother after a few weeks, without divorcing his wife. The mother died within a year.

The Qur'an places a high premium on the good treatment of parents and says in 46:15, "We have enjoined on man's kindness to his parents: In pain did his mother bear him, and in pain did she give him birth."

Also in Surah Ahqaf 31:14, "And We have enjoined on man [to be good] to his parents: in travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years twain was his weaning: (hear the command), 'Show gratitude to Me and to your parents: to Me is (your final) goal'."

Allah (swt) in His infinite wisdom knew that the love a parent has for a child is unconditional and that the reverse does not always apply. And perhaps that was why Allah has stated clearly that in terms of love, one's primary focus is God, followed by the Prophet (saww) and then one's parents.

Allah in the Qur’an (36:68) says: "If we grant long life to any, We cause him to be reversed in nature..." This refers to the senility or dementia that older people develop and how they then become child-like and irrational. But even in this state, we are commanded to be good to our parents and not to say a word of contempt to them.

Islam strives to maintain equitable relationships. Having created human beings, Allah knew well their weakness: that once the parents grew old and senile, they would be a burden and might be badly treated by their children. He therefore time and again in the Qur’an mentions that parents be treated well.

An old Western saying goes: "A daughter is a daughter for all her life, a son is a son till he gets a wife." The charms of love and marriage have a way of creating a state of heedlessness.

Men must understand their duties towards their parents and not turn into morons the day after being married. Women should not operate on the premise of "love and worship me to the exclusion of all other relationships." As wives, they must understand that a short-term gain in term of material advantages and power can lead to a great loss in the long term, for the exclusive relationship that they try to impose with their husbands comes at the risk of his other obligations. If the Hereafter seems very remote, there will assuredly be fallout in this world!

This is not to say that parents are always docile and sweet, but the onus for maintaining a good relationship rests largely on the children. If you are in the unenviable position of dealing with an irrational, emotional or abusive parent, seek professional counseling (possibly for the parents as well) to work out coping adjustments.

Abusive treatment, banishment or severing of relationships should not be among your options while your parents (especially your mother) are still alive, for when she dies, your most potent source of prayer has gone.

By Dr. Mahjabeen Islam