Life With In-laws

When I was single I used to hear all this gossip about other people’s wives.

And I’d hear these statements about my close relatives’ wives as well.

It didn’t matter if one was being abused.

I’d still hear, “It’s her fault he hits her.”

I still remember the shock that entered my body when I heard those words.

Because they came from the mouth of a domestic violence survivor! An acquaintance of mine!

Her ex-husband had punctured her body with a weapon. And that’s why she had left him all those years ago.

But it didn’t matter.

Because we were Hmong!

And therefore no matter how bad the treatment was by the wife’s in-laws or by her husband she was supposed to just endure it.

“Ua siab ntev.” was the phrase always spoken.

“Be patient – endure it.”

Because in the Hmong culture, marriage was for life. Even if it meant the wife was being physically abused every day.

And not only was it for life, but many families believed, the wife was now their property.

They had paid for her.

However, traditionally the dowry was provided as a means of showing respect to the bride’s family. An agreement indicating the groom’s family would love the bride as their own. Since she was now leaving her family to join the groom’s family.

But over the decades, the dowry has been taken out of context.

For decades families viewed the dowry as a reason for the groom’s family or groom, himself, to treat the bride as they pleased.

In shaman families and even some Christian families, the husband’s family would encourage the husband to marry a second wife.

“She’s not good enough for you. Marry another wife who will love you better.”

They’ll say.

And often times the husbands do. As the first wife stands by and watches this happen.

The wife either has the opportunity to leave her marriage because her husband brought home another wife. Or she stays and endures being married to a man with multiple wives.

Other families will not encourage their son to marry a second wife.

They will however berate their son’s wife until she gets fed up and leaves. Then blame her for divorcing her son.

In some more modern cases, the son will actually decide to side with their spouse. And they’ll choose to cut ties from his family or move away and limit their interactions with the husband’s family.

Either way, the wife is once again, usually blamed.

“She doesn’t love us, it’s why she convinced our son to move away.”

Or, “She manipulated our son into believing her lies about us. It’s why they cut us off.”

Regardless of what happens, the wife is at fault.

Even if her in-laws had been constantly verbally harassing her.

It doesn’t matter.

She’s supposed to endure it.

“Ua siab ntev.”

“Be patient, endure it. It’s nothing.”

In fact, it is almost as if it is a right of passage for some mother-in-laws.

They earned the badge of honor to treat their son’s wife however they pleased.

Not all mother-in-laws treat their daughter-in-laws poorly though. There are some who truly try to love their daughter-in-law as their own.

Finding faults in both the son and the daughter-in-law.

Realizing that each party is not perfect.

Therefore, each just as capable of being blamed for an imperfect marriage.

The truth is regardless of what any relative believes.

Whether from the wife’s side or the husband’s side.

Both parties have chosen each other.

And with that it means accepting each other’s faults and loving the other for who they are.

Because marriage isn’t perfect.

A perfect marriage doesn’t exist.

However, if these two prospective individuals have chosen each other and have chosen to be together.

Then each individual should be treated with love and respect from both the wife’s relatives and the husband’s.

We won’t like everyone we encounter in life.

In fact, we may not even care to be friends with every individual we meet.

But we can respect one another. And own up to our actions when it’s wrong. Not just place blame on the outsider (the one who married into the family).

As a parent, no one will ever be good enough for our son or daughter. We even believe at times that we are unworthy of raising our children.

But we can choose to love who our children have chosen. We can choose as sisters and brothers to love who our siblings or cousins have chosen. Because our son, brother, or cousin loves them. And that to us should be enough.

Because our son, brothers, or cousins hold a beaming smile whenever their spouse walks into the room.

And their eyes turn into that of a lost puppy without a home when he and his wife fights. He drowns his sorrow with sad love songs.

That should be enough for us.

Unless of course they’re abusing their spouse. Then of course, promote divorce.

But don’t just discourage people in their marriage because you don’t like their spouse. Or you don’t think they’re good enough.

We work with plenty of coworkers we could care less for. Coworkers we would not give a second glance to outside of our work premises.

But we still treat them with human decency. And speak to them when they speak to us.

And if we can respect the coworkers we despise. We can respect our in laws out of love for our family members.

This whole, “It’s the Hmong culture,” or “The older generation suffered a lot of trauma..”

They’re both just excuses to treat others how they please.

Everyone will encounter trauma at least once in their lifetime.

It doesn’t give them the right to excuse their behavior and continue to treat people however way they please.

And just because something has always been accepted traditionally, doesn’t make it ok.

Written by Eriko Her, M.A., T-LPC

Posted in