You may have swapped rings and vows, build a family or a business together, and have gone through some of the highs and lows in your life with your significant other. But there will always be an thorn in the rose bush that comes in the form of their family members.
In-laws. The makers or breakers of relationships. Most notably the mother-in-law (or more affectionately known in Messaging circles as “mil”).
I have a wonderful mother-in-law. She’s stubborn but hardworking, naive but firm, worries a lot because she cares and most importantly, she is fun to be around. Together with her loving husband of five decades, give or take, they are the perfect in-laws to have.
Of course there are problems, not necessarily limited to these two nice folks. The Chinese has a saying 一种米养百种人 (One type of rice feeds 100 types of people). We may all eat the same food but our behaviour, mannerism, preferences, dislikes, values, sense of ethics, qualms and ideologies amongst others may differ greatly.
The upbringing we share at that home may be different from the upbringing values of this home.
Some households push toothpaste from the middle of the tube, some at the end. Some households eat dinner in front of the TV, others in collective silence, still others in the midst of “what happened in school today” conversations.
Once you marry into a family, you have to make adjustments. And this happens both ways – your spouse has in-laws too.
Having to adjust how you were brought up, merge it with or totally adopt a new way of life is tough.
Traditionally, this falls on the daughter-in-law since she marries into her husband’s family. But nowadays, the son-in-law can also have a healthy relationship with his wife’s family.
They also make adjustments to their way of life, sometimes, if I may be so honest, with a high level of tolerance. Because where there is no love to be had, tolerance is the next best thing.
I think this is why the Chinese, or Asians in general, have always made it important to marry and have children. Because in learning how to love and or tolerate our in-laws, we learn how to become better people.
We learn that things don’t always have to be the way we want it to be, and if you insist on this being your way of life (e.g. forcing your daughter-in-law to do something she is not used to doing), something will break.
We learn about boundaries: when to say what needed to be said and when to keep quiet and sit in the corner.
We learn that there are a million ways to do the same thing. Some methods may work better than the method we were brought up with. It helps to keep an open mind.
We learn about strange, weird, sometimes alien behaviour such as how a family copes with bad news.
We learn about the different ways family treat traditions, customs, food, children, even time (how fine is the line between punctual and late?).
We learn how to fight with people who know where we live, people who go to the same gatherings as we do, people who our children may absolutely adore and love to spend time with. It’s a weird dynamic, but one we have to learn how to master, one way or another.
And most importantly, we learn that “outsiders” can care about us just as much as our flesh and blood family can.
Personal thoughts: This post went in a very different way than I initially set out to write.