For thousands of years, daughters-in-law have dreaded their Chinese parents-in-law. Why?
Because the son’s mother has more power and status in the family, according to Confucian principles of filial piety, sons — not daughters — are the only ones obligated to serve and care for their birth parents in their old age. As a result, they are golden to the family (think insurance, before social security and pensions existed) and preferred over daughters.
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On the other hand, daughters were tossed away in marriage to a new family, the husbands, and must transfer their filial piety to the in-laws. In a new home bound by duty to the in-laws first and the husband second — daughters-in-law have minor status and were even thought of as slaves to some families (notice that the character for an enslaved person, 奴, includes the character of a woman, 女).
Will my Chinese parents-in-law like me?
When a prospective wife thinks of her parents-in-law, the first question is: “Will they like me?” So, try your best to be the most charming you have ever been and try to win them over. However, this was not the case, although I had planned to knock their socks off with my charm. My in-laws, my mother-in-law, to be specific, were not all that bad.
She was so warm and welcoming that my trepidation about meeting them simply disappeared. However, I panicked when my fiancé told me he had finally arranged for his parents to meet me. He always told me his parents were strict with him growing up, which did not help the situation.
So I wrote conversation starters, and I had a whole speech memorized. But when I met them, my mother-in-law hugged me warmly, and the lesson I had practiced flew out the window. She had this calm, serene feel about her that made me feel like I belonged. I did not think they would accept me because I was not Chinese, but I was relieved when they did.
When I met my Chinese parents-in-law, I was pregnant and at a low point in my life. I felt incredibly disconnected and uncomfortable in my skin — like I didn’t fit in this world, was born at the wrong time, and didn’t belong.
I just kept thinking of my unborn child, which scared me because I didn’t ever want my child to feel like he didn’t belong. Being a child of a mixed-race family was always tricky, and I didn’t want him to suffer any more than he had to. So before meeting my Chinese parents-in-law, I had already prepared myself for the worst.
The rejection I was waiting for never came
I had not realized how much I craved their acceptance until I had it. They accepted me and my pregnancy wholeheartedly, and I have never been happier. My mother-in-law and I are not only family, but we’re also friends. My relationship with her has grown over the years, and I think it was because of that first meeting when we bonded.
She helped me through my pregnancy period, going with me to all clinical appointments, and she was even present when I gave birth. She said it was a Chinese tradition for the mother of her pregnant daughter to be present during the first delivery.
And since my mother was deceased, she wanted to be there for me. And that was not all. The first month after I gave birth, she did not allow me to do any heavy work, including housework. She said that I was not allowed traditionally.
Having Chinese parents-in-law taught me to look at and approach life differently and appreciate everything I have. I am so glad my children will grow up in a family that enjoys their culture and traditions and respects everyone. And above all, there is a whole lot of love.