Ask the Yangxifu: Building Better Relations with a Chinese Mother-in-law

Chinese mother-in-law
Is your (future) Chinese mother-in-law giving you the cold shoulder? How can you build a better relationship with her, and be the "model daughter-in-law", even if you're not Chinese?

Anonymous asks:

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.

Good luck!


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.

13 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: Building Better Relations with a Chinese Mother-in-law”

  1. My mother in law accepted me pretty much from the start, due to my interest in Chinese language and culture, which was far greater than the interest shown by my highly Americanized husband. But I do sometimes feel tested. I often find it best to smile and keep my mouth shut.
    .-= Juliet´s last blog ..A milestone for William. =-.

    1. @Crystal, thanks for the comment! It’s true that sometimes you can do everything right, but in the end, a little distance might be the thing you need.

      @Juliet, thanks for sharing! You’re very fortunate — sounds like you have some pretty enlightened inlaws. I know what you mean about smiling and keeping your mouth shut. I’ve found that, when I don’t agree but really need to say something, it’s best to have my husband express those opinions, instead of me.

  2. Another great answer Jocelyn! I even got something out of it. I probably should buy her some medicine and stuff for her health, I know she would like it. LOL
    She does have one daughter in law who simply put, says everything right, calls on all the right holiday, birthdays, inquires about health (very important) and my MIL loves her. Oh, she’s Chinese and really smart, no kids etc.
    Hey, at least she loves my 3 younger kids, even though she complains about me a lot!
    .-= rhiannon´s last blog ..What the heck did I get myself into? =-.

    1. Hi Rhiannon, thanks for commenting! While I could see why your MIL might prefer the other daughter-in-law, still I’m surprised that the fact you have kids (a very, very important thing in Chinese culture) wouldn’t endear you to her more. That is good that she loves your younger three children.

  3. I recently found a very effective way to deal with my mother-in-law: a very very very strong Cosmopolitan: an attractively presented pink cocktail which fells her for the evening, freeing me up to enjoy Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart.

    1. Hi Jennifer, thanks for sharing — I can imagine the scene already…MIL snoozing in her chair, and you sitting back relaxing before the TV. 😉

  4. Speaking of American Pie…Gosh I hate those kinds of films. And to their director, thanks a bloody lot for reinforcing all the negative stereotypes of foreign women. I remember my boyfriend mentioning he’d seen it (even though I hadn’t!) and since then he honestly assumed it was the way all Western people behave. I guess we are more sexually liberated and outspoken…but I wish Chinese guys could stop seeing us as these temptresses that will sleep with anything with a pulse. Shudder.

  5. I have done every thing one could do to show love and respect, but she cannot be satisfy. She does not have agood marriage hence she does not want anyone to. Chinese grand ma always love and care alot for grand children but not mine. I have been married for more than 20yrs with two boys. If there is another world i will never marry a chinese man because of this anti marriage tradition.

  6. Hi, my name is Michelle. I’ve been married to my husband ( his family are from Ningbo, but he grew up in Hong Kong) for almost three years, and we are expecting our first child.

    In the beginning I thought his mother had accepted me, she was happy and full of praise over how smart and creative I am ( because I’m left handed/ foreign etc – but I am half Chinese my self).
    But then we got married and she moved in with us ( I accepted this as it is Chinese culture) I tried to be a good daughter-in-law and help as much as I could with housework and everything, but it was never good enough. It was never the right way, I used too much product (she never used soap when washing our clothes or dishes), I made the bed ‘wrong’ etc. eventually she got so angry she refused to let me clean anything (when in actual fact I am cleaner and a better housewife than she is! My own mother was horrified at the state of the house when she came to visit, and mother in law was cleaning!)

    Now it has gotten so bad that she tried to get my husband to divorce me! Despite being pregnant with his child! She even tried to attack me with an umbrella ( while pregnant I may add) – who does that???

    I’ve been nothing but good and caring to both of them (never told my husband she has to leave because she’s divorced and no one else will care for her except us) – but many times his mother has told me to get lost, that “‘we’ don’t need you and ‘we’ can find a better wife”.
    For two years she’s made my life a living hell – I couldn’t take it anymore at one point and tried to kill myself because I got nothing but negativity from her.

    My husband tries to protect me – which results in him sending her away and then blaming me! Despite all of this heartache being her doing.

    I’m in the uk at the moment to have our baby and I am terrified of going back to China because I will be alone, and she will be there waiting!
    I don’t trust her with my baby because I had a puppy ( given to me by my husband as a gift because we were having trouble conceiving) and I found out she’d been torturing him when I wasn’t around, the last straw was when she kicked him hard in front of me ( the puppy was tiny and went flying I thought shed killed him) so I screamed in her face ( didn’t even dream of hitting her mind) but she tried to attack me while pregnant with her granddaughter!

    I’m at my wits end, my husband keeps telling me that it will be better, that I will be ‘the boss of my baby’ but I am terrified (despite her showing no interest in me or the baby) that she will try and take her from me!

    I’m sorry for such a long comment, but I don’t know what to do! I’m even considering divorcing my dear, sweet, loving husband just to get away from her.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.