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Pleasing Parents vs. Saving Marriage

Question and answer details
S (34-female-Pakistan)
2012/07/27
My mother, a single parent, who is now living alone, wants me to live with her in her house, with my husband and child. My husband is the only son (child) of his parents, and he lives with them. Though I have convinced my husband to spend a few days with my mother in a week, however, my mother, who is short tempered because of various happenings in life, says or does things which annoy my husband. In such case, my husband wants us not to live with my mother because it is disturbing our family life, and because he does not want to leave his parents. My mother also gets annoyed with me because I don’t practically live with her throughout the week. I am also a working woman. I really don’t know what I should do in this situation. Living with my mother disturbs my family and annoys my husband, and not living with her annoys my mother. Please, help.
Dr. ‘Abd. Lateef Krauss Abdullah
Answer

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

As-salamu `alaikum dear sister,

Thank you for writing us. It is definitely a difficult situation to feel that you are coming between your mother on the one hand, and your husband on the other. Unfortunately, in some situations there is no way to please everybody.

Islamically speaking, I am not a scholar of fiqh so I cannot comment on the rights of both parties involved. However, from what I do know, ultimately it is your husband’s choice as to whether he and your family live with his mother, your mother or neither party.

It sounds as though your mother is lonely and not at peace with certain aspects of her life, which may be causing her to take her frustrations out on you and your husband. Your responsibility to her is to make sure that she is treated kindly and respectfully and that her needs are met. However, that does not mean that you are obligated to live with her, especially if your husband has chosen to live with his mother.

As such, I would do your best to try and explain this to her, and respect your husband’s wishes. Explain to her what Islam teaches regarding this matter. At the same time, however, I would try and help your husband understand that your mother is in need of your company at least a few times per week to help her deal with what she is feeling, and to allow you that.

I don’t think the current arrangement, i.e. living with both mothers, is working, as it is causing strain on your marriage and own family. Thus, you might want to try and re-evaluate this arrangement before you end up doing harm to your marriage.

To give you an idea of how we should balance the demands from both parents and spouses, the following quote was taken from Ustadha Zaynab Ansari, a scholar from the Qibla Institute, in reference to a similar question regarding balancing the rights of parents and spouses:

“While kindness to parents is an obligation, unconditional obedience is not. Many Muslim cultures place a great deal of emphasis on deference to parents regardless of the elders' behavior. In this case, you have to transcend cultural expectations of what a dutiful child must do. Your religious obligation is to be kind and respectful to your parents. However, you do not owe them unconditional obedience. And Islam certainly does not require us to tolerate abuse. Your parents' behavior certainly sounds abusive. You have to balance between the rights of your parents and the rights of your wife…”

In this particular instance, the Ustadha was responding to a brother who was dealing with abusive parents in regard to his wife. Although the circumstances are different, it shows the importance of maintaining peace in one’s own home, and to not allow unconditional obedience to parents to come between spouses.

My point in showing this to you is to emphasize that you will not be able to please everybody in your own situation, and that at some point, your mother has to understand that you are not obligated to live with her but that you will try and spend time with her and fulfill her needs as best you can. Ultimately, your husband’s wishes to live with his mother should be respected I feel.

At the same time, Islam does not require him to live with his parents either, although culture might imply differently. As long both parents’ needs are being met in terms of kind treatment, companionship, and maintenance, then your husband has done his duty.

Another alternative, therefore, might be for you and your husband to live independently of both parents, and to focus on making sure both sides are being treated well, without the pressure of having to choose to actually live with one or the other.

If you’d like to get a more scholarly opinion on the matter, please feel free to refer to the Ask the Scholar section of the website.

 

For further guidance, please try the following links:


About the Counselor:

Abd. Lateef Krauss Abdullah is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Science Study’s Community Education and Youth Studies Laboratory, Universiti Putra Malaysia. He received his B.A. from the University of Delaware (U.S.), his M.S. from Columbia University (U.S.) and his PhD from the Institute for Community & Peace Studies (PEKKA), Universiti Putra Malaysia in 2005 in the field of Youth Studies. Abd. Lateef is an American who has been living in Malaysia since 2001. He is married and has 2 children.


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