A lot of Russian women believe that living in the home of one's husband with his mother is an ordeal designed to test the wife's mental strength. Most mothers-in-law are said to be extremely demanding when it comes to maintaining the house, caring about their sons and raising their grandchildren.
More often than not, young Russian couples try to find their own place to live – if they can afford it at all, of course. Essentially in Russia, the husband's parents tend to only come for a visit from time to time, but even then the proverbial mother-in-law will use every opportunity to 'educate' (read nag) the poor wife. This, sure enough, does not make her happy.
This complicated relationship makes for a fairly standard plot used (and abused) in countless Russian jokes and TV shows. So when Russian women (and men) complain about their mothers-in-law, this is treated as something ordinary and even expected. As a consequence, there are few young wives in Russia who would like to live in their mothers-in-law's house.
Two years ago, when I was already a ‘grown-up girl’ holding a managerial position, I decided to move to Bangkok. This did not just call for a move to my husband's home country, but it also meant that I had to live in his mother's home. Most of my friends openly expressed their sympathy and worried about how our relationship with her would turn out. Fortunately, their worries have proven to be unwarranted.
Ours is an international family, and we have a long history of traveling and living in various countries. My husband is Thai, and my mother-in-law, Jane, is a Thai citizen, but ethnically she is Filipina, so, despite the fact we live in Bangkok, the spirit and traditions of Philippines have become a part of our lives.
My mother-in-law really rules the roost and her authority is not questioned by anyone, including my husband. So as I moved in, I had to establish our relationship directly, without his interference.
My mother-in-law is an educated woman, and, until retiring recently, she had led a very active life. A real achiever, she dedicated more than 30 years to the United Nations, and traveled extensively. This is one of the things we have in common.
Receiving a Plaque of Appreciation for 33 years service in the United Nations. Source: Personal archive
In 2001, just a few days after I met her, my then-future mother-in-law told me, rather bluntly, “You are a woman who will make a career.” Sure enough, no matter how strongly I sometimes wanted to forget it all and just devote myself to my family, my professional life just got better and better. Life has proven Jane right. And I am very grateful to her because she understands and respects what I do, and she never gets offended when I get distracted to do something or have no time to do chores occasionally.
She is proud of my professional achievements, and is always ready to give me a hand at home. And that reminds me: at home, we have several musts.
First and foremost, everything must be clean, tidy and nice. Recently, after we moved to a new house, my mother-in-law unpacked most of the boxes while we were away at work. She did this with the greatest amount of patience and neatness. All by herself, she arranged all the little souvenirs she and I had acquired during our travels, and placed all our family photos. There are photos of my husband and his younger brother as kids, of our daughter, of the numerous relatives and friends, and even of the favorite dogs who had lived with us over the years.
Keith and Yul (father and daughter) riding an elephant in Safary World. Source: personal archive
Another feat my mother-in-law managed to perform was teaching her sons to be completely self-sufficient at home. They do the dishes in timely manner, they can wash and iron their clothes, and to top it off, my husband cooks very well.
My mother-in-law simply does not indulge in any quarrels. She likes to say that you always have to “give people reason.” When my daughter does not want to go to school in the morning, it is the granny who has the patience to calmly repeat that she needs to go there for half an hour and tell her why people need to learn for the umpteenth time.
She communicates with her adult sons in the same calm and smooth manner, even when she is unhappy about something.
Filipino cousin's family is on vacations in Thailand. Source: Personal archive
My mother-in-law is a Catholic, and she goes to church every Sunday, often assisting with sermons. My husband is a Buddhist, but he never forgets to wish his mother on Catholic holidays, like Christmas and Easter. There are both Catholic and Buddhist altars in our house, as well as Eastern Orthodox icons I brought from Russia. Faith, as a moral and spiritual value, is an integral part of our family life, and respect towards religious traditions and symbols comes with it.
My mother-in-law is a very sociable and socially active person. Her association Alpha Phi Omega Alumni Association in Bangkok regularly holds various charity events, and participates in fundraising activities for victims of disasters. They often hold their sessions in our living room. And, naturally, it gets especially fun and noisy in our house once we get all the family and friends together. We always set our huge table with the indispensable and delicious Filipino dishes and desserts, like lumpia, Filipino spaghetti, longanisa, adobo, sinigang, Braso de Mercedes and fruit salad. And more recently, my mother-in-law added another specialty to her menu – the famous Russian Olivier salad.
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