Brides get culture shock at in-laws’

By Pham Nga   May 15, 2024 | 04:48 am PT
Brides get culture shock at in-laws’
Some women struggle with their in-laws’ customs and attitudes. Illustration photo by Pixabay
When Hoang Thi Hoa went to live with her husband’s family after marriage, she found a household where male chauvinism prevailed.

The family’s living room was meant only for men, and women were barred from entering it.

Hoa, 34, of nothern Ha Nam province, married her high school friend. Their parents lived close to and had known each other for years. She had felt assured and optimistic about her future with her in-laws, thinking it would be easier than marrying someone from another place.

But the reality was something else all together: At her in-laws’ home, women had to use the back entrance.

Since her wedding Hoa has only been allowed to enter the house through the living room once: when she returned from the hospital with her newborn son.

During family gatherings, women members have to dine separately and not with the men. After the meal they have to clean up while the men have desserts and sing karaoke.

Even when leaving for Hanoi, Hoa and her husband can only leave after a male passerby is spotted by her parents-in-law, a superstition believed to bring good luck.

Nguyen Quynh Trang also struggles with her in-laws’ customs and attitudes. At her husband's house, she is treated like a helper, while her husband enjoys all the privileges.

One morning, after a sleepless night caring for her sick child, Trang found her mother-in-law packing lunch for her husband but not for her.

When Trang questioned this, her husband offered his lunchbox to her, only to be stopped by his mother, who claimed it would be wasteful if her son did not eat the meal she had painstakingly cooked.

The family also has a very different dining etiquette from her own. At the dining table, anyone can take whatever they want without considering the others, and anyone coming home late has to make do with leftovers.

Trang's husband has three sisters and two brothers. Every weekend the entire family gathers at her house, and Trang is responsible for the grocery shopping, cooking and even cleaning up afterwards. The others almost never help. If she asks her husband for assistance, her mother-in-law would find an excuse to send him out.

La Linh Nga, director of the Psycho-pedagogy Research and Application Center in Hanoi, says each family has a unique lifestyle influenced by geography, region and family culture.

Many women, like Trang and Hoa, are shocked by the attitudes of their in-laws. Nga says such shocks can easily cause stress for these women, who might then take out their anger on their children. "More seriously, the resulting tension can easily lead to family conflicts and end up in the dissolution of marriages."

Court reports show that Vietnam has an average of 600,000 cases of divorce annually, 70% filed by wives. Statistics from the Institute for Family and Gender Studies show that lifestyle conflicts are the most common cause of marriage crises.

Hoa, the only daughter in her family, was raised in a loving environment and finds male chauvinism unacceptable.

Worried about their son adopting the same patriarchal attitudes, she tried discussing her concerns with her husband, who initially dismissed them, claiming he had not turned out to be patriarchal despite growing up in that environment.

But Hoa discovered her husband was similar to her parents-in-law. When she was four months pregnant, he drove her around to get four ultrasounds to make sure it was a boy before breaking the news to his parents. "The conflict between us only arose from the time we lived with my in-laws," she says.

As for Trang, tired of having to take care of her husband's extended family, she asked him to move out but he refused.

Trang proposed having a family meeting to talk about her frustrations. But it backfired. Instead of the air being cleared, she was shamed by members of her husband's family, who called her selfish and mean, making her even more frustrated.

Nga says culture shock occurs often when ladies fall in love without enough understanding. "Many people only care about their boyfriends and fail to consider the personality, habits and lifestyle of their future in-laws to prepare themselves."

Dr Nguyen Thi Minh, a psychologist and lecturer at the National Academy of Public Administration in HCMC, says in the past there used to be more traditional ceremonies related to weddings.

While considered cumbersome and complicated by many people, these ceremonies actually allowed the bride to have a glimpse of the culture and lifestyle of the groom’s family.

"For example, a ceremony called lai mat would take place three days after the wedding. During this ceremony, if the bride found the experience of living with the groom’s family unsuitable for her, she could choose to break off the marriage."

For women facing a similar situation as Hoa or Trang, Nga suggests having calm discussions with their husband on a constructive rather than judgmental basis.

No matter how much affection there is, no man feels comfortable when his wife criticizes his family, she says. "It is very difficult to change your in-laws, so work with your husband to create a change," she says. "If the in-laws’ culture is different but tolerable, people should learn to adapt. Each side should be a bit more patient to reach a compromise."

Minh says a family is like a small-sized organization, where the new bride is like a new hire. The mother-in-law must act like a manager and strike a balance between discipline and patience.

"Mothers-in-law should teach their daughters-in-law the family culture so that she knows how to be a part of the family. As older members of the family, they should offer guidance and support, while maintaining regular communication to understand their daughter-in-law and giving her time to fit in."

Hoa and her husband now live in Hanoi by themselves. They have agreed to specific terms to achieve gender equality in their small family. They also limit the number of visits to their hometown to avoid shocks at her husband's house. "Thankfully, he cooperates, and is not too conservative," she says.

Trang's life remains very suffocating. Despite her efforts to adapt, Trang constantly finds herself more and more weary. "I constantly think of divorce as a way to break free," she says.

*Names have been changed for privacy

go to top