“Mẹ vợ” or Vietnamese Mother-in-Law

“It takes a village” is an oft-quoted proverb in the Western world, meaning that it takes more than just a mother and father to raise a child but rather a whole “village” of teachers, community members, coaches and so on to help bring up a child.

While the words above are retained in common knowledge, the Western concept of child-rearing has transformed over time to rely less on the community and extended family.

It took living in Vietnam for me to realize how much I was missing in my ‘incomplete village.’

When I finished university studies, like nearly every young American adult I set out into the world with the firm belief that I would never live under the same roof as my parents again.

Little did I know that I would have a mother-in-law sharing my space within the span of only some years.

The mother-in-law, with the scorn of Hollywood movies and the butt of endless jokes, and the negativity associated with the mother-in-law seems to cross all cultural bounds.

And just how did I befall this decidedly disastrous situation into my house? How could I allow such folly to enter my life? I opened the door and let her in.

I first met my mother-in-law over 4 years ago when I came to my wife’s hometown to seek permission from her parents to date their daughter.

I would like to say that this notion came as a shock to me, but I come from a very conservative family in America where to ask a parent’s permission for even dating their daughter is not unheard of and to not do so when asking for marriage would be greatly disapproved of.

I never expected the first conversation I would have with my in-laws to be one of such a serious nature and my Vietnamese was by no means adequate for what I wanted to convey.

To top it off, my wife’s family hails from the North originally and I had spent the last 2 years in An Giang province perfecting my Vietnamese southern drawl.

Despite all the difficulties the message was conveyed and the conversation ended with approval and relief.

Flash forward to the present and I am happily married and have one daughter.

Raising a family anywhere is no easy task, so after our daughter was born and my mother-in-law moved in to help us I soon realized how valuable it is to have her in our lives.

Every day I am indebted to the care, love and hard work my mother-in-law contributes to helping raise our daughter.

Far from the negative remarks about mother-in-laws I remember a Vietnamese saying that “having 1 grandmother is equal to having 10 people to help”(Có bà là bà là bằng mười người ở) and I couldn’t agree more.

That is to say we aren’t without our disagreements. I believe my mother-in-law thinks I’m absolutely incapable of doing anything right half of the time (which I must say is only 95% correct) and she would be neglecting her duty as mother-in-law if she thought otherwise.

She also is the treasured keeper of the deepest Vietnamese traditions, ones that aren’t in the books on Vietnamese culture and that no one warns you about.

When our daughter had a fall and hit her head and I walked into the kitchen to see my mother-in-law holding a knife blade to her head, I was fuming.

When my parents in America wanted to know how tall our daughter was getting and my wife and I snuck upstairs to measure her in secret, we silently chuckled.

When combs are one of my daughter’s favorite toys and my mother-in-law snatches them from her hands or when my daughter loves staring in the mirror and my mother-in-law pulls her away, I resign to bemused acceptance.

I’m sure it isn’t easy for her to live in a bi-cultural house either.

Whenever my daughter watches one of her favorite English DVDs I catch my mother-in-law repeating what she thinks the English words sound like and laughing to herself.

My daughter loves books and every time she pulls one off the bookshelf she wants my mother-in-law to read the words as she points.

One day she pulled an English language book from the shelf and held it to my mother-in-law.

“What am I supposed to do with this one, I don’t know the words!” she exclaimed smiling.

To be fair, I am completely sure that my mother-in-law has stories about the crazy American she lives with that are equally worth hearing.

Above all, everyday my mother-in-law teaches me something new and I appreciate every lesson, even the perplexing ones, and most of all I appreciate her.

She makes incredible sacrifices to make our little family work.

And she and many others in the neighborhood form my little village that is helping bring my daughter up into the world.

 By Tyler Watts 

Source: Tuổi Trẻ Online



3 thoughts on ““Mẹ vợ” or Vietnamese Mother-in-Law

  1. I can relate to a certain extent. I am getting married to a Vietnamese girl, not born in America, but for all intents and purposes, American as apple pie. As the official wedding date approaches, I feel like I am missing part of the cultural (and linguistic) puzzle, so to speak. For instance, we recently had the famous “Vietnamese engagement party” at our house (we have been living together for almost 4 years , pre-official marriage). I felt like everything I did was wrong, which was only compounded by what appeared to be angry words of frustration, nasty evil-eye glances and what felt like I was letting her down in not achieving perfection. I got the impression that I failed in honoring and respecting their traditions. Perhaps I am over-analyzing it, but when everything is said is in Vietnamese and has an angry scowl attached to it, one can’t help but think they f’d it up..and f’d it up bad. Any advice? Should I seek answers or just let it be? I know (or at least think strongly) that my Vietnamese in-laws like me, but I also know that some within her family think I am an entitled elitist.

    Your story was instantly resonant, and I am curious to know if you have learned since then, and more importantly, does it get easier? I fear I will always represent the entitled that they were oppressed by back ho me (they are Southern Vietnamese and were directly affected by the war).

    Great story. I have heard of the Vietnamese “discipline techniques”. You are absolutely right to be upset and completely livid about them. My soon-to-be wife was beaten with sticks and belt buckles. Unacceptable and absolutely not going to happen. If I am hated as a result, then so be it. That discipline is not being passed on…period.

    • Best is to learn some Vietnamese vocabulary/words/sentences to deal with the situation. You do not have to worry as your attitude is right when showing respect to Vietnamese culture. With all our best!

  2. Thanks for the reply. I have learned the common Vietnamese phrases like “thank you, hello, goodbye in the personalized way (with proper titles)” over the years. I have been with my fiance since 2005 with the official, legal version of the wedding in September 2012. Thanks for the reassurance. I needed that. Good luck with your situation as well.

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