I am in love with a Chinese American. His parents are both Chinese and were brought to America for the “better life”. I am a white with two children.
To cut a long story short, his mother hates white women and wants him to marry and Asian. He refuses because he loves me. How can I be the kind of daughter in law that his mother wants?
And I thought my in-laws were cautious about me!
There’s good news here: he’s committed to you. The major reason our relationships break up is not because of the parents — it’s because of him, when he gives in to the family pressure to end the relationship. He’s already defying her wishes, so, chances are, he’s not going to leave you.
Being a “model daughter-in-law,” however, is another story — one that takes a lot of time, and patience, to write. She probably harbors the usual stereotypes about foreign women — that we’re unreliable seductress types with zero morals — and it’s no wonder (think American Pie, almost any reality series on MTV). But your behavior can tell her something different.
Begin with being filial — or, in other words, showing you care for family elders.
Start with her health. I’ve built a better relationship with my mother-in-law by simply inquiring about her health (she has battled with high blood pressure over the years), and buying her vitamins/herbal medicines that are good for her.
Avoid arguments. Remember, according to Confucian values, the elders — parents, teachers — are there to instruct young people, not the other way around. That’s why China’s education system is usually a top-down, one-way transaction (i.e. it goes from the teacher to the student). Same with parents and children. You won’t always agree, but you’ll win points by keeping those opinions to yourself.
Help her around the house, or in the kitchen. This is a great way to show you support her, and you care (remember, love is shown through actions, not words). She’ll probably refuse you many, many times, even to the point of getting angry — but this is the Chinese way, and she’s not actually angry or upset. Your persistence will demonstrate you’re sincere, and really do want to help.
Dress conservatively. You don’t have to be in your Sunday best — but you should avoid any clothing that reinforces the negative stereotypes. Keep that cleavage to yourself, and never show too much leg!
Get interested in her interests. Every mother-in-law is good at something — why not learn from her? My Chinese mother-in-law is an outstanding cook. So, I asked her to teach me how, and she did. (In fact, she took it so seriously that she even bought me daikon radish out of season, just to show me how to prepare pickled radishes). The whole experience really helped us become closer and bond together.
Have your Chinese boyfriend/husband praise you in ways she understands. My Chinese mother-in-law will never appreciate my writing or Chinese translation successes — but she knows the importance of food. So, my husband told her I prepare delicious, authentic Chinese food — including meats (a big deal, since I am a vegan and make it just for him). She interprets this as “my daughter-in-law is caring for my son, and making sure he gets enough nutrition” (especially the “meat” part — after surviving the Cultural Revolution, meat equals good nutrition).
Still, you can do everything right, but she may not come around. Consider Rhiannon of Wo Ai Ni, who has two white kids from a previous marriage, and three mixed-race kids with her Chinese husband. Her future in-laws forced him to marry a woman in China while they were in a relationship (he did come back to Rhiannon, though, and eventually divorced the wife in China to marry her). Her Chinese mother-in-law has been more receptive since then, but even so — during Chinese New Year, her in-laws always give the white kids less money in their hongbao, and fewer treats such as lychees (and every year, Rhiannon has to explain to the two white children why there’s a difference…sigh).
But let’s hope your mother-in-law has a change of heart. Mine did.
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.