Updated: Jul 2, 2020
| This is the 243rd story of Our Life Logs |
Like some girls do, I used to dream of my marriage. On this day, I imagined myself in a white dress, surrounded by the people I love. I would fix my gaze on that of my dear and tender. This man—tall, slender, and a young, beautiful complexion of black ebony. Our first acquaintance would have taken place at the university, in which we would be there to study medicine, and all our days together would lead to this scene. We would then be a family, a structure. We would have children and raise them with love. We would eat at fixed times, I would prepare the meal, and help with homework. In the evening, the whole family would gather together and we would just enjoy being with each other.
Life would be a dream.
I was born in Cameroon’s second largest city, Douala, in March of 1987. As a child, I did not miss anything, financially. For the rest, I had to learn to live with the absence of my father, who died when I was two years old, and my mother, who was often working. Given her occupation, my mother made sure that her vacancy did not deprive us of a good education and a certain structure. She hired domestic workers and servants to respect this set framework. Still, I missed her.
Many times in my childhood, I would wake up middle of the night, knock on her door, just so I could spend a few furtive hours with her before the daily business snatched her once again. I had brothers and sisters, but that did not replace my parents, and anyway, I felt that everyone lived in their own little corner; strangers, each in their own world.
And so, it must be understood that coming from a single-parent family, which was slightly dysfunctional, I have always dreamed of having a perfect family of my own.
It is often said that love has reasons that reason does not know. In my case, this expression proved to be more than just. I met the love of my life when I was 18 years old. However, we did not meet as I had pictured. We were not at the university, he did not really have the physique that I had imagined, and on top of that, he came with an unexpected gift, a teenage girl. This already tell you that he was older than me, by about ten years. In fact, I did not really notice him until he made me his big declaration of love, on a famous day in October of 2005. When he spoke, I was moved by his words. He was a person committed and passionate about faith, which I found charming. I know, I’m a little weird, but I wanted so much to get married that I did not hold him to the criteria of my dreams. After all, the love I felt was real.
I was so exited that I wanted to formalize our union in the first months of our relationship. My family opposed it, but that could not stop me! I had to leave Cameroon right after our engagement to continue my studies in Canada, and as we maintained a relationship at a distance, our separation allowed me to affirm my choice. I was truly in love and I was not leaving.
I met his daughter for the first time just a few days before the wedding. She was happy to meet me and I felt it was a good sign, a sign to show that everything was going well. We were married in Cameroon in June of 2009, though our honeymoon didn’t last very long and we did not live together right away. I went back to Canada in September of 2009 to finish my schooling, and my husband came to join me with his daughter a year later. That’s when real life started.
While I waited for their arrival, I imagined developing a strong mother-daughter relationship within the first months. I wanted to be a mother who showed that she cared for her child and her values. I wanted to show her the family structure that I missed so much when I was little. Only I had forgotten that I was not her mother, that she was 16 and I, 23, and we had a difference of just a few short years, which made me at most like a big sister, not a mother.
In the beginning of our relationship, I think she tolerated me because she was grateful for the chance to leave Cameroon to settle in Canada. But when it was necessary to establish certain operating rules, share domestic tasks, or simply to take an interest in her studies, an open war broke out. Suddenly, I had become the enemy.
At first, I thought it was a question of adjustment; after all, she had always lived alone with her father, the man who had saved her from neglect by taking her out of her mother’s house, and overnight, she no longer had all his attention and had to share her father with me. In addition, adolescence is not an easy age—I knew that because I had just passed that age myself. Beyond all the changes that her body was undergoing, she also had to adapt to a new country, a new reality. So yes, I understood her and I gave her time. But that was not enough.
The clash began as a cold war. When I spoke to her, she slammed doors and walked away. When she wanted to show me that she was really angry, she did the opposite of what I had asked. For example, we had a house rule that if there was no one in a room, the lights had to be turned off to save money on the electricity bill. She turned on the lights in the living room just to lock herself in her room. She seemed to always miss her curfew just for the pleasure of irritating me. From time to time she sat outside and waited until the hour passed to return. I started to feel like a stranger in my own home.
May I remind you that I myself was 23, so although these were small things, they were big in my world, and in my young mind, I did not deserve them. In hindsight, I know what my mistake was; I required too much, too fast. A parenting relationship takes time to build, but I was so in my dream that I skipped the steps.
What made this situation more difficult was that my husband didn’t want to get involved. Having been an orphan raised in unenviable conditions, he was afraid that his daughter would feel mistreated. For him, enforcing discipline could have given her the impression that she had lost her father, and that no one was there to defend her. Also, my husband was working night shifts so he slept during the day. It was for this reason that he found that I exaggerated when I complained, because he was just not present.
The years went on. I couldn’t take it anymore. The situation was so stressful that I am convinced that it contributed to the two miscarriages I had. My dream had turned into a nightmare.
Finally, in 2013, after three years of silence, my husband realized that he had to intervene if he did not want to lose me. It was during my third pregnancy, and he was afraid that I would miscarry again. As he made a point to keep a more watchful eye, he witnessed his daughter rolling her eyes and slamming the doors while I spoke to her. I think he sensed that I was ready to leave the family. Let me tell you, I was.
My husband called a family meeting and asked everyone to speak freely and listen well. He asked his daughter what she blamed me for. She said that I treated her as if she were not my daughter and that she felt rejected by me. And I confessed that overtime, I had become bitter due to being rejected by her. Quite a chicken-and-egg situation, wasn’t it? He reminded his daughter that I was his wife and as such, I had the right to feel responsible for her, to look after her upbringing. Next, he asked me to show more love, more patience. With a loving voice, my husband defined each person’s role and the responsibilities that came with it.
It did not solve everything, but it was a start.
I would like to tell you that from then on, I started to have the family life I dreamed about, but that was not the case. There was still some embarrassment, some rolling eyes, and many conversations without warmth, but we learned to work together as best as we could. Little by little my daughter softened. I was no longer the enemy, perhaps not yet her mother, but still, a person whom she respected. For me it was already a victory.
I had my first son in December 2013, the second one in October 2015, and the third one in August 2017. Now that my daughter is married and has been able to care for her brothers, she feels more that we are a family. I’m always pleasantly surprised when she calls me to confide in me, or simply ask the ingredients of a recipe. It is amazing to see how relationships can grow, with a little bit of faith, a little bit of efforts—well, a lot of faith and a lot of efforts, in my case.
If there is one thing I learned from all this experience, it is that dreams can change shape along the way, but they are still dreams. I may not have had the family I imagined, but I have one that is stronger and more authentic. It is true that we are still working to develop this relationship; but why stop at respect when we can have love?
This is the story of Ingrid Sow
Currently, Ingrid is a 31-year-old woman, still married, and the happy mother of three boys, who adore their sister and especially love spending time with her. Ingrid grew up with a dream to have a perfect family. But at 23, she married into a family with a 16-years-old daughter who quickly became her opposition. Through communication, hard work, a whole lot of faith, Ingrid has been able to see a new side of her daughter, and enjoy the relationship they built together. She and her husband work together to build that perfect family they have always dreamed of, and if they do not work together as doctors, Ingrid is a nurse clinician and her husband, a cook; at least they work to solidify their family legacy.
This story first touched our hearts on January 20, 2019.
| Writer: Dominique Abana | Editor: Colleen Walker |