In China or in France, in-laws are hard to get along with
Conflicts between mother-sand daughters-in-law in China have been a constant source of drama in Chinese families dating back thousands of years. In today’s Chinese soap operas, the drama continues to be a source of entertainment for viewers who can relate.
Prior to marrying my French husband and moving to France with him, I always assumed that in-law relations would be simpler there. But to my surprise, it is just as difficult. There are even French jokes about how people have a headache because they spent the whole day with their mothers-in-law.
The mother of my husband’s best friend is very mean to her daughterin-law. This mother is a typical old-school in-law – Catholic and conservative. She’s cold toward her daughter-in-law and always gives her orders. They also clash on how to raise her grandchild. Any suggestions made by her daughter-in-law are immediately dismissed by the mother-in-law.
Shanghai mothers-in-law have a similar notorious reputation for being mean, materialistic and bossy toward their son’s wife. Having a good job, a car and an apartment are also minimum requirements for Shanghai mothers for their future son-in-law.
I know a Shanghai mother-inlaw who, after visiting her son and daughter-in-law, posted photos of their messy apartment on her WeChat for her friends to see. This was an indirect way of saying her daughter-in-law was not fulfilling her housekeeping duties.
As in China, the relationship between mothers- and daughtersin-law is a sensitive subject in French society. Sometimes a French husband will defend his mother by explaining to his wife that she means well.
But the big difference between Chinese and French families is that in-laws in France seldom live with their adult children. French daughters-in-law are fortunate to be able to escape constant criticism by their husband’s mother unlike in China, where everyone lives under one roof.
My French husband and I live in downtown Paris, but his parents live out in the suburbs, which is over an hour away. Living apart gives us much-needed space and privacy, which is quite important for both sides in French culture.
In China, couples who live with their parents or in-laws often suffer from stress and tension arising from conflicting values and habits. I have heard many horror stories from Chinese friends and colleagues about how difficult it is to handle their mothers-in-law, who either live with them or who frequently visit.
One colleague who had a new baby told me that her mother-in-law had picked some old baby clothes from out of the trash bin at home and insisted that her grandchild wear them in order to save money.
But many couples in Shanghai willingly sacrifice their freedom for peace of mind. One friend who lives with her husband and their 3-yearold son rotate their spare room every two weeks with her parents and his parents. Luckily, both side’s parents happily help with the cooking, cleaning and child-rearing, which allows the couple to relax at the end of their work day.
Having a helpful motherin-law around can indeed make life much easier. I’m personally blessed that my French mother-inlaw is sweet and easygoing. She is ethnically German but has been living in France for over 50 years. She also speaks fluent English thanks to her au pair experience in the UK when she was a young woman. This enables us to communicate well, as my knowledge of French is still basic.
More importantly, she never imposes any decisions on me. She likes to visit us once a week to babysit, which gives me much-needed personal time to go out shopping, see an exhibition or whatever I want. But this depends on if I want her to come in the first place. “After all, you are the mother,” she said to me. And that there is the big difference between our cultures; were she Chinese, she’d be glued to us day and night! The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.