After writing several pieces about the daughter-in-law from hell, I was pleasantly surprised to find the DIL from heaven. Either an immigrant or the child of immigrants, this family-minded individual really goes out of her way to please her husband’s parents. Of course, there are differences to be overcome and adjustments to be made, but on the whole the parents I interviewed seemed very happy with their son’s choice of a wife from another culture. Here’s what they told me:
We all have preconceived notions
According to Greg J. “I am not proud of myself for this, but when my son said he was marrying a girl from Jordan, I blurted out, “Is she a Muslim?” We had a good laugh about this afterward because it turns out that her father’s first words after hearing that his daughter was marrying an American were, “Is he a Muslim?” (And neither family is Muslim, by the way.)
“I thought all Asian women were submissive to their husbands,” said Carrie P., “but our Chinese daughter-in-law often stands up to our son. In other ways, though, she is a product of her heritage in that she’s more more respectful of her in-laws than an American-born girl would be, and we love her for that.”
Said Sami G, “My older son married a girl from the Midwest, one of nine children whose parents are very committed Catholics. Since we’re so East Coast in outlook and not in the least religious, I find her harder to relate to than my daughter-in-law from South Africa!”
The world is coming to you; get ready
The way people are taught to communicate varies from culture to culture, so even if your DIL speaks English really well, her presentation may be baffling. “My daughter-in-law from Hungary is beyond blunt,” said Emma T. “She will say things like ‘I’d never live in your house because it’s too small and dark.’ After two years of this, I’ve learned to depersonalize and, in some cases, be more blunt myself. To be fair, in this country women are brought up to be gracious and observe the social niceties. Perhaps she was brought up to survive.”
And it’s not only in the realm of communications but in customs that awareness needs to be raised. Said Fiona R., “I had to be coached in the etiquette of bringing gifts when we visit our Japanese daughter-in-law’s parents. Designer labels seem to mean a lot to them, I found.” Then there’s the issue of inclusiveness. Nick Z. recounted, “We recently asked our son and his wife out to dinner, and before you know it we had her sister and brother-in-law, parents, aunts and uncles, too. It got to be quite a crowd, but I guess that’s how they roll in Korea. “
Family get-togethers are so often built around food that it’s no wonder the topic came up over and over again in my interviews. Nick Z. continued, “Is Korean ever an eating culture! It’s a good thing we like their food because with them it’s all kimchi all the time.” Then Georgia S. told me, “At special Persian holidays—and there seem to be a lot of them—my sweet daughter-in-law cooks all kinds of exotic foods. My husband and I are not really into spices, but we’re touched that she makes an extra-special effort, so we grin and bear it. Our own daughter should be so loving. . .” Diane H. told a similar tale. “Cuban cuisine seems to come in only three varieties: hot, hotter, and mouth on fire. The grandmothers around the table always scold me for eating like a bird, but I’ve learned that for me it’s el mínimo of arroz con frijoles or “el máximo” of Alka-Seltzer. At the end, though, I always praise my daughter-in-law’s culinary efforts in my limited high school Spanish, which makes her smile. She really gets what it means to be a family member, so we hug and kiss like we mean it, which we do.”
There’s lots you can do to make things go smoothly with your DIL and her family. According to Jacqueline Oliveira, M.A., who conducts intercultural training for businesses, “The best way to bridge the cultural divide is to learn as much as you can about your daughter-in-law’s heritage. Read books, ask questions, attend her place of worship, take part in her rituals, and ask her to teach you how to cook her traditional foods. What a great opportunity this is to expand your horizons while cementing your relationship with one of the most important people in your life.”
So let’s raise a toast to these dear daughters-in-law from abroad. Salud! Kanpei! Geonbae! L’chaim! Slainte! Cheers!
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