Answered by Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil
Question: Assalam aleykum,
I have been living with my mother in law and though she is a generous and kind person, we don’t mix well. I just find her presence all day everyday to be too interfering for me and my husband, especially because we have a child. I know we are supposed to respect our elders and our husbands’ parents especially, but what are the boundaries? What can I do in terms of duas or practical acts to help me?
Answer: Assalamualaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
I pray this finds you well. May Allah reward you for reaching out to us.
This is a very difficult and delicate situation. On one hand, as a wife, the Shari’ah gives you rights to your own private quarters: A Wife’s Right to Housing Seperate From Her In-Laws.
On the other hand, there is tremendous cultural pressure and expectation to give up that right, for the sake of extended family harmony. I urge you to study this website – Contented In-Laws. I hope that you will find some strategies to help relieve your difficulties.
One of the best things you can do for your sanity is accepting that you will fall short of your mother-in-law’s expectations, and that whatever kindness you show is for Allah’s sake. Nothing is los ton Him. Those Pesky Unappreciative Eastern MILs.
Aside from the difficulty in living with his mother, is your relationship with your husband otherwise positive and healthy? If so, then refer to this Rule #47 – Just because he doesn’t have the answer, doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.
Your husband loves you, and probably feels stuck between the two most important women in his life. Additionally, the bulk of interacting with your mother-in-law lies with you and not your husband. He is at work, while you are home. Because of this, please find ways to make your living situation easier on yourself. Don’t martyr yourself because when you are unhappy, then your marriage and parenting will be affected too.
It is obligatory for you to respect and honour your parents, just as it is obligatory for your husband to respect and honour his parents. It is praiseworthy for you to respect and honour your in-laws. In summary, even though there is an expectation to honour your in-laws like your own parents, know that the Shari’ah is clear that the priority goes to your parents over his.
Bear in mind that there are some things that are common and difficult across all elderly parents and in-laws. Learning about these common challenges will help make it easier for you to live with her. Rule #37 – Understand That Your MIL Has Traits Common In ALL Elderly People
Is there any way you can better design your life? For example, you describe that your mother-in-law does not go out much. If you are both stuck at home with your child, then it would be an understandably stressful living arrangement. Work with this reality, instead of wishing for something different.
1) Perform the Prayer of Need every day, in the last third of the night, and ask Allah for ease.
2) Have a weekly schedule where you leave the house at least once a day, even if it’s a walk to the park.
3) How old is your child? Does he/she go to preschool or kindergarten for at least a few hours a week? Use this time to leave the house and do something that recharges you e.g. a meal alone or with close friends, time at a cafe or library etc.
4) Spend weekends recharging with your husband and child, outside of your home.
5) Make an effort to nourish yourself daily through things that bring you joy.
6) If possible, go on regular short vacations with your husband and child, and go on holidays with your mother-in-law too.
7) At least once a week, go out and have breakfast/lunch/dinner with your mother-in-law, husband, and child as a way to reconnect with her and help her feel like a valued member of your household.
8) Every day, continue to renew your intention to keep your elderly mother-in-law company, for the sake of Allah.
Setting boundaries with in-laws, especially elderly in-laws who are set in their ways, can be incredibly difficult and frustrating. It is impossible for you to live with your mother-in-law and expect her to agree to everything you ask for. By the same token, it is unreasonable for you to give up everything you want to please her.
Choose your battles. What are you willing to let go of? What are you not willing to let go of? Can you identify what exactly bothers you about your interactions with your mother-in-law? Is she more of an extrovert, while you are more of an introvert? Introverts require daily alone time to recharge, while extroverts recharge through conversation. Do what you need to recharge.
Who do you have to lean on for support? If it is getting too much for you to bear then I suggest that you consult a culturally-sensitive counsellor. You describe that you have learned to be assertive with your mother-in-law, but it isn’t working. Perhaps the solution lies in balancing assertiveness with acceptance. Let go of what you can, and know that nothing is lost on Allah.
“So, observe patience, a good patience.” [Qur’an, 70:5]
Having patience requires more than just putting up with discomfort in your life. It involves having a heart that smiles with Allah.
If this living situation is causing you despair, resentment, and unhappiness, then perhaps it is time to reevaluate it. Is it possible for you, your husband and your child to live separately? Please make this a last resort after exhausting all options, as it is likely to break your mother-in-law’s heart.
I pray that Allah makes your living arrangement easier on you. You have taken on a very challenging and praiseworthy act of worship by keeping your mother-in-law company every day, in her old age. Whatever you give up for Allah’s sake will be recompensed in full, and no one is more generous than Allah.
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil has spent almost two years in Amman, Jordan, where she learned Shafi’i’ fiqh, Arabic, Seerah, Aqeedah, Tasawwuf, Tafsir and Tajweed. She continues to study with her Teachers in Malaysia and online through SeekersHub Global. She graduated with a Psychology and English degree from University of New South Wales, was a volunteer hospital chaplain for 5 years and has completed a Diploma of Counselling from the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors. She lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with her husband, daughter, and mother-in-law.