by Trung Hieu – My Lang
Following Vietnamese tradition, young men continue to live with their parents after getting married. The relationship between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, however, can often be thorny.
To help families overcome these issues, many women's associations in Ha Noi have established "Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law clubs" to remove the knots in the relationship and allow both sides to air their grievances. Many of them have made significant progress in healing relations and helping families live in harmony.
"When I gave birth to my child, there were conflicts between my mother-in-law and I, as two generations taking care of one child. So many things happened," Lan Anh, a member of the in-laws club in Sai Dong Ward, Long Bien District, says.
"At that moment, the club was established. After several sessions at the club, both she and I understood each other better and made concessions to one another. For example, we often got annoyed with the other about the child's diet, but now I would be fine with anything she feeds my child, because I realised that he is her grandchild, so she must be thinking about what is best for him."
Established in September 2005, the club now has 98 pairs of mothers- and daughters-in-law. This is the first such club in Long Bien District.
"When we founded the club, our sole purpose was to make life more beautiful," says Nguyen Huong Lan, chairwoman of the ward's Women's Association.
Following along the same lines, a group of mothers-in-law in Nga Tu So Ward (Thanh Xuan District) established a similar club four years ago.
Pham Thi Chin, chairwoman of the ward's Women's Association, says this relationship between mother- and daughter-in law is very traditional. "Many families only hoped that the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law would not conflict, but after they joined the club, many even became perfect pairs," she says.
When Nguyen Thi Sinh first came to the club, she complained about her German daughter-in-law. She could not believe her daughter-in-law would do things like asking her to change the furniture in her own house.
What actually happened was this: her son and daughter-in-law often visit home once a year, and each time they stay more than a month. In their first time, after coming back to Germany, the daughter-in-law gave Sinh US$2,000 and asked her to replace blankets, bed, mats and some other home utensils, and prepare a room for the couple and their child for the next visit.
Sinh thought that their furniture was still good, and because the daughter-in-law did not take ever care of her, why should she have to obey her demands? Chin says: "We explained to Mrs Sinh that that money was given by the daughter-in-law so she wouldn't have to go to any expense. Every year the couple can only visit home for one month so Sinh should do her best to please them. She could just buy decent furniture – nothing extravagant – and save about $1,000. Then when they come back she could use that sum to buy them food.
"We also asked Mrs Sinh to dress well to give the Western daughter-in-law a positive impression of Vietnamese women."
As the advice sounded good, the mother followed it. The day her son's family came back, they felt satisfied to see the house tidy and clean, and to eat a variety of good foods.
On the day they returned to Germany, her daughter-in-law, though she couldn't speak Vietnamese, cried and thanked Sinh for being such a caring mother-in-law.
The club was established in 2008. So far it has 50 pairs of mothers and daughters-in-law, including 43 "perfect pairs".
The club's activities are based on the principle that everything discussed in meetings should be kept confidential, and members should refrain from any gossip in their daily lives to avoid slander and misunderstanding.
The club also holds separate meetings for mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law so that their private stories can be told frankly and honestly.
According to Chin, the secret for keeping a good relationship between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law is that the mothers must set an example of showing tolerance and love.
"I told the other mothers that we should love and sympathize with our children first, then they will love us. I still use an old saying: "Phuc duc tai mau" (Children are blessed thanks to their mother's virtue and righteousness) to teach the young mothers- and daughters-in-law. As a result, in the last four years the club has achieved many successes."
Some typical "perfect pairs" of mothers- and daughters-in-law include mother Dao Thi Nhat – Nguyen Thanh Van and mother Nguyen Thuc Oanh – Nguyen Bich Thuy.
"Perfection means we find a common voice and have sympathy and harmony," says Chin.
Nhat, one of the "perfect mothers", says: "There were some conflicts because my daughter-in-law is young and I am sometimes prissy. My daughter-in-law now feel relaxed and carefree. We mothers should be tolerant and altruistic. If she does something wrong, I correct her gently."
Sitting beside her mother-in-law, Thanh Van smiles and says: "Even though I have lived with her for 20 years, my husband and I still have meals with her. I know she is a bit picky, so I often follow her decisions."
Thuy shared about her mother-in-law: "She never says anything that makes me sad. If any bad things happen, she discusses them with me calmly. I once hit my child in front of her, and she called me to her room and talked with me about it. When I gave birth, she cooked and brought food to my room, washed diapers and boiled water for me to bathe the baby. We are never angry to each other."
Mother Oanh says: "I know her job is associated with social activities, so I sympathize with her and help her out. I know that being a daughter-in-law is difficult. As she has to live with me, I must know how to love her."
Significant changes in the relationship between mothers and daughters-in-law can be seen thanks to the activities of such clubs.
Small conflicts are gradually reduced. Mothers-in-law also do not force daughters-in-law to be housewives.
Nguyen Thi Ky, 63, says: "The club helped many young people make progress in terms of how to speak, behave and dress. Our daughters-in-law can feel comfortable in living and wearing what they want, but they also know how to show moderation. Mothers tell each other: As we love our daughters-in-law, they will love us." — VNS