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Living with Your In-Laws: The Honest Truth

I get several emails every week asking me about the dynamics of life here in Morocco or about relationship questions. I love getting email from readers, especially those who tell me they feel a personal connection – what a compliment! Sometimes it can feel like I’m writing into space, but getting those bits of feedback truly mean so much as I continue to write and explore topics that are personal to me but may help someone else.

Recently I’ve been getting many messages from families who are considering a move to Morocco, either permanently or temporarily. Every family and individual’s situation is unique so my advice can’t be all-encompassing – it’s merely my observations and experience.

With that today’s question is one I’m regularly asked; should we live with my in-laws or should we get our own place?

My answer almost 100% of the time will be if you can, get your own place.

Living with Your Moroccan In-laws

But, before I leave it at that let me back up and discuss both arrangements. In some traditional Moroccan homes it’s still common for men to live at home after they’re married. The new wife moves into the family home.

The couple has their own room but all other aspects of life are shared. The role of the daughter-in-law is to take on household responsibilities. The mother-in-law has done her time and so cleaning, cooking, washing, etc falls to the younger women – who most often are directed by the mother/mother-in-law on the “proper way” (i.e. her way) to do these things. Most Moroccan women who move into this type of family inherently know and accept that this is the way things are, though they may not like it.

If you’re a foreign woman who is coming into a family like this the expectations are similar though not really the same. I’ve found that most often a foreign woman occupies a third space.

You don’t have all the rights and privileges that a man does, however you’re not expected to know or understand the roles as a Moroccan woman would. You can take the best of both worlds but at the cost of never really being fully accepted in either one.

Sound complicated?

It is.

As an adult who has lived independently, you have your own way of doing things. If you have children you parent them in the way you and your spouse determined before living in Morocco. For example, you may not believe in physical punishment for children.

Expect that to be challenged.

You might have your own technique for cleaning floors or standard for washing laundry.

Chances are it will be different and it will be challenged.

You may work out of the home or enjoy going to meet friends for a cup of coffee. Expect that your in-laws won’t understand why you need to do this.

Your ways will be foreign even if your in-laws are worldly and have traveled or visited your country. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that your ways are often seen as wrong when in reality they’re just different.

When we moved here we moved into my husband’s family home and have lived here for almost 10 years. It is a “riad style” home with an open middle courtyard and several floors. We live on the top floor in our own “apartment”.  I have my own kitchen, bedrooms, living room, and bathroom.

My mother in law along with one sister-in-law and her children live on the second floor and the first floor is a common area. Because this is the family home it is very common to have my husband’s other sisters and their children here, especially on the weekends.

I’m going to share the pros and cons, depending on your personality you’ll have to decide what is a pro and what is a con!

Pros and Cons

  • it’s a shared home, and so you lack control over noise and who comes and goes.
  • there is a lack of privacy and personal space even if you have your own floor
  • shared expenses unless this has been divided somehow or established ahead of time
  • loss of independence. You are not as free to come and go as you might be if you were living alone – you will often be questioned and hear others opinions about what you’re doing.
  • Your business becomes everyone’s business – and they often are more than happy to share their opinion either to your face or behind your back.
  • there are skewed expectations unless this has been very firmly established ahead of time.
  • Jealousy and competition over the “man of the house” – especially if it’s your husband.
  • there is almost always someone to help with the children
  • you can alternate cooking. For example in our home my sister in law always makes lunch that we all typically eat together and we each prepare dinner for our respective families.
  • You’re rarely ever alone.
  • Cost of living is reduced. If you’re on a fixed income this is one way to not have as many housing expenses.
  • A greater sense of family and community
  • There’s almost always someone around if you need help with something.

Our first year living in the house was not a happy time. Not only was I dealing with culture shock and adjusting to life here the issues that come with living in a shared home took their toll. My mother-in-law and I rarely saw eye to eye. While she was thrilled to have her son back in Morocco I often felt that she saw me as a threat and a competitor for his affection. This was very strange for me.

One of the reasons we moved here was so that he and our children could spend more time with her! I had never experienced this type of competition for affection and truthfully didn’t know how to respond. She also didn’t understand why I would spend all day upstairs in our apartment, it took a long time for her to grasp that I wasn’t avoiding them but I was actually working.

It also took a long time for her to realize I wasn’t going to come and wash floors or do laundry as a Moroccan wife would – but I was happy to contribute financially and pay for someone to come to the house to do that work. In her defense because I felt so much pressure to “be” the person they thought I should be I did avoid them. I would stay upstairs for days on end just so I didn’t have to answer the questions.

I am sharing all of this in hopes of giving others a look into what this transition was like. Today I am at peace with our decision though ideally, we would be in our own apartment nearby.

I know there are some of you reading who will say, “well they’re just trying to help! They just want to share with you and show you there’s another way.”

To which I say yes, certainly.

Be open-minded of course but also don’t be afraid to hold your own. For example, I refuse to hit my children and have had countless arguments with my in-laws about this practice. In Morocco, it’s seen as normal but for me, it is a hard and fast line I won’t cross.

Many times I have been asked to just see it their way and change my way, and in some ways yes I can do this but it shouldn’t always be the non-Moroccan that is asked to make the change, sometimes it has to be them. Don’t be afraid to put your foot down, draw your boundaries, and stick with it!

Remember even if you choose to move to another country and even in a shared living situation like this, you as the immigrating spouse do not have to compromise your values or your feelings for others. You get to be 100% you! It will be hard but it is important.

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Lena

Friday 18th of March 2022

Hello Amanda, I'm just feeling a sense of relief after reading this post. I am German, married to a Moroccan for 13 years, we have 3 children and live in Germany. My husband has no family in Germany, he was born in Morocco and grew up there. Therefore we try to visit the country and the family at regularly. I can even say that I speak Darija well and can read Arabic, so I communicate with my in-laws from here via WhatsApp and telephone. I also converted to Islam before I met my husband. So you might think that there is a food "basis" for me to integrate well into my husband's family. Still, there are things that I find, at least, very irritating, especially after years. And I'm relieved to have read these points here in the post, because I thought I was imagining it all, that I was interpreting too much into it, or that it was my fault. The main point that even disgusts me is the competition from female family members for my husband's affections. Not only when we are at the familys house, but even from a distance, his mother and sister try to get his attention (almost) every day via WhatsApp and literally struggle to get respect and recognition from him. And since, as I said, I now understand the language well, I notice what is going on. His brothers, on the other hand, are totally calm and pleasant people. So somewhere, although our family-in-law certainly loves us "foreign" women too, there's always a kind of "rivalry" that I just find very disgusting. I wonder...why is that?????And unfortunately I think there is no remedy. Warm greetings to Morocco. Lena

Amanda Mouttaki

Friday 25th of March 2022

I'm so happy to know that this was helpful to you - and no you're not imagining things!

Samantha

Sunday 23rd of January 2022

Hi Amanda, I am Dutch and have been living in Greece for the past 20 years, married to a Greek man with two children. What you say about there being a third category is so true! At family gatherings my mother-in-law and sister-in-law will be busy cooking & serving everyone and hardly sit down themselves. Some of the menfolk (not all of them) in the family arrive and just start eating without waiting for everyone to sit down, and just yell at the kitchen for anything else they want (water, wine, bread, etc), which is then being brought in by the respective mother-/sister-in-law. I was never expected to help, told to sit down and be served. Also helping with cleaning up was discouraged. I also found myself in the awkward position of on the one hand not wanting to do help because it would be too role-affirming and on the other realizing that that was not ok either. The last few years I am finally allowed to bring some food for these gatherings so the hostess doesn’t have to do everything, but I always feel like they’d rather I didn’t, or that they are afraid of what kind of food I might bring. One of my brother-in-laws reacted surprised just the other day when my husband said he had to go home because I had cooked lunch, apparently he thought I didn’t cook! I repeat: I have been living here for nearly 20 years! Moving here has been tough and it still is sometimes. I speak the language really well and have many Greek friends, but I am also always the outsider. This is partly by choice as I found there are things I refuse to accept and prefer to do my way. Anyway I could go on and on but then I had probably start my own blog😜. Thank you for all you do!

Amanda Mouttaki

Tuesday 25th of January 2022

It's always good to know that there are more of us out there going through these things. I've found most Mediterranean countries have some degree of this same pattern at play which is fascinating in and of itself. Sending you hugs from across the sea!

Hanna

Thursday 6th of February 2020

Dear Amanda, I am a German girl who recently fell in love with a Moroccan guy. Now I am weighing my options for a future with him to see we even have a chance at all... The whole thing still seems pretty crazy to me. So I appreciate your blog a lot! It helps me get more clarity on so many questions I have. So I have one question concerning family: I'd like to know how important uncles, aunts and cousins are in a Moroccan man's (married/family) life, especially if his parents are no longer around and he is an only child? Like for example, would an aunt usually take on the role of the mother in this scenario? I really appreciate your reply! Best regards Hanna

Amanda Mouttaki

Sunday 9th of February 2020

It depends on the family and the age that they've lost their parents but extended family like that are very important and yes quite likely an aunt/uncle would step in to fill that parent role.

Caroline

Tuesday 20th of August 2019

Hi Amanda, I love your writing, I love your honesty! Though I have a completely different story, I understand what you are talking about.

You do a great job with your blog and your work. Love to meet you one day. Sidi Kaouki is not that far from Marrakech... Caroline

Jameela

Friday 31st of May 2019

Thank you Amanda for this post. I agree with the pros n cons 100%! Allah make it easy on you and your family. We plan to move there and be back and forth, but definitely getting our own place. We had plan to come this summer, but didn't look for a place so unfortunately we wont make it. Staying with fam isn't a choice. Especially having little kids.