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.