A few years ago, my husband and I were strolling down Beverly and a homeless man, who at that time lived next to a Riteaid, approached us for a quick joke.
He asked “What’s the difference between in-laws and outlaws?” At the same time I ignored him, my kind husband responded with a curious look, so the homeless man answered, “Outlaws are wanted but in-laws are not.”
Most sardonic yet realistic way to describe Korean marriage is probably a relationship between evil mother-in-law (aka. MiL) and pitiful victim daughter-in-law (aka. DiL). There are so many cases of conflict between the two, Korean people just seem insensible to this problem nowadays.
When you’re engaged to a Korean man, it’s almost understood that your future MiL doesn’t like you as much as she may seem. As a future DiL you just have to accept the fact.
My Italian friends told me that a MiL/DiL relationship is similar in Italy but a DiL in Italy has a “social approval” to lash out at her MiL, whereas when a Korean DiL gets up against her MiL, no matter what the reason was and who initiated it, it’s usually the DiL who gets all the blame.
If you’re “unlucky,” you also have SiL (bingo! sister-in-law) to deal with. But usually it’s only bad if a SiL is an older sister of your husband. For example, a friend of mine has a younger brother and 3 older sisters. So we make bad jokes about her brother’s future wife who will have to serve 4 SiL. Oh, better example here. My brother, who’s 7 years younger and whom I scolded a lot when he was growing up, once said he will never live in the same province with me when he’s married, and my parents strongly supported his idea…so congrats to a future wife of my bro because she won’t have to deal with the worst case scenario for a Korean DiL: MiL + SiL team.
I bet you a mansion in Malibu that, in any Korean dramas or movies, you will never find a scene that a wife is relaxing while her MiL is working in a kitchen. It’s usually the wife in a kitchen (even if it’s a MiL’s) and the rest of the family enjoying their time together, unless it’s MiL and DiL together in a kitchen.
Oh, and let’s not overlook the fact that MiL will never allow her son in the kitchen to help his wife. In this case, even if the son volunteers to help, the MiL will blame her DiL for making her son (husband) work.
This is not only a MiL/DiL situation but a case of young women/elder women in Korea and other countries that were once influenced by Confucius. You must help the elder or at least be next to her/him for an immediate help.
It’s considered extremely rude and unacceptable to just sit and chill while the elder is working. Even if you don’t know how to do, what to do, or whatever happening has absolutely nothing to do with you, you cannot just sit around while the elder is doing some kind of work. But this latter case is a matter of manner rather than an unfair social convention, like Korean DiL/MiL culture.
It’s hard to understand the social convention on the relationship between Korean MiL/DiL. But I found something even more difficult to understand when I came to the U.S.
Thanks to my parents, I grew up experiencing diverse cultures. And probably because of that, I didn’t really have any cultural shock when I came to the U.S except one: people are not afraid to show their dislike of in-laws.
I had seen movie scenes like “Why is your mom here?! So we can’t go out tonight because of her?!,” “I can’t stand your dad! Tell him to go to a hotel or somewhere!”
I thought it’s just a movie. But soon after I’d moved to the U.S, I realized those scenes were all very real and can happen in this country.
I’m very open-minded person and always eager to learn the new culture, and even adapt to it. But this hatred toward the in-laws, who are actually now your family, is never understandable, not to mention the fact that people express it out loud to their spouse and in-laws.
It might be easy for me to understand if your father-in-law beat up your brother for no reason, or if a MiL hates her DiL just because she feels like the DiL snatched the son away from her, which is most common reason that a Korean MiL treats a DiL with a certain attitude. But because of Korea’s deeply rooted Confucian idea, a DiL can’t defy her MiL for any unfair mistreatments.
It’s not because the bible says “You must love your neighbor as yourself” nor is because you just have to be nice.
You MARRIED your spouse. You are not a co-habitant. The two persons came together, as one family, as a big family all together. You love your own parents and siblings. Then, why are in-laws, in other words a family, such annoying people to you?
You have the right to speak your mind. You can say “I hate your mom” but how would you feel if your spouse says “I hate your dad?”
Whatever your own family did to you, you forgive them or at least try to forget about it. You let it go. Then, shouldn’t you be able to do the same to your in-laws, your new family, even if something bad had happened and you’re mad at them?
You don’t even have a mean-for-no-reason MiL like Koreans to begin with!
People in the U.S don’t realize how less baggages come with a marriage compared to Koreans who are trapped in still very traditional and irrational ideas of marriage!
I know. Words are easy to say. I might not understand how awful it can be because I have very sweet, loving in-laws.
In fact, I have this guilt in the corner of my heart that when we lived in the same town, I didn’t do my best to my “new family” when they provided so much for me.
So if I were to define, it’s more like I’m the evil DiL to my sweet, grateful MiL.
And I thank my Confucius husband for being so nice to my family in Korea.
Actually, it’s funny that, when he visited Korea to meet my family, he did everything very naturally the way that any Korean guys were supposed to do. True resurrection of Confucius!!!
Recently, I read an article about an increasing divorce rate in Korea, which has been a big issue of the country because of the remaining Confucianism. What was surprising and also not so surprising at the same was that 70% of divorce was due to MiL/DiL conflict.
There’s too much to factor in for the solution, and there won’t be just a single solution to Korea’s MiL/DiL relationship. It will take decades to unravel the problem.
Wait, here’s an idea! Korea-U.S government trade can help! Korea doesn’t need any more English teachers from America. But they can import American hippies from the 60’s and learn the spirit of peace and love!