The Troubling Chinese Mother-in-law Relationship

IMG_2151It could have been any other pile of clothing — pastel linen blouses, jeans with a flower pattern embroidered on the side, a silk robe in peacock blue, and more. But they were my the clothes of my sister-in-law, Da Sao, married to my husband’s eldest brother. And my Chinese mother-in-law was anxious to clear them away.

“Look at all of these clothes,” she said, lifting up a shirt and then the jeans, sighing. “She buys them on a whim, wears them once, and then brings them over here — and never wears them again.” Then, smiling towards me, she added, “you should wear them.”

It was a lonely pile of clothes, desperate to be worn. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was more than just housekeeping — because Da Sao was becoming infamous during our dinnertime conversations.

One day, my inlaws chastised Da Sao for enrolling her son, Kaiqi, in too many afterschool activities. Another day, they declared her too lazy, spending too much time on the computer. On another, they decided her cooking wasn’t up to snuff. I couldn’t help but notice that, even as both in-laws spoke, my Chinese mother-in-law supported the brunt of these indictments.

Da Sao is no saint — but not once did my inlaws suggest that Da Ge, her husband, did anything wrong (Da Ge, according to my husband John, is an uninvolved father who has also exacerbated his son’s behavior problems). Clearly, this was a troubling Chinese mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship.

But it’s not just Da Sao. For thousands of years, daughters-in-law have dreaded their Chinese mothers-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.

On the other hand, daughters were tossed away in marriage to a new family, the husband’s, 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 little status, and were even thought of as slaves to some families (notice that the character for slave, 奴, includes the character for woman, 女).

China Hope Live explains it in another way:

Some of the tension in this relationship is inherited from the days when women in China really did marry OUT of their families and into their husband’s family — a girl might never see her own family ever again! At the same time, even though she had married into this new family, she would likely still be considered an outsider. As sort of “low woman on the totem pole” in her new family, one of her main jobs would be to serve her mother-in-law and make her happy. The Chinese mother-in-law (at least in ages past) had a reputation for being pretty demanding and difficult to please — after all, she had once been low woman on the totem pole as well, and had risen through the ranks to become mother, mother-in-law, and hopefully, grandmother. It seems this could all get pretty political, with both mother-in-law and daughter-in-law triangulating and manipulating to keep son/husband in their corner.

Village Life in China: a study in sociology — published in 1899 — is proof this problem has a long history:

The fact that Chinese girls are married so young, and that they have not been taught those lessons of self-control which it is so important for them to learn, suffices to demonstrate the absolute necessity for the existence of the Chinese mother-in-law in the family….

A great deal is heard of the tyranny and cruelty of these mothers-in-law, and there is firm basis of fact for all that is so often said upon that point. But it must at the same time be borne in mind that without her the Chinese family would go to utter ruin. The father-in-law is not only unfitted to take the control which belongs to his wife, even were he at home all the time which would seldom be the case, but propriety forbids him to do any such thing, even were he able. In families where a mother-in-law is lacking, there are likely to be much greater evils than the worst mother-in-law. Abuse of the daughter-in-law is so common a circumstance, that unless it be especially flagrant, it attracts very little attention.

The Chinese-mother-in-law, daughter-in-law tension even makes for great film drama, as described in this review of the 1990 film Song of the Exile:

The film depicts Hue’s grandmother as a traditional chauvinist Chinese mother-in-law who polices patriarchal loyalties in the conjugal home. While living in the in-laws’ Chinese household, Hueying’s mother, the Japanese outsider, suffers in silence while playing the role of the traditional daughter-in-law until her resentment brews against her own daughter, Hueying.

Of course, not all daughters-in-law must endure silent rejection, abuse or worse at the hands of their Chinese mothers-in-law. If anything, the decline of arranged marriages — which were always more of a benefit to the son than the daughter — has elicited a collective sigh of relief among young, marriageable women in China. Choosing your own husband does offer the prospect of more conjugal bliss — and thus more happiness, mitigating the in-law relationship. And nowadays, in-laws often have their own home. Though mother-in-law may stay with you to help raise the grandchild, she’s not a permanent member of the house.

Still, even among today’s married women in China, Chinese mothers-in-law aren’t unlike Chinese deities: something to revere and fear.

The looming prospect of a live-in mother-in-law was enough to break a relationship, in the case of my friend, Peter Pi. During Chinese New Year earlier this year, Peter told his girlfriend his mother would eventually move in with them, if they ever married. Peter had good reasons for it — she lives in poverty in Southern Henan Province; and since he’s the oldest son, he feels an obligation to care for her. Unfortunately, the girl broke things off immediately. “She worries very much for the mother-in-law relationship,” admitted Peter, with some chagrin. (Fortunately, they mended the relationship later this year, but only because Peter persistently called her.)

Some daughters-in-law fret over their behavior in front of the Chinese mother-in-law — because violating the hierarchy of traditional Confucian filial piety means trouble. Consider this example in the same post cited above, from China Live Hope:

The classmate asked her boyfriend to get her a drink of water, and the boyfriend (foolish boy) asked his mother to get him a drink of water (intending to give it to his girlfriend)….

First, the girlfriend made a big mistake in front of her potential-future-mother-in-law by not showing her boyfriend the respect he deserves. Taking into account that this mother has sacrificed many hours cooking, cleaning, and otherwise looking out for and taking care of her son, a request like this on the behalf of the girlfriend makes it seem like she’s not the kind of girl who will take very good care of him. Add into the mix that it’s apparently not uncommon for some Chinese mother-in-laws feel that their son’s wife/girlfriend has “stolen away their precious son” (yes, my teacher really said that), and the future potential mother-in-law becomes aghast that this son-stealer, this interloper is not only too lazy to get her own water, but also expects the precious treasure of a son to serve her.

Secondly, the boyfriend made a REALLY big mistake by passing the request on to his mother. In effect, he turned the “natural order” of things (daughter-in-law serves mother-in-law) completely on its head, and basically asked his mother to serve his potential future wife.

Yet, it’s tough to honor and obey your Chinese mother-in-law, when you know her actions have consequences. That’s the quandry of my 31-year-old friend Chen, distressed by her mother-in-law’s indulgent parenting towards her three-year-old son, Xiao Mai. For example, her mother-in-law chases Xiao Mai around the house with a spoon of food, instead of demanding he sit at the table and feed himself. But she and her husband, as full-time teachers in high school (the most demanding teaching jobs, given that their students are staring down the Gaokao, or college extrance exam), exclusively rely on her for child care, just as many families do. It’s also a duty often reserved for the son’s mother. Chen couldn’t criticize her — she would be labeled ungrateful, demanding…maybe even unfilial. So, she stifles the urge to say anything at all — reluctantly watching her son, under the mother’s care, become a little emperor, with a temper.

Sometimes, it’s not the mother-in-law’s actions that are the problem — but the suggestions. Imagine my surprise, the morning after my wedding ceremony, when my mother-in-law sat me down for the reproduction talk. “Don’t forget to have kids early,” she said, with a slight smile. Great idea in practice — but not if your daughter-in-law (me!) is the only family breadwinner back in the US, helping her husband do the impossible of getting into a super-competitive Ph.D. program — all with paltry catastrophic health insurance that doesn’t cover maternity. So, I told her we needed to wait. Her answer? “How about you have the child, and let me raise it until it’s three years old?” Even today, every time I return home childless, I feel her desire for more grandchildren weighing on me like an unwieldy Chinese lantern tied to my back.

Still, Chinese mother-in-law-daughter-in-law relationships aren’t always an authoritarian affair. Sometimes, the dialogue is reciprocal, the feelings mutual, and the result a smile.

Over the years, I’ve come to love my mother-in-law because she cares for me — from always making sure there are vegetarian dishes at dinner, to bringing me medicine when I get the flu. And I care for her too, from giving her vitamins for high blood pressure, to helping her persuade my father-in-law not to buy into expensive scams.

So later this summer, after discussing the behavior problems of Kaiqi, their grandchild, my husband and I suggested that coddling the child — as she and my father-in-law did — played a role. And that Da Ge, the uninvolved father, was also to blame, just as much as Da Sao. Well, this Chinese mother-in-law did the impossible — she agreed.

My father-in-law, however, did not…which is another troubling relationship, for another day. 😉

What has been your experience with Chinese mothers-in-law? Are they absolute queens in the house? A trusted family collaborator? Or somewhere in between? If you’re a daughter-in-law with a Chinese-mother-in-law — or know one — I’d love to hear from you.

Did you enjoy this article?
Sign up now and receive an email whenever I publish new blog posts. We respect your privacy. You can unsubscribe at any time.
I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )

227 Replies to “The Troubling Chinese Mother-in-law Relationship”

  1. Hmmm, I must point out a note of caution here. Much of the perceived “traditional” Chinese role here of the daughter in law vs mother in law and the family dynamics once she moved to the husband’s household is to a certain extent cliche. While there certainly is a grain of truth to it, one must also consider the flip side and the fact that historically there is a huge variety of traditional Chinese/Confucian family dynamics that stem from regional, cultural, economic and social classe differences and shall we say occupational “hazards” consequent of the son/husband’s occupations that necessitate alternative family arrangement and dynamics.

    In fact according to traditional Confucian values, the wife or the mother take over the duty of running the household and other “internal” or “inward facing” matters whereas the husbands and sons take care of all matters concerning the (extended) family unit’s interaction with the outside world or “outward facing” matters. Consequently, in large and wealthy household or where the husband or sons are mostly away on business, government or military duty for long period of time, the women of the house (in accordance with seniority of course) enjoys enormous power and independence to the extent that the traditional Confucian division of “responsibilities” are very much blurred and ill-defined. This can be to the extent that sometimes Chinese men can even appear “hen-pecked” as they defer to their wives in household matter/budget and extended family dynamics after their eventual return.

    Historically, Chinese society have a deep seated aversion to marriages between people who share the same surname, as it smacks of incest, irrespective of the size of the population. Even today should two people who share the same surname wishes to marry, DNA testing are often conducted just to be on the safe side.

    Therefore historically matchmaking can take place over very long distances, especially where there are towns and villages where everybody is related and share the same surname. As a result for all practical purposes when the daughter in law travels long distances to move into the husband’s household, she is expected to transfer her duty and “allegiance” to the husband’s family. Yet unlike in the West, the daughter in law never adopt the husband’s surname as it is considered the height of filial impropriety.

    That was the very brief bit about historical Chinese social anthropology and some of the more mundane reasons for the supposedly “Confucian” values behind daughter vs mother in law family dynamics. Regarding the situation today and speaking from personal experience of having TWELVE aunts and uncles, and not all of them Chinese, my personal advice is to steer well clear if at all possible. Just smile, be yourself and pretend you don’t understand some of the more complicated (read: heated) conversations. That’s what my Danish aunt always does and it works a treat. 😉

    1. @Shirong,

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. Certainly, I could never cover everything in this post, and I’m glad you pointed out the flip side to the relationship, and considered this issue from other sides. It’s readers like you that make this blog even better. 🙂

      Will keep that “steer well clear” advice in mind. 😉

  2. It’s not a myst that Chinese women dread to be someone’s daughter-in-law, but I certainly can attest that women in general, need to learn to let go of certain “entitled controling symdromes” they feel – with all appropriate reasons, I nominate the fact living your life better to be the biggest benefit. Let me explain! I was born in a heavy Chinese society and raised in a very male-dominated family until 19. Then I came to the U.S. and married an American. Most Chinese people migrate into another country remain with their cultural similar communities, I did not and am glad. I do not forget my culture and anyone who knows me will know that my husband is more influenced by Chinese culture than I intend to promote – especially when food is involved:-) The point is, I have learned about the mother/daughter-in-law within the Chinese society which is one of the reasons I elected not to be married into a Chinese family but just consider the burden I needed to carry on if one day my son brings home a bride!! Instead of living my life and allowing my children to learn their mistakes and improve, I have to, according to societal standards, I must “keep the house in order” – aka. I will not have any breathing room and spending my finally free-of-young-children life making other miserable since the society demands that it is my duty to keep the daughter-in-law “in line”.
    My thoughts have come to this:
    1. I do not want my daughters to be lectured and suffocated into a “mold” by their future mother-in-laws because they think they are “upholding” their specific cultural values even in my view, these values prove to be abusive – simply because they have gone through these value-teaching with their in-laws and it’s a pay-back time.
    2. I am confident that my daughters are smart enough to make mistakes and smart enough to learn from them and make their lives and families better units in the communities they will be living in. Their in-laws won’t make this any better, but possibly worse.
    3. My daughters will make their decisions in child raising, finance managing, and other important decisions in their lives, I can advise, not demand. They are adults and I like to think they deserve adult-like respect as much as most of us do.
    4. I love my son and I am certain I love him enough to watch him fall and climb back up on his own. I don’t see my interference in his marriage will help any….point in check, I resented the years when my mother-in-law tried to interfere with my marriage with her son, no matter how good the intentions were.

    And finally, I want to live my life a little after my children have grown and established families – not pondering daily how to teach their spouses how to iron clothes, cook meals and fold laundry.

    1. I am caucasian Canadian and my fiancé is canadian (born here) with thai/chinese parents-and- OH MY GOD!! Mother in law from hell!
      Literally the most manipulative person I have ever met in my life.
      I don’t want to worry you all with a sob story and details- it took a long time for me to get over, and I went through depression for a whole because of her- but I am better now due to an incredibly loving and supportive partner.

      I just want to say-having that asian partner standing up is imperative! They will hate you more for it, because they’ll blame you for his back talk, but it will save your relationship and your sanity! The only thing that ended up working for us in the end was making then realize that if they didn’t accept me, they’d lose him. We did this by purposely not contacting them for months combined with making it super clear that they would never see their future grandchildren if they/she didn’t treat me with respect. It worked. I know she still hates me, but you can barely tell now if you were to see how she acts. All I have to say is, be strong! Hope this helped.

    2. @Odre

      Your mother in law did not want you marry her son? So, is she the type of mother in law that you don’t want to deal with? (as you mentioned that you don’t want to deal with Chinese mother in law)

  3. I’d be really interested in any stories about westernised children and their chinese mothers. I’m the eldest daughter raised in the UK, by my single Chinese Mother. I was raised in the British way as my Dad is English. I can’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese and my mother chastises me for not being a good Chinese daughter. I literally don’t know how to be a chinese daughter. I wasn’t raised that way by her but for some reason it’s my fault that I can’t do what she expects me to and when I ask what she means, she can’t articulate it and feels it is ok to scream and shout in hysterics. Anyway, this isn’t supposed to be a sob story post, I guess I’d like to desperately understand her and I have a few questions as I feel controlled and emotionally manipulated.

    1. @halfandhalf

      You might have to share with us more about your relationship with your mother! May be we can help you! If you want to of course!

    2. Very interesting! I am raised by loving Chinese parents but although I was born in China, I’ve lived in the UK from age 5. My parents came here before me and they were very busy earning enough money to keep us alive so I was left a lot with babysitters, have awful broken mandarin, married a causasian guy and don’t really engage with Chinese culture other than food.

      I have a few friends with the same background and basically all the women seem to have a terrible relationship with their mothers but the men seem to have an alright relationship.

      There are huge cultural and language differences and what seems to me to be a completely unwillingness from my mum’s side to consider that the younger generation may have an opinion and that this opinion may matter. Her usual response is ‘well I don’t care what you / your peers think’ or ‘why would I care what you / your peers think’. I think this is the filial piety thing but also perhaps language difference. Perhaps it comes across better in Chinese than I’m capable of understanding. She also takes any comment I make as an insult and is mortally offended. Is this just a language barrier or is this because of filial piety as well? Is this normal?

      My mum and I generally get on ok these days because I have modified my way of communicating and I let a lot of things go (as she said ‘why would I change? I can’t change and I don’t want to change). I think she thinks that she’s ‘won’ the argument and I’m happy for her to think this. I realise she cares deeply for me and wants the best for me even if we differ in our views of what that is. I know she’ll drop everything to help me in any way if I needed it. I don’t know if she knows how I feel about her but communicating is not possible and not just because of the language barrier although that hasn’t helped. I smile and I say nice things but it’s a bit sad because I don’t think she actually knows much about me, who I am, what I value (or even what I do for work) but I suppose it at least makes me think carefully about my relationship with my own children.

  4. I fret about having to live with my Chinese mother-in-law to be in the future. We have discussed that my fiance and I will move out after we are married but I am not entirely convinced she will not sneakily try to move in. She would take over the home and ruin and happy atmosphere. A lot of the things you mentioned above are common traits of her. The most annoying thing about her is that she constantly tell people what to do. Some of it is 关心 but it is constant. “Watch your hands, red and blue don’t go together, wear more clothes, don’t need to recycle just throw it away, eat moreyou have to do this, you must do that”, .. constantly it’s too much. I cannot think for it. She’ll see me in the middle of an action say folding some clothes and putting them away and she tell me to do it anyway. It suffocates me. I can’t be me in my own home. When I get married and have kids I would never want her to raise them. She would make them nervous.

  5. The relationship I have with my future mother-in-law is nonexistent. I am a 28 year old male and she is 26. We have been engaged for 2 years now and did not plan on marriage until after she and I were both done with our professional school. I am in a PHD program and she is in medical school.

    When I first started dating my girlfriend 4 years ago she tried to introduced me to her mother as my friend. Her mother always told her to find a man that would take care of her. A man that would cook for her and tried to make her feel special. I always loved to cook so I never thought much of cooking for my girlfriend. Anyway, when I met her mother I tried to show that not only would I take care of her daughter but her as well. I tried to help them in their Buddhist temple and in her kitchen.

    Big mistake! She would not even “talk” to me (she does not speak English and I do not speak Mandarin yet). She would barely look at me. The next couple of times she even saw me my girlfriend said she would get high blood pressure and feel ill.

    My fiance and I live together in a small one bedroom apartment. Her mother has no idea we live together but we try to be frugal because we are both students. Her mother still expects her to send money home and my girlfriend did that the first 2 years we lived together. She gave almost $10,000 to her mother one year and I got her to cut it down to $5,000 the next year. I don’t mind taking care of her mother too but how can we now, the money she gives is not even her money. That money is from student loans she gets.

    The problems with her mother has made a lot of stress in our relationship. When her family calls I need to be quiet and she is expected to go to her mother’s house every weekend. When they pick her up and drop her off I have to turn off all the lights and wait in the other room until she her family is gone. It is humiliating and degrading to myself.

    My family completely loves her and accepts her. They treat her like a daughter. I feel degraded, humiliated, and worthless to her family, especially when she calls where we live the “apartment” and calls where her mother lives, “home.”

    The strain has left me feeling if marriage is even a possibility. I believe marriage is a merging of two families, not taking a daughter away from her old family. What is your advise?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kevin.

      It does sound like your girlfriend’s mother is asking a lot out of her. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Chinese parents expecting their children to support them financially while the child is in college (and especially while taking out student loans). Is your girlfriend an only child? Is the mother divorced/separated and under financial pressure? These might explain the mother’s behavior, though even so, like I said, it seems bizarre that parents would demand money from a child that hasn’t started work yet.

      As for the way the mother seems to snub you, it may simply be the language barrier. My husband’s family didn’t really warm up to me until they met me, and discovered I spoke Mandarin. The mother may feel left out because you and her daughter can speak English, and live in this other world she may not understand. Additionally, she may have preconceived notions about who her daughter should be with — and because she cannot talk to you and dispel these ideas, they may be reinforced.

      Maybe you can talk to your girlfriend, and find out more about her mother’s situation to understand why she demands the financial support, and to what degree (if any) is she concerned about her daughter being with a non-Mandarin speaker.

      Hope this helps.

  6. I am married to a Chinese-American man for three years now. From the first moment my mother-in-law met me she has treated me with desrespect because she did not approve of me. Even after we got married she would make ugly comments and complain to my husband that I am a bad daughter-in-law and I never listen to her advise. I am a 36 year old, college educated woman, of Greek background, that was raised in a modern and relaxed family. It is very hard for me to get instructions from somebody on how to live every aspect of my life. She thinks she is entitled to direct everything from raising my child to how I cook or what I wear. When she is mad at me, for her own reasons, she comes to my house to visit and she does not even say hello to me. I am thankfull that I have a wonderfull husband but dealling with his mother is the one black spot in our marriage. I have to say that I am very happy that we do not see them very often.

  7. I’m a foreign girl with a Chinese boyfriend and I certainly fear the possibility of the Chinese mother-in-law syndrome. My boyfriend decided to buy his own home and move out of his parents house. His parents are still relatively young and in good health.

    On the day he moved into his new home, his mother went with him to ‘visit and try out the new place for a few days’, over half a year later and she is still there with her own room and comforts. Bring half the kitchen from her own house.

    I asked who is looking after his father and caring for his needs? why his mother was not being a wife to her husband? surely that was important too. The reply ‘She loves me more’ followed by a laugh.

    He did not intend this to be a new home for his parents and him but for him alone, hence his father did not move in too. Yet some how his mother moved herself in. I feel sorry for his father, his wife has abdoned him in favour of their son!!

    Having never lived on his own (and looking like he never will now) he didn’t see the problems this might cause in the future. Although we have many difficulties to face we would like a future together – I can see I will end up being the ‘awful’ foreign daughter-in-law. It wouldn’t feel so bad to me if both his parents were in his house but they are not.

    1. Dear Amelie,

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience! Ouch — the mother already moved in, even before he married? Wow.

      Sounds like the mother thinks of her son as her property, and so if the son has a house, by proxy it is her house too. It’s simply a product of how Chinese families are so interdependent (in this case, maybe a little too much)

      If it is a concern to you (having the mother at his place), maybe you can eventually talk to your boyfriend, and see if he can, in some way, coax her into returning to her home. If it is important for you and him to eventually have an independent life together, as a married couple, then it might be important for your boyfriend to let her know that she cannot just live with him because she wants to.

  8. Hi Jocelyn,

    I have been with my fiance for 5 years now and have had a rocky relationship with his mother. Our relationship at first was quite good, though she initially did not like me because I am half-Japanese (she is Taiwanese). Our relationship progressed to the point that I saw her about once a week and we would go out to eat, play bingo, shop, etc. This all occurred while my fiance was posted overseas for work, as well. Unfortunately, we had a big argument when he was back for a couple of weeks, as she said she did not think I could cook, clean, or be a good hostess and take care of her son. For me, this confirmed a lingering suspicion that I was not considered good enough for her son. This caused a major rift in our relationship, and she refused to speak to me for weeks. Eventually we were back on speaking terms, but last year my fiance and I bought a house together while she was back in Taiwan. She was furious that we appeared to have gone behind her back and bought a house while she was away, and did not consult/ask her (though we had looked at 75 houses prior to buying). This again caused a major rift, and she refused to speak nor acknowledge me. Obviously my relationship with my fiance was incredibly stressed, but he did propose to me at the end of last year. He has not told his mother because she refuses to allow him to be engaged. On Christmas Eve, he managed to convince her to come to our house for dinner. Things were going OK, but at the end of the night, I was sitting on the sectional, and did not move to let his mother and her husband sit side-by-side on the sofa. This was seen as flagrant disrespect and a territorial move by me, according to my fiance’s mother, and thus worsened my relationship with her, to the point that she does not want to see nor speak to me.

    I have tried buying her flowers, presents from my trips, and calling her on her birthday/Mother’s Day, but nothing seems to be working. It seems that things are getting worse, and my fiance and I are both at a loss as to what to do next. Please advise if possible.

  9. I am also an American woman married to a Chinese husband. We live in China. My mother-in-law is a very sweet and caring person; in fact she probably takes care of me far more than my husband and I take care of her. When we go to visit my in-laws, they have a virtual feast prepared for us and do not let us return home without at least 2 backpacks full of food. She never expects me to lift a finger, whether it’s cooking or helping clean up after dinner. That said, I can understand Jocelyn’s sentiments when she says, “every time I return home childless, I feel her desire for… grandchildren weighing on me like an unwieldy Chinese lantern tied to my back.” My husband and I married in our 30’s, and for many personal reasons we do not want children. Of course it was not an option to inform my mother-in-law of this, lest we dash all her hopes and dreams, her only hopes and dreams. I also experienced the “reproductive talk” shortly after my husband and I were married. In fact, my mother-in-law even cooked a special dish for my husband that (according to Chinese) is supposed to increase a man’s libido, thus increasing the possibility of me getting pregnant. A couple months into our marriage, when I still wasn’t pregnant, she asked my husband why not and were we using birth control. Mind you, I speak fluent Chinese and even though she was speaking the local dialect when she asked, I could understand what she was saying. We’ve been married for a year and a half now and the “baby talks” have died down a lot, but every time we visit it is still very hard for me. I want to do something to repay her for her kindness to me, but in the end I know the only thing she really wants is a grandchild and that is the only thing I cannot give her.

  10. oh boy. I have a Chinese boyfriend I have had for (eek) 20 years….his family is mostly nice to me, but it is always clear that they are Chinese and they are family and I am not. A lot of the time I do not notice it, but sometimes you run into the distinction like smacking into a brick wall. The “Chinese Family” is not anything I was raised with: it is like a whole separate entity unto itself with lots of rules and protocol and alliances and every now and then some obscure tenet rears its head and stings you like a serpent.

      1. easier…. no ..5 years later now, “boyfriend” has been sent on a mission to visit his sisters/nieces and to pick up a car for his parents in another state…he has been gone over a month on this family mission, and because of it, our usual fall vacation has been “cancelled.” None of this was discussed with me- just dumped on me. The hand of the mother is never far away. On my birthday, this year, the Chinese folk all went to visit another sister- suffering from a divorce. My life is non-existant to these people. While my boyfriend is a special person and I have spent 25 years with him, the abuse of me as a person who deserves some consideration in life has only gotten worse.

  11. I am a foreigner married to a Chinese man. I don’t speak Chinese and my mother-in-law doesn’t speak much English so communication between us is an issue.
    After my husband and I got married, he started looking for a place for “us” – I thought he meant two of us, but unfortunately he was thinking of “us” as him, me AND his mother. I completely freaked out, because I don’t have anything in common with his mother, we cannot talk to each other and sometimes she comes off as being really rude. Thankfully I was able to talk to my husband and we found place only for two of us, but every time his mother comes to visit, she makes comments and gives “advices” that sound more like orders – “Put down the blinds”, “Turn off the tap”, “Don’t put this here”, “Use this” and etc. She also always treats me like I have no manners – once she even physically pushed me towards a person that I supposedly didn’t greet (which I did, she just didn’t see it).

    I am happy I don’t have to live with my mother-in-law right now, but I constantly think about the future and that I will have to live with her. It scares me because I want to be myself in my house and live dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, stay in PJ all day if I want to and not to be afraid that I am not living up to some kind of daughter-in-law expectations. I love my husband but living with his mother might be a deal-breaker for me.

    1. Dear L,

      Thanks for sharing. Wow, I can imagine you would be worried about the future with your mother-in-law. Well, at least your husband was understanding to your needs in the first place and got you a place separate from her. Here’s hoping that things get better. 🙂

  12. I just met my Chinese boyfriend’s mother and it did not go as well as I wanted it to–but thanks to this article, I see that a lot of it was really just cultural and not me in particular. Thank you for the tips!

  13. My husband is a first generation ABC, calls himself a banana, and let’s not get into what his FAMILY calls him.
    Yet they expect him to jump to their tune, even though he left San Francisco when he was 18 and has done much to keep them out of his life except during Chinese New Years and Christmas time.
    His mother found out that he was ‘dating’ a white woman, who was older than him (I’m 28, he’s 22), who is a writer (so clearly has no value in society), and :gasp: that I have tattoos, piercings and brightly coloured hair. We have been hiding the fact that
    1) We’re married
    2) We live together
    3) He’s the bread winner and I’m the housewife

    We hid the fact of the marriage so that his family could have the option of having some giant wedding, because what he and I wanted was a small quiet affair. But we also know, and agreed that if we didn’t give his family the option of this big wedding… that he would be in big trouble. And that I would be made into a major villain.
    As for hiding the fact that we live together – that’s because he’s military, and the base he’s stationed at won’t allow him to get a residence off post unless he’s married. His parents don’t care about that, they’re rather out of touch and just tell him to leave the Army over and over and over again.
    And just because I don’t work a normal job any longer, does not mean I don’t work. I work on the house, I work for my mother’s consulting business, and I do basically everything that doesn’t involve going to a ‘standard’ job day in day out.

    So today his mother calls and asks him why he hasn’t been sending her money (that she spends on shoes, clothes etc, simply because they’re on sale) and he said no, that he had other things to do with it at that time. And then she accuses him of wasting all his money on me. Then proceeds to remind him that I’m “old” and that when I’m 40, I’ll “change”. That “change” translates into “She will be ugly, and won’t wish to have intimacy with you”.
    His family has yet to meet me, and while I’ve no issue with learning some of the dialect that they speak and being respectful (I always go by the whole ‘kill them with kindness’ route), I will not change how I look and how I act. If they’re not going to like me, it doesn’t matter if my hair is black/brown instead of it’s current pink/blue/purple/teal, it won’t matter one whit if I wear long sleeves to cover my tattoos, and if I put in silicone plugs into my piercings.

    Yet I find myself terrified, and of all things ashamed not by who I am, but by the simple fact that this woman, who doesn’t know me, doesn’t know how I take care of my husband… will always deem me not good enough no matter what I do.

    This Christmas I’m supposed to come with him to meet his family. Now all of my fears of being shoved to the side, treated like dirt, and viewed as lesser – just as they view HIM for being ‘lesser’ because of his ‘Americanness’ and his refusal to leave the Army (a career he loves, and believes is a good thing to show how much he loves this country – trust me he doesn’t do it for the money, though we have enough to support ourselves) – and for ‘dating’ a white woman… are fears that are being shoved into my face every time she calls.
    I told him this evening that it may be best that I not go. I don’t wish to be separated from him our first Christmas as a wedded couple. But I don’t tolerate intolerance very well. Or bigots. I’m educated and have stood on my own two feet for most of my life, became an emancipated adult at 16, and have a sharp tongue when someone I care for is pushed around.

    So now I’m unsure of what I should do… go and do my best to hold my tongue when they bash him as well as myself, or be separated from the man I married and love very much simply to avoid having to deal with this.

    1. Hi Rachel,

      Sorry for the delay in responding, it’s been a crazy week for me!

      Wow, what you wrote is just heartbreaking. If I were in your shoes, I would feel just as concerned. I shared your comment with my husband, and he was shocked that your MIL would call asking for money and be so demanding.

      I think, if you want to have any hope of fulfilling that long desire of having the family wedding, you should probably go — but only if you can try to restrain your comments. If you sound off in response to your MIL’s bigotry, you’ll only make things worse. Also, by going, you are making the point that you are a part of your husband’s life, and if she wants to see him at the holidays, she must see you as well.

      Perhaps what you can do is let your husband do the talking, instead of you. That shields you from the fray.

      Additionally, try to anticipate some of the things she might say to both of you — imagine the worst possible scenario, and prepare for how both of you would respond. By having a “game plan,” you’re less likely to be surprised, and you’ll know how to handle what she hits you with.

      Hope this helps, and good luck!

  14. I’m a 22 year old female and I’ve been dating my chinese boyfriend-AND his family, for two and a half years. His parents moved to the states from Hong Kong 30 years ago and had two daughters before finally having a son. Jason is the oldest son of the oldest son of the oldest(and so forth) and is extremely important to the family.

    Ever since he dragged me to meet his family after dating for six months, I have been introduced to the worst political game of my life. It is not his mother who stresses me out; although she does, she isn’t entirely unpleasant. It is his sisters.

    They are both single-handedly the worst thing I’ve ever dealt with in my life. From day one I have been treated like crap. When we first met, my every attempt to get to know them was met with short answers and I was crudely told what to do like I was a retarded 2 year old. His youngest sister had the same exact musical tastes as me, and every time I’d try to connect with her that way, she’d glare at me and give me yes or no answers.

    I’ve grown accustomed to being ignored at dinners while everyone at the table speaks Cantonese. My boyfriend never translates, so I’ve been secretly learning on my own. I understand much more than I speak, because I fear they’ll start speaking to each other in Fujin(his mother’s native tongue) if they find out I’m starting to understand what they’re saying.

    I remember overhearing them talk about making a website for the family business or doing something with computers that I know how to do, so I’d offer help, and they act as if I’m not in the room.

    I’ve been picked on, bullied, and scrutinized, and worst of all, it all happens indirectly, and it happens through my boyfriend. They don’t talk to me, they never do, and then they say I never say hello to them.

    They have called MY phone to talk to MY boyfriend to request I don’t spend holidays with them. When I obeyed their wishes, it (of course) upset the parents so much that they called thanksgiving off. The oldest one then called and blamed me for the fact that she ate Burger King for Thanksgiving dinner.

    I actually felt bad for it and bought them both such lavish gifts for christmas that I couldn’t buy anything else for anybody, not even my boyfriend, and they didn’t like them because “Coach bags are cheap.”

    The last time I tried to help out in the kitchen, I heard “If I would have known SHE was doing it I would have come and done it myself!”

    Since then I gave up trying. I don’t greet them anymore. I plan on giving them $25 giftcards for christmas this year. I almost wish I didn’t know what they were saying when I’m around because I’m sick of the comments made in chinese. “She’s so prissy she wears $200 jeans! I don’t own a pair of jeans that costs more than $80!” is what I heard last week. I wouldn’t care, except they’re both fond of $2600 purses(I don’t own a purse over $100) and I work in retail, which means I generally get those expensive jeans either deeply discounted or for free.

    I constantly hear “she’s too fat” and “she’s too thin” and if I eat anything traditionally chinese, they make fun of me in front of my face, but in chinese. “You told her that’s bird vomit right?” “I bet she doesn’t know that’s cow stomach! She’d think that’s so gross!”

    In truth, I’m sick of it. I’m tired of stressing out and spilling tears over crap that’s never going to change. I’ve told my boyfriend I’m not going out to family functions if they are going to be there, because all I ever get is my feelings hurt no matter how accommodating I try to be. I love his mother and father to death, I really do, but I’m sick of trying and I’m sick of dealing with it.

    I’ve been told that if we get married it gets better, but I doubt it. I’m feeling rather hopeless, and I fear that if I just sit around and pretend I’m okay with this, that one day I’ll snap. I’ve had dreams where I finally stood at the table and screamed at them both in chinese. I’d never woken up more exhilarated.

    Deep down, I really would like to get along with them, but this has gone on so long that all I can think about is how nice it would be to get vengeance. I feel horrible for feeling this way but it is how I feel.

    1. Michelle, I am so sorry to hear you have to put up with so much abuse just because you love this guy. You deserve so much more respect than what these small-minded women throw at you — they are obviously like social vampires, hoping to suck the happiness right out of you.

      The only question I have is — why is your boyfriend and his family indirectly complicit in this? Accepting their phone calls, not protesting their rude remarks at the table (in Chinese) or in other contexts at their home. None of them rebuke the sisters (or take them to task) for their villainous treatment of you — and the fact that they permit the sisters to continue makes them enablers, even though they would deny it. I would hardly expect any of them to change after marriage; if anything, things will probably get worse, because the problems you face will be even more complicated, and since you would be family, there would be even more horribly nefarious ways they could interfere with your well-being.

      In Chinese culture, when you marry someone, you marry their family. You don’t want to marry into a family that tolerates such outrageous behavior. You can do so much better than this man and his family — and I know, because I’ve heard of many warm, loving and supportive families through friends and readers of this site, so it’s not impossible. Please, please, please think very carefully about whether you really want to continue in this relationship. While I am only an outside observer and all I know is what you’ve written here, I see a lifetime of hardship if you move forward with a man and his parents who won’t stand up for you.

  15. Hello Jocelyn,
    I love your website. I am an African American female married to a first born Chinese male for four years. Great advise for Michelle. I am having a similar experience with my hubby’s older sister. She only gets worse over the years. I have found she masks her jealousy of me behind her negative behavior. I no loger speak to her and refuse to go into her home until she is able to be respectful. On another note, my mother in law has had little to no involvemnet in my pregnancy. This is my hubby’s first child and her first grand daughter. What experiences have you encounterted with Chinese mother inlaws involvement with daughter in laws pregnancy’s/birth? She has been an overall great mother inlaw who has supported our releationship.

    1. Hi R, thanks for the comment, and sorry to hear you’re having conflicts w/ your husband’s older sister. I hope things will get better in the future.

      I’ve never been pregnant, so I can’t speak from personal experience. I’ve often heard that Chinese mother inlaws will tend to want to do things such as helping to prepare nutritious foods/meals for you (as a way of making sure that the “next generation” you’re carrying will be healthy) and helping you get through the labor/birthing experience. But that’s only what I’ve heard.

      So it’s hard for me to say what’s going on with your mother-in-law. You might ask your husband whether her lack of involvement is typical in your family. And if not, maybe he can shed some light on why she’s keeping a distance.

  16. Thank you for your replies, I didn’t think I would recieve any so fast!

    Jocelyn: The bullying mostly goes on when his parents aren’t around. I’m quite lucky that his mother and father do love me, and I hear it most of all from their restaurant cooks who pester me to start calling his mother “Nai Nai” (mother-in-law in cantonese) The rude remarks get filtered through my boyfriend, not the parents(that I know of). But when the parents are around, they do make very subtle remarks.

    For instance, in the car last night for black friday shopping(he insisted I go), my mother-in-law was on the phone with somebody in china and his sisters went at it in chinese. When she was off the phone, they continued talking but the comments change to things like “She doesn’t know blah blah” or “she doesn’t have enough money for that.”

    While I got led around the mall by his sisters, I let them do their thing and I followed them around. I didn’t want to be a bother and try to ask to go to the stores I wanted to go to because I knew they’d grumble the whole time. While waiting for one of them to check out(it was a two hour wait to buy things at this store) the other asked “Are you done?!” rudely. It was literally the first thing she’d said to me in weeks. I hadn’t bought anything, and was frustrated that I hadn’t been able to, but I’ve mastered the art of masking my frustration and was merely standing patiently.

    It was a huge breath of fresh air when their mother wanted to go to a store that was cheaper than their tastes and I tagged along. I was frustrated when I found a gift for my boyfriend that I wanted to buy(I was anxious to buy SOMETHING at that point) and she kept saying it was a bad idea, but I was thankful because she showed me where to find that same item cheaper. I helped her find shoes, I carried her bags and her coat, I even took her to a store that had a better quality pair of pants that she wanted for cheaper, and she told me in her limited english how happy she was that I stuck with her because her daughters never would do that for her. I heard her say something to them about it in chinese later and they both backlashed and kept saying that she was being annoying and soforth.

    It’s extremely frustrating to have the oldest sister around, because she is the one that influences most of this behavior on her younger sister. When the younger one is alone, she isn’t that bad, however, the oldest one is a nightmare.

    Like R, I’ve limited most of my contact with her and she and I do not speak. I do not go to her home and she is not welcome in mine, not that she’s ever wanted to come over. However, it’s pretty impossible to avoid family dinners at restaurants or at the parent’s house.

    1. @Michelle, I haven’t forgotten you! Just been piled under so much these days, as the holiday season has arrived.

      Family is never easy to manage. But maybe the best thing you can do in this situation, if you love your boyfriend and see potential for the relationship, is just ignore them (which you seem to be already doing). Most of the time, people behave this way to get attention or get a reaction from you. Denying them this satisfaction might just help things.

      Good luck!

  17. Jocelyn, thank you very much for your input.

    I seriously wish there was a support group out there for “Western” Women dating/married to asian men. There really needs to be one.

    1. @michelle, I’m sure you’re not alone in that feeling.

      Well, if you or anyone else ever wants to start one (or knows of one), let me know — I would be happy to announce it, and promote it.

  18. Oh, this is the same with Korean families. It may be worse because Korea society is known to be more confucian/strict than China believe it or not. I have several of my cousin’s wives who just hate their in laws because these situations.

    Boy I hope I don’t come across this? Maybe that’s why I not married yet:-)

  19. AAHHHKKK!!!! What to I do?!
    My boyfriend, his mother and I are leaving for Hong Kong and Beijing tomorrow and she saw how much I packed. Now she won’t let me hear the end of it and is trying to force me to pack less! I caught her taking things out of my suitcase! We’re going to be gone for 21 days and she wants me to take 3 pants, 3 tops, and 1 pair of shoes and then said my american medicine is too expensive, was a waste of money, and takes up too much room(It’s all in a tiny ziplock sandwich bag wtf!) and that my really expensive wool coat and north face jackets aren’t warm enough for beijing! She keeps professing that she’s only bringing a couple things but she’s not going to beijing like my boyfriend and I are! I only packed 7 tops(mostly stuff for going under sweaters), 7 sweaters(mostly cardigans for layering) 4 bottoms, 3 dresses, 3 jackets, and 3 shoes. I’m already sacrificing because I initially wanted to bring double of that and I decided against bringing my laptop.

    I refuse to travel unprepared! I swear I’m about to go buy a combo lock for my luggage and keep it on there until we check our luggage! I have a whole 24 hours to try to prevent my suitcase from being EMPTIED! What do I do?

  20. Now that I have been married for my Chinese husband for almost two years, I think I finally understood that the best way to deal with my husband’s family and his mother is NOT TO DEAL with them.
    It depends a lot on the husband/boyfriend and how understanding and supporting he is to you.
    I frankly have short patience for people who make me nervous, upset or uncomfortable. His mother persisted that my husband’s sister and her husband would spend last Christmas with us, and she knew that my husband and his sister don’t have a good relationship. Surprisingly our Christmas was ruined by my sister-in-law and her husband’s anger outbursts, that my husband and I have taste for finer things in life, whereas the two of them just “live within their needs”. That was it for me. I told my husband that I don’t appreciate people coming to my house and insulting me, as well as I don’t appreciate his mother ordering me what to do and how to do things and not saying a word when her own daughter and her husband were insulting us. Since then, I refuse to spend time or energy with his family that dislike me or him, and I keep things brief with his mother. If she tries to order me anything, I just nod my head and do it my own way, the way I want it (since it is my own house and I live here, I have the right to decide the way I like my curtains, the way I cook and what I cook and when I do my dishes, not her).
    I understand Chinese culture and the way they respect elderly and parents, but the respect shouldn’t be just one-sided! I expect to be treated with respect too, regardless if I am older or younger, Chinese or Western.
    I think our husbands and boyfriends should support us, and not let anyone treat us with disrespect. All of us need to stand up for ourselves. It is OK to dislike his family. Everyone have their differences.
    I came to a conclusion that some Chinese mothers will never be happy with their son’s choice of marrying non-Asian and that no matter what you do, you will never please them.
    So therefore we should just do it the way we want it – if you want to pack 4 suitcases – you should, if you don’t want to go shopping with your sisters-in-law – you shouldn’t, if you tired of his family badmouthing you – don’t see them!
    Husband or boyfriend should support your decisions and not let his family to disrespect you, regardless how much they dislike you. Period!

  21. Hi Jocelyn,

    Thank you for such a great article. I am dealing with a very similar problem.

    My boyfriend of a year is Chinese and I am American. His mother liked me when we met and was very excited to spend time with me. This changed and now she doesn’t not want her eldest son seeing me because I do not put enough effort into learning Chinese and because I’m white. This causes my boyfriend pain because he wants to be with me and doesn’t want him parents to be unhappy with him. His mother now tells him she’s ill from this problem. For example, he’s at her house tonight because she says she’s not feeling well and I am internally freaking out. I’m worried he’s going to come home and break up with me. It creates such anxiety in both of us. He often gets very upset when his mother mentions me or I mention the situation.

    She calls him a bad son for not finding a Chinese girl to marry. She wants him to find a Chinese woman to take care of her when she’s old. I put a lot of effort in her liking me. I have bought her gifts, baked her goods, offered to take her to yoga and gave her all the vegetables from my garden (I also grew her a plant). I ask her about her day and try to talk to her about myself. One time, I attempted to learn Chinese through her and she ignored me.

    This article is wonderful; I don’t feel alone. My boyfriend and I have a great relationship and this puts a lot of strain on us.

    Thanks again.

  22. I have read a lot of the comments and I feel bad for everyone that is going through a hard time with an Asian family of your boyfriends.

    I am a Chinese male who moved here when I was 7 with my family. I am 23 years old dating a white girl and we are engaged. I have met her family but she has yet to meet mine. My family knows about her but haven’t really said anything too mean besides the standard ” are you sure she won’t leave you? are you guys serious? Don’t get her pregnant! And make sure she doesn’t have STDs”

    One advice I do have and I don’t see many people mentioning it here is to TALK TO YOUR ASIAN HUSBAND/BOYFRIEND/Whatever!
    Get them to do something! This shouldn’t be your fight alone!

    Someone said something about not translating chinese to english and how she is feeling left out. Just let your husband/boyfriend know and constantly remind him! I have felt the same way when I met my gf’s family ( they all from Russia and speaks russian at home), so I told her, “hey can you translate some, you don’t even need to translate word to word, just just throw out a few words during dinner talk like “Obama, health care” so at least I know what your family is talking about and I won’t be paranoid they are saying bad things about me.

    Also, sometimes, the Asian partner needs to just do something about it. Here is what I plan to do:
    1. translate everything between my fiance and my parents (who speak little english)
    2. tell her how to make a good first impression (similar to any first meet with future in-law) ex: dress conservatively, don’t talk too much or critize the cooking
    3. If my parents start to be all ” why can’t u find a nice Chinese girl” I am going to bring out the ” Hey this is America and the 21 century. Stop living in old school times. Ok, be progressive, this is America. (for some reason this works on my parents)

    And last of all, I have always been independent so I would threaten the family that if they won’t behave, they will not see the future grandchild. Trust me, the mother in law will behave. I know it is an extreme step, and it should be a last resort.

  23. Hi John,

    Thank you for your post. My boyfriend’s mother decided to accept me for the time being because he told her I am his just his girl friend and he doesn’t know if he’ll marry me or not. She has been trying to get him to date this local Chinese girl. He won’t talk about her to me and won’t talk to her about me. This hurts me because I’ve had patience and been very nice about the situation (occassional tears because I’ve tried hard to please her).

    I know he wants to please her and this puts stress on our relationship. He told her I’m willing to learn Chinese but she doesn’t care. It’s very painful that she doesn’t think I’m good enough for her son when he obviously cares about me.

    She leaves in a few months for China and I’d hate for her to always dislike me but at this point I feel helpless.

    Tina

  24. Cool that this topic is still going strong. Apart from Tina, I would love to know how things worked out for some of the other ladies. Insightful topic.

  25. I’m so happy to find this thread because I don’t feel alone any more. I recognise so much of what is described here. However it’s also saddening because it shows the whole “Chinese mother-in-law” thing is a real issue and not just a phase that’s going to pass in my relationship with my partner. I’m really nervous about what will happen in the future. When my bf’s mum’s around I have trouble sleeping because at night (the only time I get alone) I have panic attacks about the future. I feel trapped. She’s the opposite of me in every way and I don’t know the proper way to show that I’m respectful, she’s displeased by the strangest things. It’s impossible because inside I feel utter disbelief at how rude she is, however I can’t say anything because I know that it’s a cultural difference, and she would never consider trying to understand from my perspective; it wouldn’t occur to her. I’d marry my bf in a second, he’s the best person I’ll ever know. I just can’t bear to think about marrying his family. I’m scared to publish this post in case one of them sees it. Our relationship is so wonderful, but if he had to choose between her and I, he’d never choose me. I wish I could love his mother as he does, but it’s so embarrassing and hurtful how disrespectful she is to us both. How can this have a happy ending?

  26. Chinese MIL can be a real headache;however, you have to be a problem solver to compromise with every situations. You need a strong minded Chinese bf/husband and a supportive white gf/ wife to endure any obstacles. Couples of same ethnicities have this problem with MIL ,too, not just Asian and white couples. My best advice is to live with your husband only. Tell the Chinese MIL to live with other siblings! MOST Chinese MIL will always cause little problems for you to fight. I’m telling you people from my experience! I don’t understand why WHITE MEN say Asian women are submissive, understanding ,etc etc. If they’re so damn submissive , then how come we have this kind of ASian MIL Problems?????I love to use the word , HYPOCRITE in order to make people think.

  27. Majority of the Asian MIL are extremely nice ,but there are some MIL that are bad. Communicate with your MIL and in laws people. My cousin’s wife is white and his white father in law lives with them. THey’re living in transquility. sooo peaceful! Normally, men don’t have issues , only women have issues. “5 brother in laws can live in one house, but 5 sister in laws can’t live in the same house for a month” You guys can ask your families and friends on my quote , they’ll will tell you why. bye bye have fun 🙂

  28. Oh where to begin?! …I am a white college graduate (art degree) wife to a wonderful (1st born son) half chinese half white aspiring High School math teacher. Back when my husband and I were dating I knew there would be issues in marriage because his mom was constantly trying to split us up. She would always be saying mean spirited things about me in Chinese and English…never to my face (though often just in the next room). I have a strong sense of morals that keep me from cow-taoing to her every demand, which included her wanting me to lye to IHSS, a goverment run program for senior/disabled welfare, about who was caring for her parents and how many hours they genuinly needed (because she “NEEDED” more money to support them)[Meanwhile she buys enough food to feed the entire impereal army of China only to let it rot because there is no way she can use it all]. When becoming engaged I too got the talk about if her son and I were to ever split up would I give back the ring.

    Now mind you my MIL does not completely fit the sterotype which I’ll explain, but it just goes to show how much more her double standards get in the way. She is devorced and remarried, already this is taboo for Chinese culture. Of course this is only more outlandish by her own culture’s stigmas by the fact that she married Mexican! Before she met this guy she hated Mexicans always complaining how ‘lazy they where, a bunch of drunk, dirty illegal immagrants’. (BTW I have no such beef with any nationality.) She is the second youngest daughter …I think she’s the 4th of 7 kids yet SHE is the one charged with lion’s share of care for the parents.

    Before the wedding I would help her by giving her breaks; I would cover meal times, wash dishes, give them medicine at the right times and do the laundry on my days off from school. Rarely would any of her siblings even come to visit …for a short while future MIL-DIL relations seemed to improve but should the wind even blow the wrong way we’re back to square 1.

    Our current topic of frustration : Titles. a month or so after the wedding she decides that she no longer wants me, or her son-in-law who is also not asian, to call her by her first name. She would rather us call he “Mom” or “Mrs. (Mexican last name)”. Since she has never bothered trying to be close to me I don’t feel comfortable with the first option and I didn’t feel that the second would ever get me closer to being able to call her “Mom”. Since both my husband and I can never tell if A: she’ll give you the time to have a heart-to-heart with her, or B: Be in a good enough mood to even approach the subject, or C: let you finish what point it is you want to make with out getting all uppity in her high pitched shrill like voice. So here is the letter I sent her via e-mail (just names have been taken out, after all I want to respect her as much as possible):

    [Dear (enderment form of MIL’s First Name),
    I hope this finds you in good health and harmonious spirit.

    Let me start off by saying that I acknowledge that you rather me call you Mrs. (Mexican Last Name) or Mom, and that I do wish to honor you in how I speak with you. Our cultural differences have caused difficulties in many ways and I would like you to know why it is that I have found these ways of addressing you challenging.

    First, the title of “Mom” for me it is a word I don’t use lightly, while it evokes a sense of intimacy, few bonds are as great as that of a mother and her child, it also commands a great deal of respect. I absolutely respect you, but I admit, I don’t yet feel close enough to you where I could comfortably call you by that title. Second, while the title “Mrs. (Mexican Last Name)” also commands respect it is very distant and cold. In the culture I was raised in, referring to someone by title and last name was held for people you barely know and teachers only, not family. I do consider you family and would very much so like to one day be able to genuinely call you Mom. I’m not there yet, but I hope to be soon.

    Do understand that when I call you by your first name it is never ever meant in any disrespect. Quite the opposite really, for me when I call you (Endearment form of First Name), as apposed to (Formal First Name), it is with the endearment of family. And familiarity, to me, is not associated with negativity or lack of regard. I love you very much, I hope you know that. I look forward to us growing together as a family.

    Love and blessings always,
    Rebecca (My new Last Name)]

    I even had my husband read over it first to make sure that I did everything I could to simply communicate to her what had been on my heart to say for months in the most polite way possible. I would rather it not have to become so tense that We cut her out of our family gatherings all together, though we have made plans for if that should ever become necessary. Well wouldn’t you know the worst thing ever happend, she starts blabing to her whole family about it, and likely didn’t even carefully read to whole letter, just the parts that she ‘wanted’? to read. So now I’m the villan where I’m being cultrally insensitve and that I don’t embrace my husband’s family and talking to everyone, including my husband and sister-in-law- NOT ME. Fortunately my husband is wise enough to remind her that she really ought to have the conversation with me and that yes he supports me in my wanting to have dialog on the matter.

    It’s so good to hear there is more of us out there that understand our, often daily, issues with the phenom that is a Chinese MIL. I whole heartedly approve of the idea of a support group for us.
    You are all in my prayers!
    Rebecca

    1. Omg you made my day! Seriously I want to put this on a shirt.
      All these other comments make me worry more about meeting my Taiwanese boy friends parents. I’m seriously considering putting it off for another six months.

  29. Latest update in my situation.

    She replied, and clearly didn’t read my first letter in it’s entirety. She not only has brought in all her siblings but also a Filapina tenant of hers, asking thier “Opinions on the situation”…I seriously doubt they got to see my letter either. So here is the short e-mails exchanged in hopes that any others of you that may be dealing with the same issue can have an example to draw from mind(remember that the first email was in my priveous post):

    [Hi! Becca:
    After discussing your issue with all of your concerns about calling me Mrs. (Mexican Last Name) or Mom, we all come to the conclusion that if you think it is impossible to call me either Mrs. (Mispelled Mexican Last Name- I thought that was funny) or Mom. We ask you to can be excused from all of (Chinese Family Name) gatherings for reasons below:
    1. It is disrespectful to the Chinese culture and all of my family are Chinese Americans.
    2. I am one generation senior than you and we are related because of (Husband’s Name), my son.
    3. It is unthinkable according to my families. There’s inter-culture marriages in the (Chinese Family Name) families where calling the older other than the first name is an issue to identify generation senority.
    We will have different arrangements if you decide to call me(Enderment form of MIL’s First Name). Anyhow, you are welcomed to come to (home Husband helps care for grandma) when I am not here and (Husband’s name) have to work the evening hours.
    Regards,
    Mrs. (Mexican Last Name)]

    [Dear Mrs. (Chinese MIL’s Mexican Last Name),
    It saddens me that my first letter was not received with the understanding I had prayed for. My intent by it was never to be culturally, nor in any other way, insensitive. If anything I hoped that you would have been able to find it in your heart to comprehend the way I was raised and appreciate my efforts to communicate the desire of my heart.
    I know you don’t want to be called by your first name and I do respect that. I know I occasionally slip since the habit was created. My goal was only to inform you that in said faux pas that there was no feeling of ill will, and that I want to be genuine in how I address you, rather than avoid the issue.
    I love you and your family very much. Learning more about each one of you and about the rich culture you come from is important to me, so the notion of anything to the contrary is a misrepresentation of my actions. I wish that we could mutually come to a resolution about any such conflicts that occur honestly, and peaceably before there is opportunity to spread false accusations. It is my understanding that perhaps I could call you Aunt (Enderment form of First Name) which may bridge the gap until I am comfortable calling you “Mom.”
    Love and blessings always,
    Rebecca (My Last Name)]

    [Dear Becca:
    Thank you for your understanding of the culture differences.
    You can call me Aunt (enderment form of her first name) or Auntie (enderment form of her first name) for now.
    Love,
    (Husband’s Name)’s Mom]

    So fortunately there is some room for compromise. YAY! but I can garentee she isn’t running to tell all those people that this has been resolved, or that she was mistaken about my sentiments towards her family.

    Best wishes to you all <3
    Rebecca

  30. Only way to have a loving , quiet , relaxed relationship with your husband is to live away from your MIL. Time will heal all problems. IT’S THE ONLY WAY, NO OTHER WAY WILL WORK! I have tons of friends that have MIL and they tell me everything about their marriage problems. At the end, the MIL will compromise with you because she will realize why the house is empty and she’s living alone. You guys can try other ways but my way is the most effective and deadly.

    p.s. Rebecca, you have my support. You’ll make a wonderful director of that group .

    1. It’s so great to see the discussion going on in this thread. I should say a huge thank you to the Chinese men who have stepped in here to offer some advice.

      Rebecca, don’t stress too much about calling your MIL mom. I do it for my husband’s parents. It is weird, but maybe it doesn’t seem as weird to me b/c I do it in Chinese (i.e. Lao ba is “dad” and Lao ma is “mom”). Maybe if you call her mom in Chinese, you’ll also find it easier.

      Tina and Rose, sorry that the two of you are experiencing hardships with your MILs. As others have mentioned before, it is very important to have your Chinese partner act as an intermediary in these situations — can you talk to him and share your concerns, so that he can help you figure out ways to cope and/or solutions? And sometimes, as Bruce said, the solution may be making sure you have distance between her and the two of you (including physical distance).

      As for a support group, have you ladies signed up to join the “Foreign women in China” forum? It’s a closed group (not public), women-only, and would be a safe place for venting your frustrations. I’m sure Sara Jaaksola would have no problem approving all of you to join, and letting you create a place to share MIL issues. You would definitely find good company with them.

  31. Thanks for the idea of using “Lao³ Ma¹” I don’t speak a lot of mandarin yet but I think that will likely be the title I will transition to once she and I have grown a bit closer. For now she has accepted me calling her Aunt or Auntie and seems to understand my need to the time to adjust to different titles.

    As far as the “foreign women in China” group… Us ladies in the U.S.A. that have Chinese (first generation immagrant) MILs need to have some place too. On the west coast in particular, there are plenty of women that basically need a crash course in Asian Etiquette. This is NOT something that one can get as an elective in high schools or (I imagen most) college univerities.

    I encourage all of you to share as many triumphs and failures you can on the subject. As we read we learn, and the more experiance we can draw from the better equiped we are to have smooth in-law relations. Hopefully we won’t have to resort to the long distance methods of keeping the peace.

    Blessings to you all, remember you are not alone!
    Rebecca

  32. I am in a kinda unusual situation. I have been living with my Chinese parents-in-law for almost 4 years now. The first year wasn’t that bad at all. Meaning, I was able to hold a conversation with my MIL for as long as 2 hours! More than 2 hours, she’ll be driving me nuts because she’ll just repeat the same things she just said.
    During our second year living with them, after I gave birth to my daughter, my relationship with them especially with my mom-in-law had turned upside down. She would demand things (not suggest) to me like: 1. don’t breastfeed, it’s not very convenient. Besides, formula nowadays are as good as breastmilk. 2. you have to put more clothes on your baby, or wrap her with more blankets even though it’s 80 degrees outside for God sake! 3. Don’t give your baby brown rice it’s bad for her. White rice is a lot better! And so on, and so forth! The problem with my parents-in-law is that they think they know all the answers because they’ve been through those situations. They get very upset when my daughter’s pediatrician will tell things that are different from what they said. They always say that doctors are stupid (like literally call them stupid!), they never had kids, why would you believe them over an experienced parent like us?
    Anyhow, no matter how torturing it is to live with my parents-in-law, it’s not very economical for my family to rent out our own place. First, cost of living here in San Francisco is not cheap. PIL only ask half of what we should be paying if we’re renting out. Second, my daughter is going to pre-school soon and her school is just 2 blocks from my parents-in-laws house. MIL can pick up my daughter should I have to stay late at work. Third, she demands to cook everyday which gives me more time to spend a quality time with my daughter. In conclusion, although I hate living with my parents-in-law, they in some ways or I say many ways are beneficial!
    Although, who knows for how much longer I can deal with them??!

  33. DS, older folks tend to repeat themselves all the time. Your PIL are too concerned about your daughter. Yes, Chinese MIL can be very protective. Don’t worry so much with your PIL. I’ve read your story and it’s not that bad comparing with other MIL.

  34. Hi Bruce, thanks for your reply! I do know that my current situation is not as bad compared to other MIL’s out there. However, I just thought about this few moments ago.. why wait for the situation to get worse? I mean, for how long can i be more understanding and quiet before i burst out?! I definitely don’t want to say things or do things that i will regret in the future if only I have taken an action earlier… I guess, I really don’t know what to do exactly. I want to move out of their house but at the same time, we still need their support, unfortunately.

    1. @DS, Ideally, you should make plans to move out at some point. But in the meantime, just try not to get too emotional over their demands. I know, easy to say, hard to do…even I get irked if my in-laws will tell me I need to do something. As Bruce said, they do tend to repeat themselves, and it’s kind of a way of showing concern for the child (as most Chinese do not show their love/concern with words or hugs/kisses the way we do).

      Yet, just because they say it doesn’t mean you have to do it. Be polite before them when they speak to you or suggest something — but then just do what you think is right.

  35. Like Jocelyn mentioned be calm and polite and if you do that over a period of time they won’t demand that much. DS, also whatever you say or do ….talk with your husband in the bedroom quietly first before you say something with your PIL. Don’t all of a sudden burst out like that. Your MIL will not be on the same page with you. DS, I really do understand exactlywhat your situation is right now. I’ve helped many friends with different problems or similar situations like yours.

  36. For example,most parents in Law are eager to help around the home and sometimes they can make things even worse than it is. Always keep your in laws busy all the time at home so they don’t cause troubles. Find them more new hobbies like gardening ( If they can’t one, build it for them) , exercising , just activities that are relaxing to do instead of causing troubles. Well, they live with you so elbows will be rubbed at times, trust me. Bottom line is to talk to your husband and tell him that his parents mean no harms by controlling on how to feed/ raise your kid. Tell your husband to tell his parents that your kid is not sick or anything , make sure PIL don’t get too excited and relaxed. Those words have to come from your husband though and tell him to be persistent .Let the younger generation takes over the parenting part. From my experience, if I don’t like something about my in laws, I tell my wife to talk to her parents or siblings and if she doesn’t like someone from my side of the families , she talks to me to address the problems to my family side. You and your husband MUST have support from each other and understand everything and anything on solving family problems. I’m not a writer like Jocelyn ,so maybe my choice of words are not so sweet to understand. I hope you will understand what I’m saying. Of course, when we make lots of money ,we want to live by ourselves ,but every family is different and every family runs into problems. YOU JUST CAN’T AVOID IT. The only way is don’t take it personally and solve it. “When your PIL talk, just listen on your left ear and let it out the right ear”. Just think like they’re singing. I know what we have to work long hrs and come home into a home filled with arguments. Do you really like that? I always say to my wife , ” This home is not for you guys or anybody to do whatever you want!, if you want to argue, go outside. do not bring troubles home. I want a quiet and peaceful home every single day FOR LIFE period.” Stress can cause diseases to crawl up.

  37. Hi all,

    I am so grateful I found this posting and it truly made me sad to see that this is really how more than a few Chinese MIL who deem it acceptable to treat their daughter-in-laws disrespectfully. I am a white American and my husband was born in Hong Kong but moved to Toronto very young. He has an older sister, who is very nice and a pleasure to be around although we see her rarely. We have been living with his family since we were married in July 2010 and it just gets more dramatic every day. I am literally in tears today and just want to strangle someone. I come from a very relaxed, close-knit family where everyone is their own person and accommodating and also believe we must uphold politeness as best as possible. As many issues as I have had with my own family, I never imagined the issues I am now facing with my parent-in-laws. When we got married, I demanded that my family not do anything special and threatened them with my wrath if they attempted anything more than pictures at our court held ceremony and still my mother slipped in a cake, which I appreciated in the end. When we got here in Toronto, his mother was upset that we didn’t hold the wedding where they could attend and insisted we do a “Chinese tea ceremony” and we pay for a dinner for her numerous (7+) siblings and their families, roughly 25 people. I did feel bad because she didn’t get to take part in our ceremony but truthfully she didn’t miss much, so I agreed even though I was so nervous around them and her family I made myself sick a few times and had to leave dinner early…(Yeah, I know…my bad there). My MIL demanding I greet her every day and ask her how her day was and ask her if she needs help with anything. She pestered me for months about cooking, but I really hate cooking and my husband understands this, he’s a chef anyway and will cook at home for MIL. I am grateful he is supportive and tells her to leave me alone, but she is very insistent with “try this, you should try this” even after I say no thank you several times. I have always ALWAYS been polite saying Thank you or dinner was delicious (even learned how to say it in Cantonese) and I always wash the dishes for them, I do many of the chores around the house except for one or two, MIL will clean mop the floors and scrub the stove on weekends. When we first got here she opened her arms to me and was so nice – these people have always been nice but they say things behind my back to my husband that really bother me. My MIL doesn’t like how I do my husband’s laundry, one day she told me I have to fold it a certain way (something to my face finally…) I told my husband and he put her in her place (Thank god!). My MIL didn’t like that I didn’t smile when I was talking to her or whatever and I tried to change me for them, I was attempting to appease them in any way possible. I use chopsticks even though I’m nervous in public with them; I feel so out of place. I am attempting to learn Cantonese and even asked my FIL to teach me because my husband is so busy with work, and he agreed. Months have gone by and only little incidents have happened, many I’d complain to my husband but ask he do nothing, until recently. I have personal issues with dead loved ones, and I did not wish to go to a cemetery as MIL was requesting we visit her parents and FIL’s parents. In order to spend a nice Sunday lunch with them and my husband on a rare weekend day off, I went to dim sum and rode in the car with them to the cemetery but did not wish to get out of the car and my husband said it was OK. I cried in the car, from the overwhelming sadness I felt simply being there, I wanted to leave as soon as possible but I said nothing, my FIL noticed me crying but said nothing to me. My husband noticed as well and held my hand for the long drive home. When we got home, I was still upset and talked to my husband why I was upset and he told me he understood and not to worry, but later he comes back in saying his Mom is telling him I offended his dad by not bowing to his parent’s graves. That I was a Wong now and I need to pay tribute to them…I was shocked….I’ve never even met his parents and they had always been very nice to me and never said much to my face or maybe my husband did not repeat it (I have requested he translate for me, but he rarely does). I was also hurt, as it had hurt so much to simply go there and I had told my husband I did not want to go there to begin, and very sad because they did not understand my culture nor did they attempt to but instead wanted to make sure everyone knew how I had offended them. I have felt like they have been very nice and generous to us but ask too much and are very sensitive about traditional subjects. But I really feel like they are trying to make me conform to their views on how people should act, even socially they demand things even though they are socially awkward themselves. My MIL insists she knows white people because she has worked for them for 20+ years, and insists she understands me. I find that offensive! She likes to make a lot of remarks about white people I find offensive but ignore. Her other favorite thing to do is offer me advice…when I obviously do not want her advice if I did not ask for it! I’m not so ignorant to say I don’t need it but If I did not ask for it why is she forcing it on me and then offended if I don’t take it. When her and my husband get into arguments I try to mitigate it and calm people down, but PIL are not considering my feelings in all of this. This morning I feel like it was the last straw, my FIL snapped on my husband for no reason simply because he didn’t speak loud enough when FIL asked him a question and when he did repeat it louder FIL got offended, it quite upset my husband especially since he’s been so miserable with his job lately & stressed, and still has to deal with this drama at home. FIL had the balls to follow up his nasty remarks (remind you, for not speaking loud enough) with insulting me (within my hearing, but of course not in English) saying I always had a sad face and I don’t acknowledge him. Well, I have been utmost polite and attempting to appease them but I really sick of this and if something doesn’t change I will be forced to leave my husband and go back to the states just so I don’t have a nervous breakdown on these people. I have never been so offended in my life and still I behave respectfully towards them, I feel like they need to show me some respect and if they don’t like what kind of emotions I’m having or how I look then they can look the other effing way!
    Well, I think that was a bit of a rant there. My husband said he is going to speak to his mother this evening about all of this because he thinks it’s ridiculous that I can’t even have my own feelings without them being offended by how my face looks. I’m going to ask him to tell her he is speaking for the both of us, that I feel exactly the same way and that I am tired of feeling alienated by them along with other things I’ve held my tongue about – I want it all out there in the open!
    I have faith that my MIL is a reasonable woman and will listen (usually she gets offended if people disagree with her and then say spiteful things to my husband).
    I must admit I feel much better reading all of your stories and sharing my own! Any advice is welcome! :]

    (Samantha)

  38. Samantha,

    Don’t leave your husband for this. The problem is with your PIL ,not your husband. Tell your husband to tell your PIL and say ” Mom and Dad ,please don’t use every SMALL comment or every little thing and turn it into a big issue/problem or disaster!!! how are we going to live happily together as a family if you guys keep on doing/creating this kind of nonsense”Only your husband can handle his parents so if he’s a strong person, I think you guys will be fine. Samantha, are you guys financially secured ? You can move out and rent a place or buy a home. Samantha , don’t cry in front of them. Some PIL won’t sympathize with you and some might come at you some more. Take good care of your health and exercise .. take a hr walk a day to relief stress.

  39. Bruce,

    Thank you for your reply. My intend was never to me away from my husband again as we started in a long distance relationship, him in Toronto, CAN me in the U.S. and we moved here for better jobs and because we want to start a family and believe this is the best place to do so. I had no idea that living here would be so hard. My husband does work but does not make enough to support us on a single income with the high prices of rent in Toronto. The purpose of living with his parents who are very financially wise is to save money now until I can get my work permit and then we move out so at least another year before we can consider being on our own even though it is drastically needed! I don’t like to cry in front of them, but I couldn’t help it. Thank you for your advice, health and exercise is a good way to keep my mind off them and relieve some stress.

  40. I can assure that if you exercise all the time, your stress level is extremely low ;therefore, you won’t burst out like an atomic bomb. I advised my friend and his gf make over $300k USD combined to live by themselves even though they love their in Laws . Your in laws can be Asian or both are ASian, White , Black , Hispanic , Green , Red etc, you will have issues no matter what. If you don’t believe it, try it and write to me next few yrs. Samantha, you will move out in no time. One yr will fly over you like light yr speed! The main thing is don’t take every comment, every action seriously . Gradually, your heart and your mind will tolerate all bad comments and negativities. I think I work with problems with the type of job that I do. I know life is not easy and everyday is a journey so please enjoy every moments with your loved ones. I went to 5 funerals this yr and all of my friends/clients died from breast cancer and heart attack. age from 42 to 57 yrs old. so take care of your health and mind.

  41. I have a question. My brother married Chinese woman with a grown son (21 yrs old) and brought both of them over to America. Prior to bringing them over my brother became ill and lost the job he had when he originally married her and now only earns a fraction of the earnings he earned before. My mother and me have helped him to go back to school to get a better job that will pay very well when he finishes. His wife and step son came here have been nothing but a disappointment to him. His wife only wants to pay for the food she buys for her and her son she only make food for my brother once in a while but only because there was an abundance of what ever she made for her son. She and her soon earn a come bind income of 2400 a month the same as me and my mother my brother ears a little less than 400 a month while going to school. The rent and utilities for our apartment is little over 800 a month. While I did not mind helping my brother out I do mind the fact that these two individuals make a big deal of not wanting to give 200 a month to my mother and me for rent this is not even a third of the cost of the rent. I understand that some of this may be because of traditional values and things in Chine but as far as I am concerned she married a Mexican American with traditions and values of his own and from my mothers own example that when she came to America she did not force her traditions on my father rather she came to this country and new it was going to be a need for compromises from both her and my father to establish a household from two different cultures. My view point is now of my sister in law is that she is the kind of immigrant I do not want in this country. If there values are so much better than ours and if everything is so much better in China I wish both her and her son would just go back. Because she has broken my brothers heart. I have been suspicious of her ever since she asked my brother to place her son on his life insurance. As far as I am concern he is not my brothers responsibility and he is a spoiled rotten grown man. I have advice my brother to take both his wife and her son off the insurance put everything in his daughters name and not give one cent to this woman since she will not help him. I guess my question is this what should my brother expect of a chines wife who has no respect for the mother in law who does not help him at all and wants to manage his money but yet does not want to contribute to the cost of the living expense of the apartment we are in?

  42. Raymond,

    Let’s not talk about how life is so good for her in China and she needs to be sent back. First of all , remove her son’s name on the life insurance. Your brother can do that without anybody’s permission. Give your sister in law and her son a stress test for a few yrs to prove themselves that they want to be part of the family. Secondly, explain to your brother what’s the meaning of the word “family” and why she should help out since you guys are only surviving on a benefit month to month. As a brother in law, you can only give hints, but don’t dictate what your brother should do. He could snap at you if you say something, trust me. he might be blinded by love. Sometimes, once the woman or the man save enough money. He/she will feel superior and capable of leaving. Some women/ men planned out everything in their country and marry foreigners to leave their country. So be extra careful. Understanding women/men will contribute financially into the family. Even I’m a young Chinese man in my 40’s, I’ve seen more situations than normal people because I deal with people everyday. They tell me alot of family problems. No I’m not a social worker *joke*.

  43. Raymond,

    What did your sister in law say regarding on helping out with food and living expenses? I want to know what is her excuse/reason for not helping out with the family during this bad time. She needs to send money oversea to support her family in China? I guess with this kind of woman, your brother really needs to put some sense in her head. Anyways, I’m just trying to help nothing else.

  44. Hi there! i have a Chinese mother-in-law. i have been married only for few months, my relationship with my husband is good and i can say my mother-in-law also. my husband have two kids with his first wife (divorced) and i accepted them and treat them as if my own children. My husband always argue with her mom and everytime they argue, her mom always tell the eldest daughter all the things that is happening with our family and im not sure if she tell the true story or what.( my mother-in-law, live with us). and then of course the daughter will call his brother (my husband) and argue about this. until one day, the argument involved me, my husband say, his family told him that i’m very lazy, i did not do anything at home, i always sleep, i always use the computer, etc…but the truth is i always clean the house, wash the clothes, cook for them and sometimes sleep because i feel tired also. the problem here now is my sister-in-law, try to manipulate the mind of my mother-in-law and the kids to hate my husband and me…all that is happening to our family, she know and she’s the one who always decide for us but instead, it should be me and my husband. that’s why my husband very angry with my sister-in-law and his mother and his kids because even the kids have been brain-washed…they dont respect us anymore as their parents, specially me because im just their stepmother. i want to know, is chinese tradition really like that? i dont think my sister-in-law should be the one who decide for us, we are not that stupid not to know how to raise the kids and its none of her business on how we raise the family…everything i do, for them its not good, she even told me once, im the reason why this thing is happening to them…i dont want their family relationships get ruined because of me…have i done something wrong thats why they blame me for this? my husband say because of jealousy…its so funny because there’s no reason for them to be jealous…i think, they dont want us to be happy thats why their doing this things for us (me & my husband & the kids) separate…i hope u can advice me for this.tnx

  45. Ah Chee,
    My suggestions can be a little bit too strong at times;however, the problems will be fixed and not start over and over again with the same old thing. Well, you have to understand your MIL is the “CNN Headquarter”. Whatever happens in your family , your in laws will know in minutes or seconds. You have to know who is a constant trouble maker and who is a peace maker in the family. Once you know who he/she is , the problem is easy to be fixed. YOur husband has to tell your MIL to stop calling the daughter regarding every single family issue, grand kids , cooking, etc ( just anything) but I know she won’t do it because she is so used to talking /reporting to sons/daughters or friends.Chinese MIL LOVES that kind of stuff!!!!!!!!!!!!! Let MIL know that if you don’t like the way “we” raise the kids, you can live with the daughter. By Chinese tradition, PIL have to live with the son (your husband). Tell MIL that it is very normal to live with son or daughter nowadays and give MIL an option that if she doesn’t like to live with the daughter anymore, she can move back WITH CONDITIONS that she won’t be soooo noisy anymore. Trust me, majority of daughters are closer to moms that is why you hear so much about your sister in law. take care.

    Btw, please give me a nickname . I will be called ” MIL Slayer” * tickles so hard*

  46. Hi MIL Slayer! thank you so much for ur response regarding my situation, well, for now, my MIL staying in my BIL’s house…for the mean time only because our situation here for the past two months really difficult…well, im bit more at peace not because she’s away but because no more “shouting” and too much calling from my SIL…but according to my step daughter, my SIL still spying on me, she always ask my daughter my whereabouts, what im saying inside the house, what time i wake up, what time i sleep etc…isn’t it so funny that she’s making herself so busy about me and my family? hahaha it doesn’t affect me anymore…they are free to do anything they want to do against me, as long as im not doing anything bad to them, i can say my conscience is at peace hehehe…i can sense that she is not happy with her married life, maybe a bit insecure because she can see my husband love me so much, maybe because she cannot be happy with her MIL that’s why she want to ruin my relationship with her mother…for now, i cannot figure out who is really the trouble maker but i think, if my MIL will stop calling my SIL and if my SIL will stop spying and stop deciding for our family, maybe that would make our lives peaceful and better…actually, my parents will be coming soon and visit us, they dont know anything about my problems here, i intend not to tell them because i dont want them to get involved with my married life’s problems and i dont want them to worry also about me because i know they will not allow me stay here with my husband if ever they will know, maybe they will ask us to stay away from my MIL and SIL which is not possible also…is it right for me not to tell them? or do i nid to tell them so they will know also what’s happening with me?

  47. See with Chinese MIL, “most” of them want to cause problems and stay with you though. Just don’t think too much and eveything will be fine.

  48. I am so glad I found this thread! I am a caucasian woman dating a Chinese-Canadian man. My boyfriend and I live in the U.S. My boyfriend’s parents live in Canada, originally from Hong Kong. We have been dating for two years and are getting very serious in our relationship. The first year we started dating his parent’s came to visit and I met them for the first time. I was very nervous because my boyfriend had never dated a caucasian woman before, and I wasn’t sure what his parent’s would think of me. The first meeting went fairly well. However over the past year, my boyfriend has not discussed much of his relationship with me at all with his mother. It started really worrying me because I sensed she was not happy with the relationship, so he avoided talking about me. I asked my boyfriend if she likes me and he would say, “yes.” Well, his parents are visiting again this year, but instead of a week, for a month. It’s been 10 days since they came to visit and tonight is the first time I got to see my boyfriend and his parents). We wanted to make dinner for them. My boyfriend warned me they only like certain foods so we made sure to make a dish we thought they would like to try. Let me also say that my boyfriend’s personality has changed dramatically since his parents came to visit. He is not the happy, joking guy I know. He looks terrible. As soon as we started making the meal his mother was harassing my boyfriend about how to cook properly, knead the dough correctly and was incredibly demanding. Based on some stories that he told me in the past, I knew she was very demanding. Things progressively got worse. As we served his parents at the dinner table, they both indicated that the homemade pasta wasn’t “cooked enough.” His mother then complained about everything. I was shocked and incredibly hurt. I still have 20 days before his parents leave and I can see my boyfriend. His mother is incredibly controlling and he hasn’t stood up to her. I sensed very clearly tonight that she does not want us in a relationship. I feel so much pain, anxiety and confusion right now. I love my boyfriend so much. We were friends for 5 years before dating. Throughout the years we were always there for one another. I realize that his mother probably will never change. I also realize that my boyfriend politely agrees to everything she wants. He provides his parents financial assistance (I am fine with), but on the other hand his mother constantly demands him to take them traveling, new clothes, etc. He has to live very frugally to provide for his parents. He is their only child. They have certain expectations of their son, and I am not one of them. I don’t know what to do — writing about this is very therapeutic. I didn’t know that this issue was so widespread, and now I realize I am not alone. Tonight was one of the most uncomfortable nights of my life. All I wanted to do was to give my boyfriend a huge hug , because I can’t imagine the pressure he has been going through. But I also know that he will have to stand up for me if these things continue. His mother was talking finances, wanting to know what retirement benefits I have, etc. I keep my finances private and provided a very generic response. She probably couldn’t tell how upset I was because I am very good about hiding my feelings, but since they left my house I am a wreck. Sorry about such a long post. I feel so confused and don’t know if things will get better or worse. I come from an easy going family who is accepting of everyone. They love my boyfriend and he loves my family. They treat him like a son. I feel fortunate to have such accepting parents. My boyfriend and I have been discussing our future, but I worry that his mother will make life very difficult for me. She even mentioned the possibilty of “retiring” to the U.S., which I know means to live with my boyfriend. At this point I am trying to process my thoughts and think logically, but my heart gets in the way. Thanks.

  49. C,

    I cannot offer you too much advice. Except let me tell you our situations are very similar, knowing my husband 5 years before getting married, he is Canadian-Chinese, originally from Hong kong and I am from the States as well. We currently live in Toronto with his parents and are working on getting our own place. It really is hard sometimes but It gets easier. I also vented on here and found it very therapeutic and was able to work things out of with my Mother-in-law because she is a reasonable person and didn’t realize half the things she was doing that upset me and my husband.

    First, please don’t do anything but be yourself. I would tell his mom if she continued to stick her nose in my finances that it is none of her business and you don’t appreciate it. Also, encourage your boyfriend to say “If you don’t like it, do it yourself” that usually shuts my mother-in-law up pretty fast. I have learned that Chinese are very blunt where our culture is more polite and abstain from awkward moments. Most importantly, don’t let her move in lol it really will be hell then, but I think that goes for ANY mother in law. You two needs your space as a couple.

    Good Luck
    <3 Sam

  50. Thank you Sam, for your advice! Yes, it does seem our situations are quite similar. I will have a heart-to-heart with my boyfriend when his parents leave and discuss some of the things that troubled me! I think he probably already knows some of it, but maybe there is a way he can discuss a couple issues with his mother. At least now I know more of her personality, so I will try not to take things to heart as much. I will take things day-by-day, and should his parents decide to move in, then some hard decisions will have to be made. Like you indicated in your post, my boyfriend’s mother, too, may not realize some of the things she is saying or doing makes me upset. I will have to be firm with her in the future if she continues to ask about personal finances or other issues that I prefer to keep to myself. Thanks again for your comment and advice!

  51. Don’t not take all comments from future Chinese MIL personally, they really hurt and annoying. It’s how you convert these negative comments and turn them around for you. Some readers here find my comments to be too much and in your face kinda situation. Well, being sweet all the time is not good too because people will push you around. In real person, I’m the sweetest guy, extremely understanding , out spoken and supportive. My family knows my personality so I don’t think my mom will dare to say something hurtful. If those comments are hurtful, I will explain what mom is trying to say or express. You know some people are not good at expressing their feelings. Every comments come out of their mouth can be rough but they don’t mean it though. If you always concentrate on EVERY single comment ,then you are only going to hurt yourself and nobody else. Most of the time is just misunderstanding and miscommunication! I’m a problem solver and not afraid to face bad situations. Please don’t run away. solve it together with your wife and husband.

    Thank you,

    Bruce

    1. Thanks so much for stepping in to offer your advice, Sam and Bruce — very helpful stuff.

      I also think it’s very important to have your boyfriend’s support when it comes to the family. There are bound to be misunderstandings when you come from different cultures, but having him be a mediator in some of these issues is invaluable. Even my Chinese in-laws, who I love to death, don’t always understand me and I need my husband’s help to resolve things. Knowing that you have him in your corner now is really critical, because things get even more complicated if you two decide to marry.

      And definitely, don’t take those comments to heart too much. You should see my Chinese family at the table. No one says “thank you” for the food — they just jump right in and comment on whether the flavor is good or if it needs more salt/seasoning. It’s incredibly blunt, but that’s how things are in this family. I’m at the point now where I don’t even care if someone says I look fatter — that’s their perspective! I know I am just fine, thank you. 😉

  52. Thank you for your advice and suggestions, Bruce and Jocelyn! Yes, I will definitely have to discuss some things with my boyfriend before things progress further so we are on the same page. Yes, many of the things are cultural. My boyfriend is the complete opposite of his parents in most situations (at least around me!), so I haven’t been used to some of what I perceive as “negative” remarks. I am a fairly easy-going person, very warm-heared, and always hope people enjoy my food (I feel I am a pretty good cook since I cook all the time due to food allergies!). I am not used to all the complaining and its a bit draining mentally. I grew up in the total opposite environment, where we didn’t complain too often, and we certainly never complained about my mother’s cooking 🙂 This is something I will have to adapt to. Thanks again for all your comments and helpful advice!

  53. C,

    I understand that we like to hear compliments on our cookings. I usually will always say good things about someone’s cooking eventhough it is not good. You know why? I want that person to cook for me again :). Last night , we had a wonderful cook out in our backyard and we burned a bonfire ,too. Friends LOVE IT ,the food, the company and everything about the backyard. We just love our lifestyle and it doesn’t matter if others complain about the mosquitos and the heat etc. C, please just love your bf the way it is right now . We don’t have to drag the future MIL into the picture. MIL will always be MIL . It’s very hard for your bf to pick between you and his mom ,so just imagine you and your bf is one family and future MIL is another family. Don’t let PIL bother the good between you and your bf. I have a feeling that you two will be great together by what you told us. PIL must live in a different home like 30 minutes away :(. Normally, other friends’ MIL afraid of me hahaha lol . I think it’s the way how I present myself to others. You just have to know how to control the situation with PIL or MIL. Tell you bf / husband to meet you in the bedroom and tell him how you can solve past and current dilemma so you’re prepared to tackle all issues. Well, we have to adjust our cooking to others’ taste ,too, once you know their taste though. It’s good to ask first hand if he/she like salty, sweet or spicy food and you go from there. I can handle atomic hot, spicy food but too salty is okay .Anyway, have fun discussing all issues with your bf.

  54. If you sense that your future MIL is a problem , let your bf/husband know about it and why. Some men are very stubborn and they want to take care of their parents because other siblings won’t do it. I’m speaking with my heart and experience right now . If PIL will retire in the U.S, that’s fine as long as both of you know that elbows will be rubbed when you guys live together and that’s 110% guarantee! How are we going to solve this problem if they want to live in the U.S. ?Well, Let your bf/husband handles it by SOFTLY telling his parents that you are glad that they will move here but in order for “us” to be happy and focus on “our lives” and work, it’s wiser and better for mom and dad to live 30 min to a hr away. Not close by okay! We have a Chinese saying” smell beautiful far away , close is stink” :). You know I almost work 6 to 7 days a week . I don’t freaking have time for troubles from MIL. We have to focus on Kids, work, wife, vacations ,business and future. I think you know that life is tough if you’re a working person. Don’t be afraid of MIL problems okay. She is last our list. I guess I know how to take of troubles step by step.

    Sincerely,

    Bruce

  55. It was so relieving to find this post and read all the comments. I come from a traditional culture too and so I have seen these MIL problems in my own home happening to my mother, which is why I feel that the guy or the “child in question” is crucial to your relationship with your in laws. Not just in putting his/her foot down when necessary but also in helping both sides understand each other better. Ironically my chinese bf’s mother is visiting him for his graduation for a month and staying with him. The first time I met her, was really nice, she got me a gift and tried to communicate with me even though I dont understand much mandarin and she doesnt understand much english. My bf asked that I accompany him every time he takes his mother sight seeing etc. However, this is becoming surprisingly tricky and wrecking havoc on my emotions. Firstly because we dont speak the same language, I simply have to tag along as he talks to his mother. I guess its tiring for him to translate everything to me all the time. Then, when we go out and eat, they share food but it seems I cannot and she wont try anything I offer to her, I dont know why. Also he wont take food from me in her presence, whereas he does that ALL the time otherwise. When they take pictures, she has very graciously offered to take pictures just for me, but never has either of them indicated that we all take pictures together. This makes it a little bit of a harrowing experience to hang out with her. Also though she has critisized me on some points, at least from what my bf told me, it was usually sthing that was true. So even though I was horrified initially (as much as I am traditional, I am not used to criticizing people so early on before I know more about them), but since she isnt making things up I was ok with it. She also indicated strongly to my boyfriend that she wants to live with him in the future, to which even my chinese female friends said they would never like that kind of an arrangement personally. But thats far out in the future and her personal situation is different that most MIL, and I grew up with my grandma so I have no qualms with such an existence even though it causes pain and trouble inevitably for all parties (but living together always does right). Future aside though, I really dont know how to mitigate the present situation. I have lost my temper several times on my bf for not forewarning me, but in retrospect he is doing what he can. And its not like I blame her, she just got to know me and we cant even communicate. I spoke with him, asking him to exclude me from these excursions since I really feel like the odd one out and have spent entire days completely silent and doing my own thing. And I dont want her to see ONLY my sulky brooding side. Then I cant blame her for not wanting her son to be with me right?!

  56. Hi Jocelyn,

    I LOVE your website & it’s great to hear other peoples’ experiences on this complicated relationship.

    I’m seriously dating a wonderful Chinese-American man. We’re planning to get engaged in the next few months & his family has already started talking about wedding planning.

    I’ve had a couple of tense moments with his mom (nothing like some of the difficulties others have shared and certainly not abusive) but there’s definite tension. I know that she’s a sweet-hearted woman who loves her family, but even in her good intentions, sometimes I feel very criticized and talked down to when she gives me advice for things that as an adult woman, I know I can take care of. My boyfriend usually sides with his Mom (even though he tries to be understanding) mainly because he doesn’t see an issue with anything she says.

    I don’t want to be oversensitive but I also don’t want to ignore how I feel. I know that we all want to have a good relationship, but it definitely scares me to think about marrying into his family. The thought of planning a wedding together stresses me out & part of me wishes I could just walk away from the relationship. But my boyfriend is a great guy (largerly due to the love of his mother) and I want to work it out. I’m just not quite sure where to go from here… Any advice or help you can offer would be wonderful!!

    Thank-you,
    Caris Warnock

    1. Thanks for the question, Caris — and sorry to hear you feel that way about his mom. I completely understand! I spent three months living with my inlaws, and as much as I love them, I had a hard time with it by the end. Mainly, the experience turned me back into a child, and I never felt I could meet them as another adult. But this is Chinese culture — it’s hierarchical, so parents always expect to be parents to you, no matter how old you are (and, in turn, you’re expected to respect them and their opinions).

      You could try to talk to your boyfriend and share your concerns with him. Obviously, how you do this matters a lot. You might start the conversation out by telling him you’re not used to the way his mother talks to you — that it makes you feel differently than the way you feel with, say, your own parents. He probably doesn’t see things the way you do, because this is how he grew up. Chances are, you’re not going to change his mother and you may not even be able to change him. But if you can get him to understand more where you’re coming from, that’s always a plus.

      Also, I find that sometimes it’s also helpful to just let a Chinese mother-in-law say what she wants to say, without letting it get to you too much. Look , my Chinese mother-in-law told me I’m “too old” this summer, to my face! (That’s in reference to having children.) I nodded and later, just let it go, knowing that she says this because that’s what her culture tells her is right and she doesn’t know any better.

  57. I would advise any Caucasion woman who is considering marrying into a Chinese family to run, not walk, but run away as fast as you can. I just bailed my lovely daughter out of a horrible 6 year relationship/marriage that did not have a chance to work because of the husbands Mother. The woman was down right evil, fully expecting to train my daughter how to be a good housewife, cook and the dutiful, humble, subserviant daughter-in-law. All while having to work full time and going to school. She was never given credit for being an individual and having her own goals. The son even invited his parents on their honeymoon, never consulting my daughter first about it and then the parents accepted the invitation and accompanied them on the honeymood. Fortunately, there were no children involved when they were divorced. The husband was the first born son and his parents always came first. He would never stand up to them, even when he knew they were being out of line. No the Chinese shame was too hard to live through, so he never stood his ground when they did not approve of my daughters decisions or his if they thought he was out of line. Eventually, my daughter sought counseling (the husband refused to go with her) and determined that she could not stay in this marriage. She loved her husband, but just could not continue being placed in a subordinate position by her M-I-L and husband. They were so much in love, but the M-I-L runied it for them. She was controlling, OCD, manic and could never understand why my daughter wanted to get an education rather than having babies. It’s all very sad, my daughter is fine, but the son/husband is heartbroke that his wife left him. He won’t let himself understand that his mother caused the downward spiral. Yes, he’s the first born son and will always have to take care of his parents till their death. They have him right where they want him – under their thumb, alone, without a wife and lonely.

  58. Darlene,

    This is a case by case incident with MIL. I know that not all Chinese MIL are like that. I personally know that alot of Chinese MIL encourage education . I think this is a son issue not the MIL. There are two sides for one story. Sometimes, you might hear things out of context and that don’t make the whole story correct. For example, if I’m your son in law ,this world will be dead peaceful. I’m very fortunated to be a problem solver and an extremely good listener and I love to learn new things and compromise. I know whatever we read on the internet , we tend to believe it but in a real life relationship is very different and complex. Lots of things get involved in a marriage so finding a compatible soul mate is hard eventhough you are the same race period. Anyway, I hope you guys the best.

    all the best,

    Bruce

    1. @Darlene, thanks for the comment. I agree with Bruce that there’s two sides to every story — and in this case, the son holds some responsibility for the failure of your daughter’s marriage.

      Every MIL is different, but certainly some in China have what women like myself would consider outdated perspectives on women and marriage. Even my MIL, from time to time, doesn’t understand what I do or the choices I’ve made in life. She doesn’t do this because she’s inherently malicious — she has these ideas because that’s how her parents/family/culture socialized her to behave and think. But I realize that just because she has these ideas doesn’t mean every mother in China will. In fact, my grandmother (MIL’s mother) once told me she completely understood waiting to have children and wanting to have a career — and she comes from a different era than my MIL.

      I’m sorry your daughter’s marriage ended up in a bitter divorce, and I wish her and your family the best.

  59. Well,

    I don’t think the son and your daughter are heartbroken for that long. Both of them won’t be lonely either because we’re living in a new era. They will start dating pretty soon. If they love each other that much they should have worked things out instead of getting a divorce and that’s common sense. I think we’re generalizing here on the first son who has to take care of the parents for life. You know most Chinese parents nowadays don’t even want to live with the sons at all!!! They want to live with the daughters now and they’ll visit any sons or daughters they wish to and some don’t even want anybody to take care of them . They want to live by themselves because they want freedom and no nagging from the kids. Stories about Chinese parents sticking to their son(s)like leeches are ancient history. It’s just an obligation for son/daughter to take care of his/her parents ,it’s a given and that applies to westerners also. I see alot of westerners are now taking care of their parents. You mean you won’t have watery eyes when you see your healthy parents in nursing home ? Let’s not talk about MIL. let’s talk about living with sister or brother in law now. If I’m going to live with my sister or brother in law over the same roof , there will be world war III. I’m a neat guy and I like to help everybody so it’s going to be difficult. You know people from two different eras will have different opinions and that’s a fact. Darlene, I’m very happy that your daughter is getting a higher education. Getting an education is for yourself , it’s not for your husband, mom or dad. When you make big money in the future because you deserve it. I want to quote from my Chinese mom ” My responsibilities with your families (my dad’s family) and you guys ( me and other brothers) are OVER . Now it’s the time for young people to shine and mountains to move by the new generation. I don’t give a damn (fault languge) what you guys do anymore. I won’t worry about you because you have wings to fly . If I want to go to China, Haiwaii, France, no one can stop me” These are the exact words from my own , older era Chinese mom. She was extremely independent since she was 11 yrs old. I do admire this woman in many ways that I can’t describe. Even some educated women are afraid to travel alone but my mom’s English skill is not great at all and she has traveled to many countries already. She’s not controlling and she understands that we need space and it’s the younger generation era. My mom taught me to be honest and treated people with respect and dignity. Whatever I say here is from my heart. Now you guys are old even to differentiate right from wrong. You know SOME older folks can’t tell what’s right or wrong either. Good luck with you and your lives!

    Bruce

  60. Bruce,

    A divorce is always heart breaking no matter what era you live in. Sometimes you just can’t work it out no matter how hard you try.

    No one is generalizing first sons in Chinese culture, people on here are just sharing their stories and feelings on here, and unfortunatelly it’s not pretty. The relationship between Chinese son and a Chinese mother is not a myth nor an ancient story. I live it everyday and other posters live it too.

    “Stories about Chinese parents sticking to their son(s)like leeches are ancient history.” If that was to be true, this comment wall on this blog would not be utilized as a form of support group for those who have to put up with their Chinese mothers-in-law.

    Please respect people’s feelings. It’s wonderful that you have a wonderful “new era” mother who wants to be independent, but unfortunatelly others don’t.

  61. L.,

    Every Chinese MIL situation is different so you guys do have to figure out how to get thru the MIL heads.Some Chinese MIL are very stubborn and they keep on coming at you. They will stop for a month and come at you again. Half a yr ago, I’ve mentioned that a commission should be formed in China for Chinese MIL support group. I guess it’s a process. Well, if you guys don’t want Chinese MIL problems, please don’t move in with her, NO MATTER HOW SWEET SHE SOUNDS THROUGHOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP. Remember don’t move in!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Things will change when you move in 🙂 lol. My mom is 80 yrs old but she’s not old fashioned and she doesn’t live with me and she doesn’t want to live with me . Of course, I understand other’s feeling or else how can I keep on writing here. I don’t like to comment on the internet but it’s the only option I have right here. I would love to discussion this issue in a group meeting and I love to talk face to face with people. I’m a personal person which means that I rather see /visit you and talk in person. I know that we need more participants to talk about every issue here but most people just want to read here and stay on the sideline and watch. When it comes to discussion , it’s kinda hard to bring more people in. Maybe we should have a NFL football party and order pizza and hot wings then thousands of people will jump in the discussion. Yes, this wall on this blog is a support I do agree ,but things will change with a ” real , live” Chinese MIL problem. A person can read and study in college all you want but you need real experience to tackle problems you haven’t seen before especially in school. Another example : I was talking to a straight A’s college student last week. She said why this and why that ( spoiled brat) when she doesn’t understand the real issue. Her uncle said that she hasn’t gone thru real life situation like that. she just want it done right this second. just a book worm. Do you guys feeling better if we don’t talk about CHinese MIL ? I don’t like to avoid problem because it’s still there and not solved yet. I really need to drink tea. I’m wasting too much saliva.

    Bruce

  62. Before I go back to work again , I would like to say that marriage is about trust and if I don’t trust my wife who can I trust anymore? If my marriage fails for any reasons, I will not.. let me repeat again. I will not blame my mom, my in laws or anybody related or associated with me. The only person I can blame is MYSELF. As a man, I take full responsibility in whatever I do or engage in any activities.If we can not accept our failures , how can we learn and succeed in a relationship or career? We’re married to each other not to Chinese MIL or Western MIL. I understand the blaming game but it’s endless. Sometimes, I wonder how can all those Chinese daughter in laws get so used to living with their Chinese MIL. They just get used to and they’re in their comfort zone. When a western woman lives with her Chinese MIL , she is not in her comfort zone anymore. Her envirnoment is different from the Chinese atmosphere. It’s like sleeping over at a friend’s house. I’m not used to how they put their sofa or they put all the stuff on the table. It’s a different envirnoment for me ,too.

  63. Believe me Bruce, The Chinese MIL was and is controlling, insecure and evil. Her offspring were so brianwashed, they could not see it and accepted it for lack of ever being exposed to anything different. It was interesting to watch how the offprings and husband adjusted to her. By that I mean the husband was a work-a holic, one son was very passive agressive, daughter was passive but less agressive, other son just avoided. She ran the family compound with a firm set of rules and god help you if you breeched. Most of it was OCD behaviors. She threw a fit because her husband used the “inside” broom to sweep the sidewalk, rather than the “outside” broom. Pouted for days and refused to eat with the rest of the family. It caused havoc amongst her family, my daughter just sat back and laughed to herself.

  64. Darlene,

    I believe you about your in law. I know one lady just like you mentioned but she’s not Chinese. This lady is not married though because two of her husbands ran away :). All I have to say to all you ladies out there is to plan everything out if you two are going to live with CHinese MIL or by yourselves. If you are going to live with Chinese MIL , make sure she is an understanding, caring, no nagging, livable kinda woman and she lets the son run the show in the house. If you know that your future Chinese MIL is sweet or look like she is sweet and she is a total control freak , please talk with your man and ONLY live by yourselves. It’s wise to move out right after you get married. Don’t wait too long if you have a control freak Chinese MIL because she doesnt want you to move out later. You will know what I mean :).Some Chinese MIL will expect you to visit her but that’s fine at least you’re not living under the same roof. In America, westerners don’t have much MIL issues due to the fact that everybody lives separately in different homes and states. I’m sure you will have problems also with lots of people live in the same house. Darlene, do you know why those sons and daughter see nothing wrong with their mom? It sounds frustrating but that’s their mom and they are used to her behaviors and her husband is used to her ,too. Also, I do emphasize talking with each others ( husband and wife) on controlling each other’s moms. You and your Chinese husband should be united and work things out regarding siblings , gossips and in laws issues. If you and your husband don’t work as a team , your life will go out of control pretty soon. I want to go into more details but I have other obligations right now. “Honey, I’m home ! ” :). My Chinese mom once said ” IF YOU CAN’T LIVE WITH ME , YOU WON’T EVER LIVE WITH ANYONE ELSE IN THIS WORLD ” . Seriously, I’m betting my life on that line. She’s a people person just like her son , me :).

  65. Thank you Bruce, my daughter’s marriage failed because the first born son would not stop doing his mother’s bidding. He refused to move away from the family compound and live separate from his family. So in the end my daughter sought counsel and did what she had to do to get out of a horrible situation. Her husband would not go to a marriage counselor with her. She left her husband, he is heartbroken and the mother sends me e-mails saying how spoiled my daughter was. I’m so happy my daughter got out of the marriage before she had children. My daughter is strong, outgoing, independent, uninhibited – all traits that her husband was attracted to when they first met, but in the end it was those very traits that his mother didn’t approve of. She wanted the humble, dutiful, subserviant D-I-L and my daughter was just not the type to serve a woman that was so controlling and down right mean to her. It’s all really sad because they had a beautiful wedding, a honeymoon in Tokyo (which he invited his parents to accompany them on and they went). I’ve got a 5 page letter written to my former S-I-L which I will send to him as soon as the divorce papers are finalized. He wants answers as to why she left him and I’m going to give him answers – with the biggest one being the only women he will ever truly love and serve = his mother.

  66. Darlene,

    You don’t have to thank me. We’re here to listen and help you. I always tell people not to babysit their adult kids ( 18 to 40 yrs old). Those guys will become like trained whales at Sea World. You always feed those whales in captivity but when you release them in the wild , they don’t know how to catch fish. Darlene, when I talk to other men ( men I know personally)on some issues and they’re so easy to solve . When they can’t even solve simple things , I just call them ,” YOU ARE USELESS” without holding back. Well , those words are rude but I want to shake them a little bit .I had to talk to people or maybe argued with people and listened and learned how to coexist with others like in the job place or in your own home. Maybe you guys think I like to write here and surf on the internet but I don’t. I just like to talk and help.

  67. Wow I’m so glad I found this blog and this thread–a lot of these stories sound like my life!
    While I’ve met my fiance’s Chinese parents before, I just came back from a 2 week extended family tour in China that was both stressful and informative. Turns out his parents are way more traditional than I thought they were, and weren’t much support when we visited their extended family in the countryside. Fortunately I’m blessed with a fiance who can stand up to his family most of the time (not always…), and who understands why a lot of the comments and the treatment I receive really eat away at me. The good news is that for now, we live an ocean away and hopefully can keep it that way as his parents get older and as we have kids? It’s so reassuring to know there are others out there with stories just like mine, and sometimes sadly even worse stories.

  68. I just wanted to let you ladies know that Chinese MIL’s are not only crazy towards American White daughter in laws but they are crazy towards Chinese ones too. I’m Chinese and I’m married to a Cantonese who’s parents are now in Hong Kong. His mom expects him to call them every weekend and tries to manipulate everything that he and I do and treat him like a 3 year old child. When we first met, I was working in the top five consulting firms, have a bachelors from UC Berkeley, and graduated college with the highest honors at only age 19. His mom met me and told him I was evil before they even “knew” me and they said all I wanted was his “money.” He was jobless at the time, his family is poor, and my family is way more well off than his family. Needless to say, I was horrified. I wanted to end our relationship right there since I was only 20 at the time and had a great future ahead without subjecting myself to that BS. They also complained that I only speak Mandarin and English and not Cantonese and that I’m not Catholic. Needless to say, having grown up in America (although I’m Chinese), I didn’t want to take that BS.
    My father was an understanding man and he really liked my boyfriend so he asked me to stay in the relationship a while longer. My then boyfriend, now husband, turned out to be a sweet guy and very supportive and he knows that his parents are crazy. Not only are they crazy, but his grandparents are also crazy. They are demanding too. We were married when I was 26. We both just got our MBA’s from the University of Chicago and thought our career was first but his family pestered us about children. My husband stood out and said we weren’t having one anytime soon. That cut off the topic. Then my husband told them to stop trying to convert me to Catholic and any talks about it is restricted when they’re with me.
    My point is this… children “always” win against their parents so having an understanding husband, boyfriend, on your side is “super” important. He needs to want what you want – which is a life of your own. Then everything else should fall into place. My husband’s the only son, which makes it 1000 times worse for the daughter in laws, trust me. He needs to be able to stand up to his parents and tell them what he wants. This is the only way. As the DIL, you CANNOT be the one doing the fighting. Always act stupid like you didn’t know what happened.
    Remember this: you do not have to win their approval. It’s okay for them to not like you. You don’t need to spend your entire life trying to make people like you when they will never like you due to their own stupid reasons. His mom always thought I took him away or something and she talks to him like he’s her other boyfriend. I have to say, it’s pretty unhealthy! Asian mothers adore their sons and believe that their sons were their lovers in their past life (if they’re buddhists).
    I spent the first 2 years trying to make them like me. Growing up in a Chinese family, there were “NO” parents that didn’t like me. I’m especially good with the older generation in a traditional Chinese sense. I cook, clean, and have a high education and I chat with them and help them out with stuff. Many of my father’s friends kept pushing their sons on me! Therefore, after 2 years, I deemed it impossible for his parents to like me. I’ve done everything such as treating them to nice dinners, buying them expensive gifts, cooking for them, and also taking time OFF work to take them out! I did everything a Chinese DIL should do and still I wasn’t “good enough.” I finally said “F that” and decided to move on with my life. I caused myself so much stress and anxiety and deemed it not worth my time in life to please them.
    If your boyfriend is easily affected by his parents and cannot stand up to his parents, leave him. You’ll live a life of hell. The reason being that you’ll lose your love for him eventually if you guys live together. You’ll end up hating his parents first and then resenting him for not standing up for you and soon, you would realize that you don’t love him anymore. It’s sad but it’s true. I’ve seen it happen. If your husband or boyfriend is too weak to stand up to his parents, leave. You also need to tell him this: children “always” win. If he doesn’t talk to his parents for a week or even a month, they’ll surrender! They cannot bare the fact that their child is not talking to them at all. Seriously, it works. Just think about yourself if you have a child. Is there anything you cannot forgive your child for? The worse thing is for them to disappear from your lives right? Although it should be the last resort to give the silent treatment, a simple threat is sometimes enough.
    Sorry, but I know Chinese MIL’s too well. All my friends have them since we’re chinese but we’re also american since we were educated and born/raised here. We know what you all are going through and probably 1000 times worse since we know the language and culture. It’s not any better.
    Hang in there, be strong, and let your boyfriend and husbands know they need to step up! Let them do the talking, never you.

    1. CrazyJ, great comment and excellent advice. I completely agree that the boyfriend/husband is easily the most important factor in your future happiness — and if he’s not standing up to unreasonable parents, you’d best get out of the relationship.

  69. CrazyJ,
    Finally a Chinese woman agreed with what I’ve said and I think we’ve solved almost everything regarding Chinese MIL here. What a relief! In our Chinese families, we have the same problems with our moms , so to some CHinese people it’s everyday life. You guys have to know that the Chinese daughters learn this kind of stuff from their moms /MIL . This is learned and passed on to next generation ,but don’t worry after this generation when these Chinese MIL die, we won’t have many CHinese MIL issues anymore. I don’t have problems with my mom at all and I don’t have to call her at all. I’m stressed out with work all the time so she understands that I don’t call her. Every time, I talk with her ,I joke around with her and she can handle jokes and she’s not a serious person. I know what you guys are thinking that not all moms are like mine. I think is because I’m stubborn and I know how to handle the ways how people think so I twist my words. It’s like killing 2 birds with one stone. I think Asian men have to endure alot of BS from our parents than Western men. It’s alot of responsibilities and some people just don’t “F” understand. Do you guys know that usually men don’t have problems in the home? Who are the trouble makers most of the time? You guys know the answers to my questions already.

  70. There is no doubt Chinese sons take a lot of “S”! I feel sorry for my husband sometimes… but the best thing is to know how to deal with your own parents so that they don’t affect your own life and family. You love them but it’s also okay to tell them to back off and let you do things your way. You are an adult now with your own family. I always say it’s too hard to change people after 25. Parents should realize that. You’re old enough to live your own life. They will learn after a few discussions with you! The worst is for the son to ignore the situation. It’ll just become miserable for both the mom and your wife. NEVER let your wife be the “talking” person because your mom will hate and remember it for the rest of their lives and complain and complain about it to everyone. That’s how Chinese moms are unfortunately. They won’t ever complain about their own son though so therefore, sons need to do the talking. I love this forum!

  71. I’m another Chinese woman w/a Chinese MIL…and I super agree that having a supportive husband (from any background) is the key to a good marriage. You may not have a good relationship with the ILs, you may have NO relationship w/the ILs. There are some people who are impossible to please. In fact, they intentionally make it that way.

    My MIL literally flew off the handle during a visit. Raised her hand as if to hit me. Not pretty. She has not been in our home since. Not to say we’re not trying to repair and understand her better, we are. BUT we are doing so cautiously and on our terms.

    Anyone who sees their boyfriend/fiance have trouble standing firm with their parents, no matter the background (I don’t care if they are from Timbuktu), think *very* carefully about pursuing the relationship further. How can you stand firm together as one unit if they are constantly trying to please another? How can they be emotionally committed to you as a spouse if they are being emotionally manipulated by another person? You can pursue a reasonable relationship w/your in-laws. You don’t have to go into it with the assumption it will be bad. You can also learn to let go of the “I’m an independent person” and learn to pick your battles…let some of it go. My FIL loves it when I ask him questions and ask his “advice” (ILs are divorced). Let them be the “wiser” one. Having grown up w/a Chinese mother and getting nagged about every thing, you learn to just let it go and go “uh, huh. Sure Ma. Will do.” For some (as in the case of my FIL), a little service and a little conversation goes a long way. But when the rubber hits the road and it concerns the well-being and safety of your family (emotional, mental, physical), you need to make sure the boyfriend/fiance/spouse will STAND FIRM.

    Ladies, you too. Stand by your man.

  72. I love it when we have Chinese women talking about this subject. If you understand what Chinese daughter in laws have to deal with then Western women get an understanding of the whole situation!

  73. Honestly, I never expected to marry a Chinese man. I grew up in the Midwest surrounded by Caucasians and most of the Chinese boys I knew were cousins, my brother, or the random few others who lived in my town because their parents owned restaurants (no joke). And I thought..man, if I have so many issues with my own mother, how on earth would I handle a Chinese MIL?

    Just because I am Chinese, it does not mean I automatically get some brownie points with my Chinese MIL. There are dialects, personalities, unspoken expectations, and the ever-present knowledge that my husband is not only the only son but also the only child to deal with. My husband is rather in denial about how important that plays into the whole situation…he doesn’t seem to realize or want to recognize how traditional his mother is. Being well-educated (good university, grad degrees, etc.) only intimidated her, which manifested in other passive aggressive ways. Being pretty rankled her vanity, despite her looking 40 when she was 60…I still looked younger. Being in a good relationship with her son only made it worse, because her own relationship with him wasn’t so hot.

    A note about passive aggressiveness: yes, there are these veiled expectations for you to ask to help w/dinner, serve tea, etc. Expressing joy and disgust to others instead of directly to you is pretty standard. The thing is, if they never directly ask you for something, it allows them to be upset if you “don’t get it” and it also allows them to not give you credit if you do. Instead they can feign that isn’t really what they wanted and either just “oh, ok…I guess that’s *fine*” to seem like the bigger person, or they can change their mind.

    That’s a very hard thing for the direct Westerner to absorb. I grew up with it in my own parents, so I’m used to it. I still don’t guess correctly most of the time. Oh, well.

    And to offer some perspective on the IL side, not to excuse the behavior but just explain…the idea that a relationship, ANY relationship, takes 2 to tango is a very foreign idea to a more traditional Chinese person. In some ways, we have had to coach my MIL on how to *be* in relationship with another person and to set very firm boundaries with her. Exhausting to parent a parent, but there it is. She honestly has no idea how to give and take. She never saw it in her own relationships, so how could we expect her to know what to do?

    I will say…after I thanked her for raising such a wonderful son who is an amazing husband and father, she softened a lot. Words of praise and acknowledgment are sparse to non-existent in Chinese culture. A word of praise might take the form of telling an Auntie while you are in ear shot that you won an award. Direct praise? Heavens no. In fact, for a Chinese parent, their source of pride and recognition is completely wrapped up in the success of the child. So to directly honor the work and sacrifice they put into raising the child…that’s a big deal. Now…do I believe my husband is the wonderful person he is today solely because of his mother, considering all her idiosyncratic and frankly insane behavior? Well…no. Does that really matter? If I tell her that I got to go out with my friends because my husband (her son) is so fantastic and put the kids to bed by himself, I keep the peace. Is this because she taught him that? Heck, no. Does it matter that she takes the credit? I really don’t care. It greases the wheels a bit. You get a lot farther w/honey sometimes.

    Lastly: Take a gander over to Dear Abby every so often. A wise (white) woman once said to me, “Asians don’t have a patent on dysfunctional, passive aggressive behavior.” Please don’t assume that things would be better with an IL of another background. Do Chinese people have a particular brand of insanity and dysfunction? Sure they do. But I suspect all peoples do.

  74. Ni Hao,
    I’m am early 30 something white Canadian male who has lived in China for 6 years, speaks Mandarin and understands the culture for the most part. 4 years ago I married a wonderful Chinese woman who speaks English fluently and who I love dearly. This past September we moved back to Beijing, and in November, she gave birth to our first born child, a beautiful boy. In the past couple of weeks I have really started to become irked by my Chinese mother-in-law who now lives with us full time. I really don’t know where to start…
    As the only breadwinner in the family currently, I must give all of my salary to my wife, and I must ask for money to even buy the smallest of things. My MIL is extremely frugal/niggardly and always says things are too expensive. She is also very vulgar in her demeanor and is constantly spitting, grunting and clearing her throat. She does not cook well, and I’m tired of pretending to like what she makes. Now that my wife’s 1 month rest period is over, she still insists that the baby sleep in her room, a room that was supposed to be meant for the baby initially. She controls everything and constantly criticizes almost everything. She doesn’t understand any English, Western culture nor does she try to understand that for me and my parents it is unacceptable how she is doing by pretty much raising our baby. I haven’t changed a diaper in almost a month nor done anything but held my baby for brief moments before she takes him away from me. She lets bottles and cans pile up to exceeding amounts in the kitchen so she can return them for a paltry 5 yuan. She has the baby pee and poop in the garbage instead of putting a diaper on him. She has an excessive amount of water basins all over the place. And, most recently, I found a new 3 bedroom apartment to move into and I told my wife I didn’t want my MIL coming. To my chagrin, my MIL came and obviously said it was too expensive (she doesn’t even know how much I make), complained that the spare bed wasn’t big enough for her, and in the other apartment we really liked, she complained that the wallpaper might be poisonous and bad for our baby (plausible, but highly unlikely). So, now my wife won’t rent either apartment that we both loved because of my MIL. She tells me what to do in just about every sitiuation and I have no more control of my marriage, raising our baby, my life!!! I am just a cash cow and feel unwanted and unworthy. Please help!!! I’ve told my wife she must go! And am bringing my mother from Canada for two weeks, just so my MIL will have to go back to her hometown.

  75. Mark Munro, Plain and simple – get your MIL out of your home! Your wife most likely will never stand up to her mother, lest she be shamed or shunned forever by her mother and her mother’s relatives. My ex-
    son in law (Chinese, My daughter is midwest caucasion) admitted his mother was a meddling, OCQ tyrant, but he would never stand his ground with his mother or father. The parents and siblings and respective families all lived in separate houses on the same compound, but they were far from private. My daughter was expected to humble, serve and carry out her MIL’s every order, all while working full time and going to school full time. She put up with it for 5 years and left
    this summer to come back home. The divorce is not final yet, but we are hoping it will be soon. Fortunately she did not become pregnant while married to her ex. I’m sorry you are going through this, especially with your new baby in the mix. The chinese are all about putting on this illusion to their world that everything is wonderful but when the layers are peeled away it’s a horrible mess because of the
    inlaws.