In African culture, supporting family is one of the duties one takes on without being explicitly asked. You just do it and for the most part, with joy. Especially for old parents, it is more of obligation that must be fulfilled. For most Nigerians, their parents worked hard to put children through higher education or apprenticeship with the hope that they will get decent jobs after graduation and take care of them in old age, usually, this is their pension. We grow up to believe that it is our responsibility to give back to parents and so we strive to do our best as much as we could to fulfil this obligation.
Nigeria, for example do not have welfare system for anyone. Retired civil servants have some form of pension, however, most citizens are self-employed. Older citizens rely heavily on generosity of their children or sometimes strangers for help. Quite a lot of these old people live in villages around the country and continuing living in less than ideal condition especially when children are struggling themselves.
In some cases when children are grown up, they migrate to towns and cities in search of better paying employment opportunities which will mean the aged parents will be left behind in the village on their own to fend for themselves. Some, out of obligation will want their parents especially mothers to live with them and their family in the city, the option that usually turned out not to achieve desired results. This usually is the case with mothers and their daughters-in-laws and son-in-laws.
Not so long ago, my mother’s friend in Ibadan who is an independent woman and has been living on her own for quite some time since her husband died. In her early 70s, she loved the comfort of living in her community and the flexibility of going back to her village to work on her palm tree farm whenever she pleases. Last year, her two sons living and working in Benin City insisted that they wanted her to move to the city with them as they find it increasingly hard to visit as much as they would have preferred due to work commitments. Mama protested that she has no friends in the city and would not mind being the one visiting. The pressure got to Mama and she gave in as she wanted her children to be happy.
The sons, Joseph and Timothy did not think through their proposal, they only saw their offer as an honour to have their mother under the same roof as them and having one big happy family. Mama stayed with Joseph the older son. The first two weeks was a breeze, everyone got along quite well. The wife comes back from work to prepare dinner for 3 children, husband and mother-in-law as well as cleaning up after them all. By the end of the first month, daughter-in-law, Yemi is not so sweet anymore, her name has been changed to Alarifin (disrespectful one). Whenever my mother spoke to Mama, she sounded like she was in a cage. Unfortunately, she fell ill and had to be hospitalised for sometime. She never really talked about her illness when I saw her, she mostly talked about how much she appreciated being back in her little house where she knows her way all around. Mama is a very positive woman who in most cases sees good in everyday events and rarely complained. However, despite her easy-going attitude, she had a fall out with Yemi, the daughter in-law she used to admire and sang praises of. Now Mama has recovered and back in her home town and while she loved her sons unreservedly, Mama is not looking forward to ever be in a situation to live with either of her sons. Joseph is working really hard to repair the broken relationship between Yemi and his mother. From talking to Mama, she still loves Yemi like her own daughter but I guess Mama just loved to be in an environment that she could control as she pleases.
I am open-minded and hoping there is someone out there who has had positive experience with in-laws living with them. My mother enjoys been in control of her environment too and could not even imagine living with any of her daughters.
While I support helping parents in all ways that we can, I would be relunctant to bringing them under the same roof, as I am not convinced this is the best way of supporting them especially when there is limited space for existing family members and also when mothers or fathers for that matter are still healthy and could do most of the daily running around happily themselves.