by Bùi Quỳnh Hoa
When two people decide to marry, each makes a pledge that the other will be the most significant and important one in their lives.
Many trust the vow “till death do us part” because their partner will be on their side even when the going gets tough. But when life becomes painful, with too many challenges, especially family conflicts between a mom and her daughter-in-law, very few question the notion of moving on.
Many daughters-in-law believe that their husband’s mother always exhibits jealousy, makes demands, and is critical, intrusive and sulks.
Phan Thị Tuệ, 28, from Thái Nguyên Province recalled her stress.
“On the first day, after our wedding, my mother-in-law told me, ‘I gave birth to your husband, and raised him in difficult times. So remember, he is always on my side and protects me, no matter who you are. You have to accept that. You come after me.’ I know, our conflict began from that day.”
Teacher Phan Thị Thu Hương from Vĩnh Phúc Province had her own story.
“My mother-in-law once told me about a terrible incident about her past when she had lived. I had thought due to this she would understand how hard it is for a daughter-in-law and she would empathise with me. But I was completely wrong,” Hương said.
“She always thought that I was so lucky to step into her house, because her son is a city boy, and I, a country girl.
“I worked from dawn till dusk, she did not care. But anytime she witnessed her lovely son [my husband] help me to do housework, she became very angry and looked at me as an un-educated person,” she added.
“At meals, she saved all the tasty dishes for her son and told me, ‘I do not want you to become fatter’. She looked at me with a message, ‘Your feelings don’t make any sense’. I felt hurt. I wondered if she remembered that she also had a pretty and innocent daughter. Did she want her sweetie to be treated as badly as she was doing to me?” Hương asked crying.
A colleague of mine, Đỗ Minh Thu, also had a problem with her mother-in-law.
“Our relationship in the beginning was completely fine. My mother-in-law and I were very nice and close to each other. But since my son was born, tensions between us have been occurring more often,” Thu said.
“She used to make it a point to show me she knows more than I do. If I put a sweater on my son, she would insist he needed his over coat. She would always tell me what to do. She wanted to decide everything related to my son – her grandson, from caring to educating him, and that made me crazy. Further, she sometimes also invaded my private space. I wished we could move out to live separately but we could not. Anyway she is old, I don’t want to see her live alone,” she said.
A similar proportion of mothers-in-law also complained of being excluded and isolated.
“My daughter-in-law is so cold toward me,” 59-year-old Phan Thị Bẩy, from Long Biên District, said.
“She grudges any attention my son gives to me and takes every opportunity to minimise the importance and depth of the bond he and I have,” she added.
Nguyễn Thị Loan, 72, from the same district, also has a daughter-in-law who works for a foreign company. She complained, “My daughter-in-law always says she is busy. She would go out early in the morning and return at midnight, leaving all the housework and her two little children to me to take care of. I did it without any complaints because I trusted her, and I love my son and my grandsons very much. But one day, on the way to the market, I saw her sitting at an ice-cream parlour lazily, chatting with her friends. She cheated me. It is unacceptable!”
Dương Hồng Hạnh, 89, from Canada, revealed her conflict with her daughter-in-law who did not want a child although she had been married to her son for five years.
“Anytime I asked her and my son about their plans for a baby, she flatly refused. ‘I want to focus on my job now. If I have a baby now, I will not be promoted. Why don’t you foster my individual growth?’ she would say,” Hạnh said.
“I am old now. I do not want to pass away without seeing my grandson’s face. Money and promotion mean nothing. Why is she not able to balance her career and marriage?” she claimed.
Modern women nowadays are independent about finances and thought. They have good jobs and are doing very well for themselves. Instead of accepting an unhappy marriage, they want to decide their lives themselves. This is the reason for the significant rise in divorce cases in Việt Nam.
According to a survey conducted by Việt Nam’s Ministry of Culture and the General Statistics Office, with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund, the number of divorces in the country has increased over the years: 51,361 cases in 2000; 88,591 cases in 2010; and 145,791 cases in 2013. The number of women who want a divorce is double compared to the men who want it.
However, for many, from old to young, divorce is not the perfect way to escape an unhappy marriage.
Lê Yên Chi from the Ministry of Defence agrees with this.
“It is difficult to love a new one, especially when it is a mother-in-law. But it is fair to say that no baby-sitter could love our children as their grandmother does. Thanks to her, I feel secure about them anytime I am away from home on a working trip,” Chi said.
“She has a lot of experience in caring for children and cooking as well. Living together with her is not really bad. I will try my best to live in harmony with her. It is also a good way to make my husband happy.”
Phan Kim Oanh from Tây Hồ District is a typical modern mother-in-law.
“In my opinion, the word ‘mother-in-law’ is too serious and sensitive. If I take the word ‘in-law’ out from it, only the word ‘mother’ remains. And naturally we test each other as a real mom and a real daughter,” Oanh said.
“She makes my son happy and gives me angel grandsons, so why do I have to hate her?
“Sometimes I cannot persuade my son to do something, but his wife – my daughter-in-law – can. So I think it is better to have a good relationship with her, in order to deal with him,” she laughs. “I believe if I love her, she’ll love me more.”
Mother-daughter-in-law relationships are not simple. Balancing loyalties, and drawing boundaries between biases that blind us to our own unfair behavior, are essential to prevent in-law conflicts from overwhelming a marriage.
Let us stop crying “Whose side are you on?” Instead, let us light a loving fire, together. Then everything will be fine. VNS