I feel very fortunate. If there was an award for best stepmother, I would nominate mine. But it doesn't end there, if there was such an award for mothers-in-law, I would throw her name in, too. How many people can say that?
A person's relationship with her mother is tricky, with one's stepmother (if she has one) is even trickier, and the relationship with her mother-in-law, well, that's often stuff of nightmares. From what I've heard, Chinese mothers-in-law are a particularly thorny breed, as traditionally they reigned above the household. I've read some interesting blogs posts about Western women and their m-i-ls, my favorite includes Jocelyn's post on her blog Speaking of China; the comment section in particular elicited a spectrum of emotions in me—from anger to fear to sadness, but mostly just gratitude that I haven't had to deal with the in-law headaches most women speak of.
Why is my mother-in-law so great? Clearly, we have our differences; I've written about a few (such as an old, snarky post on spitting on the floor at TGIFridays and more recently, only allowing warm food and beverage while breastfeeding). At the heart of things, she is very open-minded and has always accepted me. It's not easy to accept that your child is marrying a foreigner, my own parents had their own concerns about this in the beginning. With the occasional exception, she doesn't lecture me for not doing things The Chinese Way. She also does the chores that Ming and I hate and mostly refuse to do, such as cleaning the stove. For that alone, I'd like to nominate her for sainthood.
I think part of the reason Ming's mom is such an easygoing mother-in-law is because she never had a m-i-l of her own lording over her. Historically, there seems to be a cycle of abuse, passed down from one generation of Chinese women to the next. Since each woman had to endure the torment of her husband's mother, she eventually feels the need to even the score by mistreating her son's wife. Ming's paternal grandparents died around the time of the Communist takeover of China, leaving his dad an orphan. Ming's mom never met any of her in-laws and Ming has never had contact with anyone from his Dad's side of the family, which come from far off Sichuan Province. Because of this, for better or worse, Ming's mom has never belonged to any family but her own.
But being without in-laws isn't the real reason for her greatness. My m-i-l has a great personality. This is clear through her myriad friends and her ability to always find a boyfriend despite the disproportionate amount of elderly women to men. Since having William, we've had the chance to spend an awful lot of time together. It's been a great chance to bond over the baby and get to know her more intimately.
Spending so much time together also provides a glimpse of what the future may look like for us--for her help and kindness are not a one way street. One day, when she is too old or too lonely, we will most likely take care of her and live together. This is often part of the deal when one marries into a Chinese family, which is different from most American families I know. I long ago accepted the idea and now have even grown to like it. While merging different generations and personalities together can sometimes be challenging, it's nice to know we can all lean on each other through our difficulties.
How about you? Do you ever imagine taking care of your parents or in-laws when they are old? How do you think you'll get along?
|Ming, Ping, and my m-i-l, circa 2010|