I’ve been asked a lot of times, mostly by Koreans, how my parents-in-law reacted when Hubby decided to date and marry a foreigner. Most people that I’ve met here in Korea have also asked me if we live with my in-laws or not. Here’s my story.
When Hubby first told his parents about us, his mother asked him why he was dating a foreigner and not a Korean. She hoped that his son would date and marry a Korean woman. Why? Of course his parents wouldn’t have a problem communicating with a daughter-in-law who speaks the same language and who has the same cultural background. Another reason was that there were still many Koreans who thought negatively about their fellow Koreans marrying a foreigner. Actually there are still a lot of them until now. They think that men marrying foreigners (especially from Southeast Asian countries) are on the lower rung of the eligibility ladder in a culture captivated by credentials, looks, wealth and family connections. Koreans perceive them as uneducated, financially incapable or just totally undesirable. So they look for wives in the neighboring countries through international matchmaking agencies. Of course, Hubby’s parents didn’t want their son to be stereotyped as such.
Hubby explained that he’s serious about our relationship and that we truly love each other. He also clarified to them that we didn’t meet through any matchmaking agency, and that we went through proper courtship. His parents eventually agreed to his decision. They were happy for their son to marry the person he loves and who loves him back -quite different from their set-up. His parents actually had a successful arranged marriage and their love for each other developed over time after tying the knot. Marriage back then was not a matter of personal choice but a matter of respect and obedience to parents. I was so grateful that they did not impose the fixed marriage culture to their son. Upon knowing that the feeling was genuine and mutual between us, they gave us their full support. Though it was hard for his parents, they allowed him to live in the Philippines to be near me.
To make it short, the acceptance was quite easy. We didn’t have a hard time getting their approval for our marriage. His parents tried to reach out to me by learning English phrases to express that they care. On my part, I also started learning their language and culture to be able to express how I respect and honor them and how I love their son.
Living in Korea
Hubby lived independently in Seoul even when he was still single. When we arrived in Korea, we also got our own place. We would only visit my parents-in-law every weekend. It was a good decision to live on our own because I was quite stressed and uncomfortable due to language barrier. I couldn’t understand them and I couldn’t express myself well. It was not easy to communicate with them without Hubby’s assistance. What was funny was that my parents-in-law loved to talk to me even though they knew I couldn’t understand what they were saying. My mother-in-law (Omonim hereafter) wouldn’t mind spending the whole day telling me their family’s stories while feeding me with all the food in their fridge. Honestly, it was a serious struggle for me to understand her. As time went by, our communication got better -chatting and hanging out with them became a fun weekend activity for me.
Unfortunately, my father-in-law got sick and was bedridden for more than a year. He eventually died of diabetes and old age. He died in my arms; I was holding his hand and we were alone in the room when he took his last breath. At that moment, I promised him that I would take good care of Omonim and Hubby. It was heartbreaking to see him die before my eyes. If he only knew how hard I tried to practice speaking Korean so that I could have a deep conversation with him; but he was already gone! 😦
After my father-in-law’s funeral, I asked Omonim to live with us. I didn’t want her to live alone. I didn’t want her to develop depression which is a common problem among old people after losing a loved one. When I told Hubby’s siblings about my intention, they thanked, praised and even called me a “cheonsa” (angel). Well, I believe that it is our duty to take care of our aging parents no matter how hard and challenging it is. That’s what family is for. Our parents took responsibility of raising us well when we were young and in return, it is our responsibility to take care of them when they’re old.
Traditionally, the eldest son in a Korean family (even if he’s not the eldest child) has the greatest responsibility of taking care of the parents during old age. Hubby is the youngest in the family but his older brother works and lives abroad; and Omonim disagreed to live with him overseas. At first, Omonim refused to live with us because she didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable. She thought that Hubby made the decision alone and that I was left with no other choice but to follow. I had to convince her that it was also my desire to take care of her. Haha!
Most Korean women are against the idea of living with their in-laws especially if their husband is not the eldest son. They would make all the excuses to avoid such living condition. Hubby was hesitant to bring up the idea of living with Omonim because he didn’t want me to feel like he was imposing his culture on me. I know how much he honors and loves his mother though he is not showy of his emotions. I grew up with a family of strong values and I believe that he doesn’t need to be the eldest son to take care of her. I assured him that he would never be alone in doing so because I will always be on his side. I love and respect him; so I value the people who are important to him and the things that make him happy.
Though living with my mother-in-law gives us joy and peace of mind, it is also quite challenging. I’ll share more about our life together in my future posts.