Nailantei Norari @artnorari Tales have been told of mothers-in-law who came to see their newly born grandchildren, but then days turn into weeks and even months and they show no sign of heading back home. Such tales are normally bandied around in bars by put on sons-in-law who cannot exactly kick out their wives\u2019 mothers despite the prolonged visit. Most argue they are caught between pleasing their wives, whom they love wholeheartedly, and reclaiming their space and authority, often usurped by these visitors. But is the culture of visiting mothers-in-law supported by age-old traditions? \u201cMany African communities had specific roles for men and women. Bride\u2019s mother and sisters, were encouraged to visit when she got married to help her settle in. They also visited when she was about to give birth to help with birthing and taking care of the newborn. Men hardly visited their in-law\u2019s homesteads unless there was a special event such as a circumcision or death. While women would spend nights at their in-law\u2019s house, men found it hard to do the same and would make their way back home even at night,\u201d Dr Francis Kerre, a sociologist at Kenyatta University explains. The relationship between in-laws was supposed to be respected and upheld, something reflected in many African proverbs. A kikuyu proverb, Uthoni ndurangarangagwo, prohibits frequent unnecessary visits between the in-laws. In Kikuyu customs, parents-in-law can visit their children, but not for prolonged visits. When a bride\u2019s mother overstayed her visit, the groom would report to his birth parents who would then visit and forcefully carry the in-law with them, inviting them to stay over at their place indefinitely instead, rather than at the children\u2019s home. Parents could check and correct each other as they were viewed as age mates while a younger groom was in no position to do the same. In most African customs, women and men had different laws of conduct, mainly because women were viewed as children, hence had little to no boundaries on what they could do, while men grew up and had age groups to mark the growth. \u201cIn most African communities, men could not enter their in-laws\u2019 houses, but women, both mothers and daughters could. This means a visiting husband could not enter his mother-in-law\u2019s house, and neither could a father-in-law enter their newly wedded daughter\u2019s house,\u201d Dr Francis elaborates. Free interactions While some communities would control such interactions, others encouraged them. In the Kamba community, a mother was free to visit their wedded daughter and stay indefinitely. Similarly, a groom was free to visit his mother-in-law and stay as long as they wanted as they were viewed as sons in that homestead. In-laws would interact freely as the marital bond was seen as having knit two families into a singular nuclear unit. In the Somali community, a husband took up his bride\u2019s family as his own. The bride would move into the husband\u2019s house with her immediate family free to follow her. The groom then takes up the chief provider\u2019s role, with the mother-in-law free to ask for whatever she needs from the groom. His wife\u2019s siblings were also free to do the same. The bride and groom would take care of the bride\u2019s mother throughout her life, well into old age without complaining. However, the mother of the groom would have no one to take care of her if she had borne sons only. As such, she had no home and suffered throughout her life since she has no daughter, whose husband would cater to her. While communities may differ in their treatment of in-laws, respect and kindness is a common thread in them all. Today, both wives and husbands begrudge their in-laws visits, in part because they do not understand important roles they played before and after the wedding. \u201cMost wives do not understand their mothers-in-law and, therefore easily demonise them while not respecting they will always be their husband\u2019s mother. A few visits should be tolerated and encouraged as most of them are not coming in with the intention to harm, but to help out and may also be struggling with loneliness back at home. In the same vein, husbands should know their wife\u2019s mother means well. Most of them visit to help with caring for his children, so ultimately he is the one being helped out. It is really up to all the parties involved to learn to understand each other upholding the age-old values of respect and love. They can all find a balance, which may look different from family to family,\u201d Dr Francis says in conclusion.