Surviving the extended family

A fortnight ago we had a lovely session with about 20 couples from various churches. We discussed with them some of the issues pertaining to the management of the extended family in a marriage setting.

John Makumbe
John Makumbe

Last week we published some of the principles of managing the extended family in this column.

We posed four case studies for the couples to resolve, two for the gentlemen and two for the ladies. In this instalment, we share only those discussed by the gentlemen. The ones discussed by the ladies will be shared with you next Sunday. We briefly outline a few of the suggestions that were made.

GENTLEMEN: Your wife’s baby brother has just been expelled from school because his father, your father-in-law, failed to raise the $350 school fees needed for that term. The week before, you had just sent your baby sister $200 for school fees. The $350 currently available to you will be needed for this month’s rentals. What are you going to do?

Most men agreed that this was a serious dilemma since refusing to give the wife’s brother the money would easily be misconstrued as favouring the husband’s family side while neglecting the wife’s. It was, however generally felt that rent money should not be tampered with, and the wife was expected to understand that.

Payment of rentals is a top priority since it determines the security of shelter for the family. Even a desperate father in-law should understand that. While this is true in most cases, we caution that many times the wife will be watching the husband very closely to find out whether he would behave in the same way if the roles were reversed.

The key to effective management of the extended family is for the couple to discuss all these matters and agree on the best way forward.

GENTLEMEN: Your mom, who is 76 years of age, has come to town for a medical check-up. She was advised to take bed-rest for one week before going back home. It is now four weeks since she was seen by the doctor but she does not seem to want to go back home yet.

Your wife’s mother suddenly pitches up to see the family. She informs you that she will go back home when the rains fall in November. This is June, mind you. What are you going to do about this dilemma?

It was generally agreed that each spouse should talk to their parent and persuade them to return home. It would be difficult for the husband to tell his mother in-law to pack up and go home. It would equally be difficult for the wife to do the same to her mother in-law.

We jokingly suggested that the two old ladies should be made to share a bedroom, and in a few days they will quarrel viciously and both will unceremoniously leave for their rural homes. We doubt, however, that this would be a viable solution, but sometimes you have to destroy fire with fire.

In the end, the couples agreed that the essence of good management of the extended family was frank discussions between the spouses. Situations should be treated on their merit and gravity of need. There should not be any attempt to equalize the support given to the two sides of the extended family since this would only result in more strife and bitterness.

We cautioned the couples that bitterness blocks blessings. If they are bitter towards their in-laws for demanding so much of the scarce resources they should quickly dispel such bitterness from their lives. Then the blessings will flow into the family.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis
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