Social media agog: Should women seek parents-in-laws’ permission to visit parents?

By Phan Duong   June 24, 2024 | 04:22 am PT
Ngoc Mai wanted to take her newborn to her parents’ home for a month to care for her ill father and because nobody from her in-laws’ side helped with her child, but her in-laws refused permission.

Mai and her husband’s hometowns are 100 kilometers apart. He went abroad to work a few months after their marriage, leaving Mai, a 27-year-old worker in an industrial park, living with her in-laws ever since. She has been taking care of her baby most of the time after giving birth.

"There are three months left before my maternity leave ends and I have to return to work, but my parents-in-law don’t want me to go," she says. "They want me to stay at home, help with the family business, and take care of the house."

While on maternity leave, she has asked them a few times to visit her parents, but they did not agree.

Two weeks ago, when her father fell ill, she again asked to take her child to her parents’ place for a visit, but her in-laws did not allow it saying the child was too weak.

"My husband is far away and cannot help me with anything," she says. "He even sided with his parents, saying they were just being protective of our child and that we should wait until the child is older before taking them to my parents’ place."

Having to get permission from parents-in-law to visit their parents’ home is a common situation women face.

The topic is currently trending on social media, following a post by Nguyen Minh Nguyet, 33, founder of a group for single mothers with 11,000 members.

Nguyet (R) and her daughter in Paris, 2024. Photo courtesy of Nguyet

Nguyet (R) and her daughter in Paris, 2024. Photo courtesy of Nguyet

"Who raised my daughter? It was me and my family," she wrote in her post. "I raised her well-fed and well-dressed, took her places so she could grow up to be who she is today."

"Even after she got married, she is still my child whom I worry about and care for every day," she continued. "I raised her for decades so that she can stand on her own feet and start her own family. So what right does her husband’s family have to demand that she seek permission to visit me?"

Nguyet says her post had its genesis in a friend’s story about the difficulties she faced each time she asked for permission to visit her parents. The challenges of caring for her young child and the harshness of her husband’s family caused her depression.

When Nguyet sought advice from her husband, a French psychologist, to counsel her friend, she had to spend a lot of time explaining before he even understood the problem since western culture does not require "daughters-in-law to ask for permission to visit their parents."

The post has received tens of thousands of likes and thousands of comments, and been shared widely and has sparked debate. Many people agree with this and share their struggles as daughters-in-law whenever they want to visit their parents.

Nhung Phan, 43, from Hanoi’s district Hoai Duc, said the post reminded her of her own story.

A traditional woman, she always asked for permission from her parents-in-law for everything when she first married.

Once, on the last day of the Lunar New Year, her father-in-law said the family would have a year-end meal. Two days earlier her parents had guests over for an early celebration and invited Nhung and her husband over. When she asked for permission to visit her parents, her father-in-law said: "Aren’t there ancestors in this house? Why do you have to go and eat at another house?"

Nhung had to stay back home to buy groceries and cook that day. But her hardships in that feudal, backward family did not end there.

"Eventually I couldn’t stand the harsh treatment from my in-laws anymore and decided to end my marriage without receiving nothing," she says. "Now I’m raising my two sons on my own."

Nhung Phan, from Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Nhung

Nhung Phan, from Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Nhung

Thai Trinh, 32, from the northern province of Hai Duong says she must ask her parents-in-law for permission several days in advance when she wants to visit her parents. Sometimes it is so difficult that her husband even suggests she should come up with a fake but convincing excuse.

"My parents live not even two kilometers away, but every time I want to visit my parents I have to lie and make up reasons," she says. "It feels humiliating."

One year she and her husband visited her parents’ home during the Tet Lunar New Year. Since her parents-in-law were not at home, she called to ask for permission. But that evening her father-in-law called her mother and said: "Your daughter and her husband took the child without asking."

"This house isn’t a market where they can come and go as you please."

But not everyone agreed with Nguyet’s post, pointing out that Vietnamese culture preserves family order, respect for elders and propriety, and that seeking permission is not just for daughters-in-law but for all young people from elders.

"A country has its laws, and families have their rules," one comment under her post read.

"If you accept being a daughter-in-law, you must respectfully ask wherever you go. It is only proper that a child asks their parents for permission before going anywhere."

"In my opinion, it is the correct etiquette for well-educated children to ask for permission and greet [parents]," another said. "It is basic respect one person has for another."

Psychologist Hong Huong of Hanoi believes that while society is more open now, many families still have a patriarchal, traditional mindset. Over her many years of marital and family counseling, she has seen many daughters-in-law struggle whenever they want to visit their own parents or celebrate the New Year there. If the parents-in-law do not agree, they cannot go; if they insist on going, there will be disputes.

"Women don’t need ‘permission’ from their husbands’ family to visit their parents," Huong says. "They just need to inform them."

She explains that the Vietnamese tradition respects older people, and asking and greeting them is something that should be done regardless of whether they are parents or domestic workers living together. Asking for permission may not be necessary, but informing those at home when people go somewhere is definitely the done thing, she says.

The manner of speaking depends on a family’s culture and beliefs. If a woman lives with traditional parents-in-law, the conversation might involve some formal language, but otherwise, just saying "Today I’m going to my parents’ house" should suffice, she thinks.

"They should be clear that ‘asking for permission’ here is like making an announcement," she says. "It’s a polite gesture, like saying ‘Can I go outside to take a call?’"

Psychologist Linh Nga agrees, saying, in Vietnamese culture, asking for "permission" shows respect for those around you, and serves as both a notification and a form of greeting on departure. This is not just in the family but even in social settings like the workplace, and it shows politeness, she says.

And surely a pleasant word always helps smooth one’s path, she points out.

So women, when communicating with parents-in-law, can "ask for permission" from them to show respect, but in a normal rather than fearful and anxious manner as if whether they would be allowed or not, she says.

"As an adult, you don’t need to ask anyone for permission to do anything."

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