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When Chinese wives meet American mothers-in-law

Popularity 2Viewed 7809 times 2013-1-10 20:57 |System category:Life| Chinese

(People's Daily Overseas Edition)


For Chinese families, the relationship most prone to conflict is that between the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. Chinese women married to American men tend to quarrel with their mothers-in-law due to different cultural and language backgrounds. 

American parents attach great importance to the independence of their adult children. A Chinese woman surnamed Zhang lived in San Diego, California with her American husband, who was fired by his company in May 2012. Given the sluggish local job market, the couple moved to the house of her mother-in-law in Long Island, New York, and her husband soon started looking for a job there. 

After living there for just half a month, Zhang could not help but complain to her husband that the mother-in-law had asked her such questions since the second week as whether they had rented a house outside, when they could move out, and how they would split water and electricity bills. Zhang could not understand why the mother-in-law, who has a four-story house, wanted her only son to move out at a time when he lost his job. Most Chinese parents wish to live with their sons and daughters-in-law, and some may even use their pensions to help financially difficult children. 

However, Zhang’s husband thought that they had indeed disturbed the life of his mother, and it was inappropriate to live in his mother’s house for a long time. Two weeks later, they moved out after renting a house in the city, and her husband even paid his mother a month’s rent and utility fees. 

Another Chinese woman surnamed Wang who married an American man in early 2012 also finds it hard to adapt to the American-style family life. Wang and her mother-in-law live in Southern and Northern California respectively, and seldom meet each other, let alone quarrel. Last year, Wang stayed in Northern California for four days to spend Thanksgiving Day with the close relatives of her husband for the first time. When she talked to her mother-in-law over the phone before setting out, the mother-in-law asked her twice whether they had booked a hotel room. She felt “odd,” and wondered why they could not live in the house of the mother-in-law for just a few days. 


(Xinhua Photo)


Only after arriving at Northern California did Ms. Wang find out that the two half-blooded sisters of her husband were also staying outside in a hotel. In strong contrast, when the couple went to visit Ms. Wang's parents in China before the wedding, "no matter how squeezed the house is, my parents would never let us move out and live in a hotel. And they always want us to stay longer." 

It is an indispensable part of the later life of Chinese parents to help their children to look after their children. But this is not the case for American mothers-in-law, either. Casey is an ethnic Chinese. The first baby of her and her husband is already three years old. But through the child's birth to growth, "My mother-in-law can never be counted on. The burden falls completely on my mother, who runs back and forth from China to America to look after the baby for me," she said. “When my mother-in-law comes to see her grandson, she would only hold the baby and fiddle for a few minutes, and say ‘You are so cute’ before putting him down and minding her own business. “

What disturbed Casey the most is that in 2011, when she was in Florida on business for three days and her husband was in Japan due to work; her mother's visa expired and need to go back to China. Under such circumstance, she could only ask her mother-in-law to look after the baby. But she readily refused and said: "The baby would disturb my sleeping. You can take him with you." Casey could not restrain her anger, "As if this is not her grandson at all."

When Casey talked with some of her Chinese girlfriends who also married Americans, one of her friend complained about her similar experience with her American mother-in-law. It was the wedding anniversary for her and her husband and they wanted to relive the past romance. But the mother-in-law refused to help for her son and daughter-in-law looking after the child for the excuse that she had made appointment with someone to play bingo. In the end they had no choice but pay the daughter of their neighbor 60 dollars to look after the kid for them. "I still cannot understand such family relations in the United States even till now."

The misreading and misunderstanding because of the language difference can also turn Chinese daughters-in-law on against their American mother-in-law. Ms. Xu lives in the South Bay. At the weekend, she went to the mother-in-law's house to wrap Christmas presents together. Her mother looked at the label when wrapping one of the toys and suddenly said to Ms. Xu, "Oh, Made in China".

Ms. Xu thought her mother-in-law meant things "made in China" are all cheap and of poor quality, so she immediately retorted: "No one is forcing you to buy Made-in-China. You can buy Made-in-America." The mother-in-law froze for a moment and explained right away that she was just joking. At dinner, the mother-in-law again reiterated to Ms. Xu that her words were just a joke and asked her not to be serious about it. But the atmosphere of the family gathering was inevitably embarrassing throughout the night. 

Another Chinese daughter-in-law, Jasmine, who just gave birth to a hybrid daughter in October 2012, also nearly started a war against her mother-in-law due to language misunderstandings. Jasmine said, when her mother-in-law came to visit the granddaughter, she called herself "mama". When Jasmine heard this, she strongly protested and said "You are the grandma. I'm the mama!" But her American mother-in-law insisted that "mama" is indeed an intimate way to address "grandma". The relationship between the mother- and daughter-in-law immediately turned a bit unpleasant. After Jasmine searched on the Internet and found out that "mama" is really the nickname some Americans call the grandma, she immediately went and apologized to her mother-in-law.


Source: People's Daily Online

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Reply Report 暗夜晨曦 2013-3-31 22:38
The relationship between daughter-in-low and mother-in low is often complicated in China. But the cultural difference can make their relationship serious. What we should do are try to understand each other and complain about it less, so that can we live a happy family.

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