Mother-in-Law’s Behavior is Worrying

Question and answer details
Mother-in-Law’s Behavior is Worrying
I am based in the UK. I have two kids, one is four and the other is two. I have a good relationship with my in-laws. To be honest, there are a few tiny disagreements, but in general things are, al-hamdu lillah, fine. My mum-in-law comes annually for visits. Since the first time she came, she has been taking my eldest son’s socks, it seemed normal to me at that time, as she said she feels fine smelling them. But, the second year, she asked for the socks to be sent to her in Libya, so we did as asked. Last year, surprisingly, she returned with the socks, saying there is no sweat in them. I was in real shock and started to give this matter more attention. She does love my eldest son more for some reason, but now she takes both sons’ socks. Is this normal? I now have real concerns about this. Please, I need your advice urgently. May Allah reward you.
Abdullah Abdur Rahman
Thank-you for writing, this is a unique situation indeed. Here are some thoughts for your consideration.

First, there are people for whom scents and odors bring a particular delight, as it brings a particular memory or it reminds them of a person. Spouses, when separated for whatever reason, are known to take to smelling each other’s clothing as they reminisce and physically hold an item which belongs to their loved one. This in itself is natural and should not cause alarm. The grandmother’s desire to have her grandchildren’s socks should not be a source of alarm, unless of course there are signs of an unnatural and persistent obsession with the smell of the children.

Second, you need to stop dealing with this by yourself and involve your husband immediately. The situation itself seems harmless and minor, but if not handled well, it could erupt into unnecessarily unpleasant and possibly negative feelings. Your mother-in-law should be respected, but to some degree there should also be a concern for her mental well-being. We say this not to cast aspersions on her, but so that your husband should be on the lookout for other possibly strange behaviors she may be developing at her age. If there are no other such strange behaviors, then you should treat her desire to have their socks as something minor. As for her assertion that there is no sweat in the socks, perhaps she means there is no smell in the socks. She should be reminded that sweat in and of itself does not have a smell. Rather, the smell is a result of the sweat leaving through the pores of the skin and interacting with the bacteria that is found on the skin. But this is more as information for you and less as a starting point for a discussion with your mother-in-law.

Finally, in sha’ Allah, you could surprise her with pictures of the children and help her to have regular contact with them through phone calls and her visits. In sha’ Allah, this is a minor issue and, between you and your husband, you will be able to keep this issue in perspective and not let it become something major and potentially unpleasant for all those concerned. Make du`aa’ (supplication) to Allah to help you have a strong and healthy relationship with your mother-in-law.

Allah knows best