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While in town for my best friend’s wedding, another one of my friends from childhood told me a fascinating story about some issues her oldest sister is having with her husband’s stepmother. Matters that have become so uncomfortable, her sister has been labeled as impolite, and the stepmother, delusional.

As I’ve stated before, in Nigerian culture, it’s common for people to call elder women “mom” or “mommy.” And, of course, if you actually marry a man, and his mother becomes your mom, it only makes sense to call her “mom” or “mommy.” (But at your own pace…) However, in the case of my BFF’s sister, Funmi*, she’s very hesitant to call her father-in-law’s new (and much younger) wife “mom” because of the simple fact that the woman is not really her elder. Technically, her new mother-in-law, Modupe*, is older, but both women are actually in the same age group: Funmi is 38, Modupe is 40. When she visits her father-in-law’s home, Funmi greets him with “dad,” a curtsey and a hug, but her mother-in-law doesn’t get the same pleasantries from her, or Funmi’s sisters.  They do give her a hug (and Funmi’s younger sisters, including my friend, do curtsey), but that’s about it.

And that bothers Modupe. A lot. She told her husband, or “reported” as my friend put it, that Funmi was disrespectful. As her elder and the stepmother of her husband, Modupe said that Funmi should really make a better effort to “greet” her. Same for Funmi’s sisters, including my BFF, when they come around. And as you would guess, Funmi said she isn’t doing it. She finds it to be weird considering that her new mother-in-law is just right above her in age. And in her mind, Modupe is just looking to have someone make her feel important and give her an ego boost. So, it’s safe to say that this relationship will remain chilly.

What would you do in this situation? I can say from experience that tradition is a mother to try and get around. I’ve actually written about it in the past. I still struggle with being comfortable enough to call my mother-in-law “mom” or “mommy,” which is what she would like. And it’s not because of age, as my fiancé’s mother is definitely my elder. But rather, it’s because I’m especially close to my own parents, and I’m not too keen on placing such labels on someone automatically. Some people need the time to get to know their in-laws better and to feel comfortable enough with them so that they can openly greet them with a “mom” or “dad.” But others just aren’t okay with it, and personally, I think that’s fine.

However, as I previously stated, there’s tradition. And expectations based on cultural customs are very important in Nigerian culture (and at times, a tad bit suffocating). Still, some stuff just isn’t for everybody. And calling someone who could technically have been a classmate “mommy,” isn’t for Funmi. Can you blame her?


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