Nasty Mother-in-Laws

September 19, 2007 10:59 PM

Empress Dowager Cixi
The mother of all Mother-in-Laws, the Empress Dowager Cixi who was so overbearing that she ruled China through two weak Emperors, the first her son, and the second her nephew. Imagine what their wives went through.

The nasty mother-in-law is a universal stereotype in all cultures. And recently I found out that my father’s mother is one too.

To understand the following story, you have to understand the dynamics of traditional Chinese families. And to make it less complicated, I’m assuming the case of a woman marrying into a family with only one son*. Typically the daughter-in-law would rank lower than the husband’s parents, the husband and the grandchildren, in particular the grandsons. It can be inferred from that that daughter-in-laws are merely there to produce children who will carry on the family name.

And to set the scenario, my father is his father’s eldest son, and my brother and I are the only grandsons with the family name. Going by traditional norms, my mother would be considered by my grandmother to be the lowest in importance in our family of four.

For the past 2 months that my grandmother has been staying with us, all of us have witnessed everything from mild insults to sarcasm. A couple of times, I even heard my grandmother say one thing to my mother and another to my father. Maybe she needs to see people fight for entertainment in her old age. The reasons that I can put it down to are spite and jealousy of the other woman in my dad’s life.

Even though my mother always had the suspicion that my grandmother never really liked her, we didn’t think too much of it because my grandmother never lived with us for any period of time, and my dad is not a pushover who listens to his mother all the time.

What I don’t get is that my grandmother would have probably went through the same when she married into the Ooi family, so why isn’t she more understanding? And her story is even more interesting. My grandfather was a middle child and his mother was the second wife of three – I don’t know how the dynamics worked in that one!* Think I need to go rent out “Raise the Red Lantern” to brush up on my knowledge.

And to put it all in even greater perspective, this is the same grandmother whose children are fighting over her will even before she’s dead. It’s a mess but karma perhaps?

* Chinese family politics and dynamics are endlessly fascinating, like one of those games or quizzes where you have to put things in their proper order. Most of what I’ve spoken about here are considered outdated and dysfunctional by today’s standards, even though it is still happening in varying degrees.

17 thoughts on “Nasty Mother-in-Laws

  1. yurl

    yeah mother in laws are universal. definitely its a cycle like bullying. They were shown a bad example by their mother in laws and now its their turn to inflict pain. hopefully our generation is more educated and will break this cycle.

  2. blur ting

    Must be hard on your mum.

    This is now changing. I see more mother-in-law being bullied by the daughter-in-law these days. The younger women today are more defiant and educated and can come across as being intimating. Somehow the wheels of karma have turned.

  3. mooiness Post author

    nick: we are Hokkien actually. Think it’s a common thing regardless of which dialect we are from.

    yurl: I think my mother’s generation with her and her sister are already there – they just can’t imagine doing that to their daughter-in-laws knowing what they went through themselves.

    blur ting: true that, there are cases like that too. Either types of bullying and intimidation are no good. The perpetrators will get their just deserves.

  4. mf

    i hv heard cases from my married frens and sometimes i tot certain arguements can be avoided. or sometimes maybe it’s a give and take thingy? or bo bian just tahan?
    i dunno, i’m nt there yet, so probably it’s not for me to comment? 😛

  5. mooiness Post author

    steph: it is horrid. Think she’s stuck in her ways, and she’s too old to wanna change. Age definitely did not mellow her out.

    mf: with my grandmother, I think it’s all take and no give. And there’s no thank-yous either because everything my mother does as a DIL is taken for granted and expected. Arguments can be avoided if you grow a thick skin or just play ignorant. 😉

  6. sourrain

    AH, one of my favourite topic

    Maybe grandma is doing it so that you mom goes through what SHE went through. You know, like abused girls tend to go out with abusive men when they grow up. Funnily enough, with two relatively easygoing grandmothers, I feel that it was the daughter in laws that were bullying them as well.Maybe being the daughter of the last son (out of 13 siblings) means that all the nastiness has sorted itself out by then.hehe.

    My mom always insisted on being respectful to the outlaws no matter how catty they next time her son & daughter in law will be nice to her! Lucky she believes in karma 😀

    Oh, and also she promises not to be a pain-in-the-ass old lady..if she becomes catty and devious we are to put her in an old folks home. HAHAAH

  7. mooiness Post author

    sourrain: yes karma indeed. And funny that you should mention about the old folks’ home – my mom said the same thing. She said that if ever she get unbearable, I’m to settle her down in a nice condo somewhere and let her me. Heheh.

  8. Jewelle

    Not only in Chinese families unfortunately. I was brought up with drama between my mom and grandmother. Although they don’t have any fight scene (!), I think the result is that we kids are not close to my grandmother and have no affinity with her. It’s sad but I don’t make any effort to change it too. I’m blessed to have a wonderful MIL though.

  9. mooiness Post author

    Jewelle: yeah sometimes these mother-in-laws can’t see the forest for the trees – they think that their old traditions are right and must be obeyed but they don’t realise that she’s alienating not just the DIL but also the DIL’s children.

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