This is the second part of my conversation with Sofina Begum. Continuing our discussion, Sofina describes how life has been since getting married and moving with her in-laws, the challenges she’s faced and how she has managed to live in harmony in a joint family.
If you haven’t read Part 1, here is the link: Why I decided to live with my in-laws
Sofina Begum is a 20 something year old mother of two. She’s currently living in Orlando, Florida, with her husband, kids and in-laws.
Sadaf Begum: You’ve been married for a few years now. How has life been living with your in-laws?
Sofina Begum: So like I mentioned, I was born and raised in the US. While I give priority to my religious values, having been born and raised here has given me a slightly different point of view than my parent’s generation, who tend to hold onto what some would call “old world thinking.” So when two generations come together under one roof, conflicts and challenges do arise of course.
I think the majority of clashes between generations arise because while the older generation is adamant about holding onto the traditions of the past, we’re focused on propelling ourselves and our children into the future. We have our own distinct world view which we believe to be superior to all others.
I get it. I grew up in this country too. We aim to simplify our lives. I have my own beliefs and values. I aim to view my life through the lens of Islamic tradition. My mother-in-law has her own traditions that helped her create the life she has. We don’t always see everything from the same exact perspective. It would be unbelievable if I claimed that we did.
Shaykh Yaqoubi says, “If you are upset, everyone around you is upset. If you are happy, everyone around you is happy, so be happy!”
It’s not easy. It’s very difficult at times. I’m not saying that my mother-in-law and I “live together and just make it work.” Because that’s not true. I struggle every single day to make it work and let me tell you, it’s not easy!
What’s key is how you handle differing opinions. No one is perfect. Our elderly parents can be, at times, the most difficult to live with. That’s where dua (prayer) comes into play. I make lots of dua for Sakina (peace) in my home, especially for my husband who works hard everyday to provide for his family.
The last thing I want is for him to come home to deal with family feuds and stress. I want my children to grow up in a relaxed and happy home. We are their role models. How we behave towards one another is what their young minds are internalizing. If we let conflicts become the center of our homes, how can we expect them to become expert problem solvers as adults.
And honestly, who said life was supposed to be easy? Living with in-laws is hard. It’s very hard in fact. But try to always remember that this life is lived for the intention of attaining a higher status in the hereafter. So work hard for that elevated status inshaAllah (God willing).
Something that’s been particularly helpful during especially difficult days is trying to envision my in-laws as I would my own parents. I try my best to treat my mother-in-law as I would my own mother. I want to cultivate that relationship with her where she trusts me and comes to me for support. I know it seems impossible in the beginning but it’s worth putting in the effort from day one. I know that inshaAllah (God willing), she will start to see you as her daughter. I really believe that we should be teaching our kids at a very early age that in order to get respect, we first need to give respect.
Sadaf: What sorts of challenges have arisen in the course of your marriage? How did you handle those situations?
Sofina: So for example, when it comes to managing household matters like cooking and cleaning, everyone has an opinion. Issues regarding disciplining children and the like are also hot topics of discussion in our home. My mother-in-law may suggest a course of action that I myself wouldn’t of considered or even agreed with initially. So my approach is to always listen to what she is saying, ask her questions on how her solution with help and then communicate with her my point of view, if I don’t see things in exactly the same way as her.
I cannot stress respectful communication enough! To anyone reading this, it may sound like my approach is “listen and obey” and sometimes it is. However, when working on reaching solutions together, voicing your opinions in a respectful manner is the most important factor. It also helps prevent unresolved feelings from building up inside, which can lead to anger and resentment.
I also want to stress the tone in which we speak to our elders. If something annoys us, we may unknowingly reply in a disrespectful and inpatient tone. Regardless of our impatience or annoyance, when communicating with our parents, siblings, teachers, husband or community members, communicating in a loving and respectful manner can make all the difference.
I try to tell myself, “She’s older and much more experienced than me. She raised her own children who are wonderful people. She raised my husband to be an incredible man so she must of done something right. Let’s go with her suggestion.” If it works out, great! But if it doesn’t, she will realize it soon enough and then hopefully be more open to my approach.
Sadaf: Can you elaborate on how you resolve conflicts that may arise between your in-laws and yourself?
Sofina: So my husband told me a long time ago that he would like it if he wasn’t involved in any type of disagreement between me and any relative. He asked me to take care of it and honestly, I prefer it that way. If i’m in a situation, I will try my best to respectfully take care of it the best I can so he doesn’t have to worry about it.
That’s why I tend to take care of my own problems and usually fill him in on what happened. He is honest and gives me tips on how I could of better handled a certain situation since he knows his parents best. My biggest advice is the really get to know your parents-in-laws as much as possible. That way, you can avoid any misunderstandings and improve communication.
I pray for peace in my home. I swear, I start to see a change in our mood almost instantly. Prayer is everything! So pray pray pray!
Another approach to when life doesn’t go your way is Prayer. It’s such a simple solution that we tend to overlook when we’re busy finding “practical” solutions. We usually think to turn to prayer when we want to ace an exam or get a job. There was a time when people would go out and pray for rain and it would rain. Now, unfortunately, prayer has become our last resort. Why do we take the power of dua (prayer) for granted?
When I do feel hurt by a comment my mother-in-law passed or if she seems angry with me, the first thing I do is run to my prayer rug. I bow my head in shame in front of my Lord and ask Him to help me find a path that will help us resolve our differences. I pray for peace in my home. I then drop a quarter in our “sadaqa jar” (charity jar) because charity also helps solve our problems. I swear, I start to see a change in our mood almost instantly. Prayer is everything! So pray pray pray!
One last thing I want to emphasize is that we women have the power of creating happiness in our homes. We’re hardwired to be nurturing and loving in even the worst of times. This doesn’t only mean for our children. We can create this peace in any circumstance and for whomever we want.
Shaykh Yaqoubi says, “If you are upset, everyone around you is upset. If you are happy, everyone around you is happy, so be happy!” If we are friendly and loving, there isn’t a human who won’t become attracted to your love. It’s like surrounding yourself with the right peers. If you have a group who smokes and does drugs, you will most likely be influenced to do the same. In the same manner, if you have a group of friends who love to, lets say, cook together, then you’ll want to learn new recipes to continue bonding as a group.
Same goes for your home! Keep the environment happy, joke around with your in-laws, do what makes them happy, and you’ll see instant results! I’ve really tried to make positive changes and Alhamdulillah (thank God), it really helped promote a less stressful home environment.
Stay tuned for the final part of our discussion where Sofina explains how her husband and her find time for each other and keep the spark alive while living in a joint family.