When I haven’t posted or replied to comments for a long time, it is usually because my parents-in-law are visiting us. I have been a Filipina daughter-in-law for exactly ten years. I came to Korea in late August of 2003. In this post, I’d be sharing some of my experiences and lessons I learned for the past ten years.
Why your Korean parents-in-law may not like you *at first* as a daughter-in-law?
I remember clearly when I arrived here. My father-in-law (FIL) was civil while my mother-in-law (MIL) said that she had a headache and couldn’t stay awake longer. My husband later explained that his parents didn’t approve that he marry someone from Southeast Asia. There is a stigma attached to multicultural marriages. The Korean man is stereotyped as someone from the province, uneducated, unappealing and financially challenged that he couldn’t get married to a Korean woman. While the foreign woman is thought to be someone from a poor country, uneducated, unappealing and financially challenged that she would resort to marrying someone whom she doesn’t know very well and maybe old enough to be her father.
If your parents didn’t like you at first, this may be the reason. They don’t want people to think of their son as “undesirable”. Don’t take their initial impression negatively BUT instead work hard so that they would realize why your husband married you. If your parents-in-law truly believe that your husband loves you, they would soften and treat you like a real daughter.
Your parents-in-law always come first.
When you marry a Korean man, you become a part of his family and they become your first priority. That’s why when it comes to “myeongjeol” holidays, the wife serves her husband’s family. Unlike in the Philippines where a couple would usually decide where to spend the important holidays like Christmas or New Year’s Eve, here it is imperative that the couple celebrates with the man’s family.
Change your perception about 명절.
The two most important 명절 or festive holidays that we celebrate are Seollal (Lunar New Year) and Chuseok (Thanksgiving). We also have 제사 or ancestral offering once a year. These are the times when a 며느리 or daughter-in-law spends most time in the kitchen preparing food for the ceremony and meals. The first time I celebrated Chuseok, I truly hated it. I thought that I didn’t even have to do any household chore back in the Philippines, so why was I serving food and doing all those chores for them? Immature as it may sound, I almost cried back then. Later on I realized that it isn’t all that bad. My Korean sisters-in-law do more than I during the holidays. It is also the only time for us to bond while frying “jeons” or preparing meals. The men in our family do the “bolcho” or cutting of the weeds before Chuseok. They also make the mandu for Seollal since my mother-in-law thinks they make “prettier” mandu than the daughters-in-law.
Learn to cook Korean food.
Many elderly Koreasn have not tried non-Korean food in their lives. For them, Korean food is the best and as they say “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks”. When my parents-in-law are visiting, I always make Korean food for our meals. Even when they visit other countries, they prefer to eat at Korean restaurants. If you try to serve them non-Korean food, be prepared for the worst ~ like they would bluntly say it doesn’t taste good. Don’t get offended, as their taste buds are not used to foreign tastes. I remember when we had pizza at home (ordered from Papa John’s), my father-in-law said it was awful. One time that we ate out and had “tonkatsu”, he only had a slice and pushed the plate to my husband’s side ㅋㅋㅋ
Dress appropriately all the time.
My parents-in-law are quite conservative, and they require that we wear socks at home all the time ~ even during the summer! They also don’t like that the daughters-in-law wear shorts at home. I sometimes get away with not wearing socks, but not with the “shorts” rule. Also, when you go out with your in-laws make sure that you look presentable. Remember that appearance counts in Korea.
Learn to say “Yes” even if you don’t mean it.
I got this tip from my sisters-in-law. When my mother-in-law tells me or asks me to do something that I don’t agree with, my natural instinct would be to say “no”, but she will rant on when I do that. My second sister-in-law told me to just say “yes” to satisfy her. It felt odd at first, but I’d rather have peace. What she usually asks are mostly related to household chores.
Be prudent with your husband’s money.
My parents-in-law learned from watching “documentaries” that many foreign 며느리 send money to their families abroad. Don’t do this unless you are working. Remember that you are a part of your husband’s family and in Korean culture, they are your priority. If you want to send some money back home, try to get a job or if you’re not working send only on special occasions. Thankfully, I never have to send money to my mother and my parents made sure that their kids are self-reliant. I do send kids on occasion, though. If you want to go home from time to time, use your own money. On the few times that I traveled abroad, I never had to ask my husband for money. Saving money is important for Korean families.
If you’re working, give your mother-in-law some cash or presents even if it’s not her birthday. No matter the amount, she would appreciate it. When my parents-in-law are visiting, I try to give them money for the train tickets but they always refuse to accept but they appreciate the gesture.
Serve. Serve. Serve.
My husband doesn’t eat breakfast at home since he only has enough time in the morning for a shower. I prepare his morning smoothie of milk, green apple and yogurt powder. My son eats fried rice for breakfast before he’s off to school. He has lunch at school, too. I have brunch everyday, but when the in-laws are here I wake up earlier to prepare their breakfast. I also prepare lunch and dinner before I go to work. I spend about four to six hours preparing meals and cleaning up when the PILs are here. So I have no time for other things ~ like blogging!
When I visited my sister two years ago and her PILs were at her home, her FIL fixed his own breakfast and cleaned up his space too. They are also very candid when they talk and she calls him by his first name. That can never happen here!
I admit that I’m not as fluent in Korean as one would expect from someone who has lived in the country for a decade. I know enough Korean to converse with my parents-in-law. My FIL usually asks me about how life is in the Philippines. He is curious as he always see the Philippines featured in Korean shows. He also watches “Love in Asia” and sometimes we would talk about the lives of the women in the show. They have been to a lot of countries, but not the Philippines. They want to see the country with me. I’m quite hesitant to take them there, though. My FIL is disabled (2nd degree in Korea) and I’m not sure if it would be okay for him to travel there.
In my ten years as a daughter-in-law in Korea, I had some “hindi ako alila” moments during my first years. And I think that’s normal especially that I came from a different culture. I learned about “duty” over the years and I don’t have any baggage about my life here anymore. I feel that I’m a 착한며느리 now and my FIL never fails to thank me for treating them well whenever they visit. I tell my husband to invite his parents to live with us, but he really doesn’t want the habitual bickering that my PILs do almost every day. ㅋㅋㅋ
Remember that not all Korean parents-in-law are the same. My situation might be different from yours. I have traditional parents-in-law, but they have mellowed a bit over the years. My 큰형님 or first sister-in-law said that they were a lot stricter 15 years ago than they are now.