Help me help my wife
November 15, 2009 8:37 PM   Subscribe

My wife has confidence, self esteem issues. We have been married for four years and we have two kids. I live in Canada and she's from S. Africa. She lived there all her life until she was 22. We met there. Got married there. But now live in Canada.

She is finding it difficult to adapt. The life here is very different for her. One of her biggest obstacles is her accent. Also, because she has lived in S. Africa for so long, she finds it difficult to connect with people and family from here.

I live with my parents. Which doesn't help. It's a culture thing. Family business doesn't help the matter either. My brother who is married to a Canadian girl, lives a few houses down.

My parents connect with my brother's wife than they do with my wife. My wife usually gets left out of the loop. She is also shy and likes to keep to herself. She is very soft spoken and a very kind person. Problem is she takes garbage from everyone - can't stand up for herself.

How do I resolve this issue? I know I have a few issues going on here.
posted by alshain to Human Relations (48 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: -- jessamyn

 
In what ways is she finding it difficult to adapt? Specifically? Her accent is a non-issue; if you're in any major city in Canada, half the people have an "accent" in one way or another. If she can't connect to people, then find out why that is. Could she connect to people in S. Africa?

Did she want to move to Canada in the first place? Or was it your idea? Did she make plans before moving? Does she want to stay? What hobbies does she have?
posted by zardoz at 9:02 PM on November 15, 2009


If you're comfortable doing so, I'd like to suggest that you share your exact location. Canada is a very big place, and others may have location-specific ideas about resources and social groups that can help your wife forge connections.
posted by lalex at 9:07 PM on November 15, 2009


I've lived in Canada and South Africa (I'm Canadian).

In spite of a lot of common history and some common language, the places are pretty radically different.

I'd try to eliminate the most obvious thing here, which is culture shock. I suggest getting her to reading up on culture shock, so she understands that she feels a little out of place and that is perfectly natural.... All good International Development agencies offer training for their workers on culture shock and people who are aware of culture shock tend to acclimate a lot better. This will be pretty simple.

Maybe she just wants to eat boerwors with pap, and watch rugby... try to set that up. I know when I was overseas - I loved talking to fellow Canadians because my accent made perfect sense to them, they knew I meant "ice hockey" instead of field hockey, and did things like relate to the currency in the same way. Those encounters were always a huge relief to me, because they were so easy.

South Africa ban be a pretty intense place depending on where/how she lived, and I'll spare you the personal narrative but do you think post traumatic stress is an issue?
posted by Deep Dish at 9:29 PM on November 15, 2009


Best answer: I'm not too sure I can be of much help other than moral support but I'll try. I'd focus on her talking more to people. Whether its just going to the market and talking to the cashier, or letting her order at the coffee shop. Start her off with small talk. Maybe if she tries to talk a little slower as well. Even so, not everyone will understand her. But I think the more she tries to talk to others the easier it'll be for her. Thats the major hurdle in your question(s). The other issues will start to fade when she starts talking more. Maybe she "can't stand up for herself" because she's afraid of not being understood and/or being "left out of the loop" even more than she already is. The longer she goes being shy and keeping to herself, the worse its most likely to get. Accents can be a very big barrier at times. My daughter (Canadian) recently came back to Canada from England with her English boyfriend and I had a very hard time understanding him. This is after I've worked with people who were from England with strong accents, but I still had a difficult time with his. My daughter also started a job in England and she got a phone call from a person while at work who couldn't understand her because of her "strong Irish accent". My point is that your always going to encounter someone who doesn't understand you because of an accent.

I think your wife just has had some bad experiences with the wrong people. Some people try harder to understand accents than do other people.
I'd talk to your parents and family members about this and explain how its affecting your wife and you. I'd also have a heart to heart talk with your wife about trying harder to open up and talk a little more and accept the fact that not all of us, try as we do, are able to understand all accents. Maybe if she talks to you more in private and you could let her know where her accent is troubling others. But you'll have to listen carefully, because you probably won't hear her the same as most will. Your used to it by now.
posted by Taurid at 9:40 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are you saying that you and your wife live with your parents and family still excludes her? Because that's a pretty crummy thing to do to your daughter-in-law. Certainly not everyone is equally liked in a family structure, but leaving her out is problematic. The other thing is that you mentioned that your wife takes guff off everyone. Does that include your family? If it does, you need to step into the line of fire. She is the wife you chose; your family needs the respect that.

Do you have options to move out of your parents home? If your wife is shy and likes to keep to herself, then the stress of living with your folks is probably making the situation worse.
posted by 26.2 at 9:58 PM on November 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


I think there are two routes that you and your wife can take here, and possibly a third.

The first is that she finds an expat group, either online or off (preferably both). She doesn't just need to connect with people from South Africa, but with people in the same situation. Considering you have two children, I think she might especially benefit from some sort of expat moms group. If you're more interested in the real-life groups, call the nearest university. They'll have an international student body that can direct you. If you're too far away from a university, call local therapists.

The second option for you two is that you both go somewhere new, that you both put yourselves in a new situation. It's probably a little intimidating to your wife that things are unintentionally one-sided, as in she has to adapt, while you are not only comfortable where you are, but accepted with open arms (while she isn't).

You live closer to family and sound more involved with family than most people. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I think that'd be pretty trying to a spouse entering the family even from another state, much less from a country with a very different culture. If it's an option, I think your wife would feel very different about things if you were both off having a go at an adventure. It's different when someone is trying to adapt with you.

The third option, which may or may not help much at all, has to do with your children. Considering her personality and current difficulties, I'm assuming she's a stay at home mother? If so, could some of her upset just have to do with being overwhelmed. It's hard enough to adapt to a new country and a new family, but to try to do that with (I'm assuming) two small children makes it even harder. Maybe a nanny a couple of days a week would give her a break and allow her to develop herself and adapt more? It's just a possibility. I really think that the second thing I mentioned would mean the most to her, and the first thing needs to be done, regardless of where you are or who you're with.

Most of all, remember to encourage her when good things happen between her and other people and when she's adapting to something particularly well!
posted by metalheart at 10:05 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is some good advice upthread about culture shock etc. But, like 26.2, I am wondering what part your parents are playing in this situation. I was particularly struck by your sentence

Problem is she takes garbage from everyone - can't stand up for herself.

What is the "garbage" she is taking from "everyone"? When you say "everyone," are you referring to your parents? I ask this because you mentioned that you live with them and that it "doesn't help," and you also intimated they don't get along with her as well as with your brother's wife.

If your parents are in the habit of treating your wife poorly, perhaps the problem doesn't primarily lie with your wife.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:14 PM on November 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


Tell her how much your parents like her. Surely they don't dislike her. Just say, "My mom thinks you're great. I think you're great."
posted by anniecat at 7:05 AM on November 16, 2009


Response by poster: I am so overwhelmed and appreciative of the advice given from all of you. From the bottom of my heart, thanks.

We live in Toronto. Which is a multicultural city like no other in the world, but my wife hardly gets out and her shyness gets in the way when we do. This shyness could be because her of her accent or a culture shock. She always feels a few steps behind people which leads to her being submissive.

She takes garbage from everyone meaning people outside and my parents. I have tried to step in the line of fire and I got burned. My parents have the habit of putting guilt such as "you are our first born son and you are doing this to us". When I tell them they better improve they tell me "you are doing this to your parents for your wife?". I understand sometimes they say things out of anger or in the moment. In (my) Indian culture, sons are supposed to take care of parents. We are reminded everyday of other sons who left their parents :)

As I said in the beginning, I really appreciate your sound advice given by everyone.
posted by alshain at 8:06 AM on November 16, 2009


Response by poster: I forgot to define "garbage". Garbage is stuff my parents say to her at times. Keep in mind we have two small kids and we all know how much grandparents want to be parents. Both my parents are retired and are at home with my wife and two kids all day long.

Garbage:

"you are too slow in doing things, we don't do things slow around here"

"grow up" - this was said when she didn't handle a situation in regards to one of our kids as my father would have liked.

My mother has a habit of saying "ahhh" or "uhhh" to her in the kitchen. My wife is a bit clumsy with the dishes and every time she drops something or misplaces something she gets it.

Sometimes I feel like this is what parents do. It could be jealousy. It could be they are afraid to let go.
posted by alshain at 8:21 AM on November 16, 2009


"you are doing this to your parents for your wife?"

Parents don't get a free pass to mistreat your spouse simply because they are your parents. Your wife is in a toxic living situation if she has to share a house with people who feel no obligation to treat her with respect. It's good that you took the first step of confronting them about their treatment of her, but don't accept this "We're you're parents, so you don't get to tell us how to treat your wife" garbage. It's nonsense and it's harmful to your wife. You need to find a way to get out of this house.

We are reminded everyday of other sons who left their parents :)

It is not wrong to leave your parents when they mistreat your spouse. It is not right or kind to expect your wife to live with people who feel they have the right to disrespect her (even if they are your parents, even if you were raised in a culture that expects you to take care of your parents).

Give your parents warning: you love them and respect them, but you are a married adult and you expect your parents to behave respectfully and kindly toward your wife. If they cannot behave respectfully and kindly toward your wife, you cannot live with them.

Sometimes I feel like this is what parents do.

This being common bad behavior does not change the fact that it's bad behavior. I think you'd feel a lot differently about the urgency of this situation if it were your in-laws criticizing the way you do every little thing. That's not to say that you're ignoring your wife's situation--clearly you're concerned--but I think you'd be a lot better able to see clearly what needs to happen if you were the target of constant criticism.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:32 AM on November 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


OK, I just read your clarifications. It sounds like the major problem here is your parents' disrespectful behaviour towards your wife. As Meg_Murry said, just because they're your parents doesn't give them a free pass to be mean to your wife. And the way they behave to your wife is mean.

It is really good that you recognize the inappropriateness of their behaviour and that you have tried to address this with them. Yes, they got huffy and indignant after you confronted them, but don't let that deter you from being firm. You are right; they are wrong. Yes, parents can be wrong. As the child of an immigrant from a traditional (read: parents are always right) culture myself, I know this can sound like heresy, but you must be firm with your parents and not let them use filial piety as an excuse for their unacceptable behaviour.

You sound like you want to be a good husband. Your instincts are right--you really, really do need to stand up for your wife and make it clear that if they don't change their behaviour, there will be consequences (and that might have to involve separating households from them). Yes, that will be hard to do. But the results will be worse if you just let this situation continue. Your wife is in a very vulnerable position--shy, isolated, experiencing homesickness and culture shock--and as the partner with more power in the family dynamic, it's up to you to deal with your parents.

The bright side is, because you live in Toronto, you don't have to go it alone; you've got a great wealth of resources near you. When I worked at an immigrant services agency, intergenerational conflict was one of the major issues we dealt with. It might be helpful if you and your wife seek out some assistance with intergenerational mediation at one of these agencies. There might be a support group there for your wife, and there will probably be people with insight into your parents' behaviour and some advice on how to deal with it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:03 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I understand that your culture put parents in a place of honor, but that doesn't mean they should have free reign to treat your wife like shit.

I can almost guarantee that 99% of the issues your wife has in public stems from the issues she has in private. When your parents give her grief, respectfully step in and defend her. If they give you grief, take it - they're your parents. The only thing she did to deserve this was marry you. You ought to stand up for her regardless of how much you get 'burned' by them.

I definitely suggest getting her involved in a mom's group, or even something as simple as taking the kids to story time at the library will put her on track to make friends. If your family keeps her out of the loop, make it your job to keep her in it.

Nobody deserves this kind of trouble, and by standing by and letting it go on you send a message to your parents - and your wife - that you are okay with it.

You are acknowledging your wife has a problem with your family and want to help her adapt. You obviously love her and want her to be happy. That means you've got to stand up to your family.
posted by caveat at 10:39 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


My parents have the habit of putting guilt such as "you are our first born son and you are doing this to us". When I tell them they better improve they tell me "you are doing this to your parents for your wife?". I understand sometimes they say things out of anger or in the moment. In (my) Indian culture, sons are supposed to take care of parents. We are reminded everyday of other sons who left their parents :)

I will not make any judgments about your culture, but it is clear that you need to choose between a) your happiness and your wife's happiness, and b) that of your parents. It is absolutely clear to me which I would choose. Your answer may be different, although I hope it is not.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:13 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I feel like this is what parents do.

It's not. It's really, really not. It's what big mean-face meanies do.

I'm sorry -- I know they're you're parents, but they are being very mean-spirited to your wife. There's a time to behave towards them as you would behave towards parents -- but there's also a time to treat them like people who are being cruel to your wife. That time is now.

It could be jealousy. It could be they are afraid to let go.

It could be, but neither of those things justify their actions.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:03 PM on November 16, 2009


Yeah, I think there's a pretty big degree to which it is more your job than hers to draw the line with your parents. The combination of culture shock, dealing with small children, and a living situation where one's being continually undermined would be enough to make just about anyone learn a little helplessness.

I'm dealing with some pretty major culture shock right now, and that alone has flipped me from being a fun extrovert to a quiet worrier who'd rather just hide most of the time. I can't imagine how bad it would feel to have the parents of the person I loved most saying such awful things to me. Particularly if the beloved weren't telling them to cut it out. And having to be around them so much of the time? The only other option being going out and dealing with people who were still basically strangers? Yikes.

Your parents are being jerks to someone who is already having a hard time. It's on you to stop that from happening. Not because your wife is weak or sheepish, but because they are your parents in your culture and she's having a hard enough time as it is.
posted by lauranesson at 12:14 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: I am finally getting some perspective on all this. I realize my wife is not at fault here. I do put blame on her or pressure on her to adapt though now I think that might not be the best approach.

I also think I play a big part in this. First off, my father is out of bounds when it comes to me telling him to cut it out. He would rather throw me out or throw himself out before he hears it from his children.

My mother is someone who is caught between crossroads. I can talk to her. I have talked to her. I mention to her that she is treating my wife very differently than my brother's wife. I just had a talk with her today. It almost always ends up that I have to apologize to her in the end. Today, she went on the defensive asking me "you don't think I love your wife?". I kept emphasizing that its not that, its the fact that she gets treated differently in the house. One thing lead to another and she started crying giving me the guilt trip "i cannot do anything right". "the more I do for people, the less appreciative they are". Sigh.

I can move out. That would mean I am out of the family business. I would have to find a job. But more importantly, it would mean my relationship with my parents would be over. I don't want that to happen. My family is very mellow dramatic when it comes to this stuff.

I just wish they wouldn't do this stuff to her and treat her fairly. That is all I want them to do. Because of all this, I look at my wife now and I don't see the person I married four years ago. If my parents were more welcoming, more caring, more gentle to her, she would be a different person today.

This stuff happens a lot in Indian culture. The Bollywood movies and serial dramas don't help one bit. Watch Deepa Mehta's films to get a glimpse of our culture. It's not as extreme as it is portrayed in the films but it is not far from it also.
posted by alshain at 12:34 PM on November 16, 2009


Response by poster: I hope this has nothing do to with my obsession to being accepted. I know I have that disease at times and I hope I am not somehow channeling this towards my wife being accepted.
posted by alshain at 12:37 PM on November 16, 2009


I also think I play a big part in this. First off, my father is out of bounds when it comes to me telling him to cut it out. He would rather throw me out or throw himself out before he hears it from his children.

Are you his servant? Will you roll over on your back like a dog until you are wrinkled and toothless, a life wasted under another man's thumb?

I can move out. That would mean I am out of the family business. I would have to find a job. But more importantly, it would mean my relationship with my parents would be over.

Are they truly so petty that any independence from you mean being completely disowned? Is this what you want to live in fear of forever?

Because of all this, I look at my wife now and I don't see the person I married four years ago. If my parents were more welcoming, more caring, more gentle to her, she would be a different person today.

Don't blame them. If you stood up for her, like a husband and partner is supposed to, you wouldn't have this problem. She has no allies there except you, but you sold her out so you wouldn't get yelled at.

Stand up for her, stand up for yourself, and get out of this wretched situation before it's too late.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:45 PM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


I hope this has nothing do to with my obsession to being accepted. I know I have that disease at times and I hope I am not somehow channeling this towards my wife being accepted.

I think your need for acceptance IS affecting the situation, but not in the way you think it may be. In my opinion, it looks like you are trying SO hard to have your parents accept you, that you are turning a blind eye to how they are treating your wife.

When you approach your mother and stand up to her about this, your mother gives you a guilt trip, and you give in -- that sounds to me like your need for acceptance got in the way of you asserting yourself. You have also said you don't even approach your father about this -- this also sounds to me like you need his acceptance so much that you don't even dare stand up to him.

So that's what I mean when I said that it does sound like your obsession with being accepted may be affecting this after all. It makes perfect sense for you to want your wife to be happy, and it makes perfect sense for you to want to defend your wife. But your need for acceptance is getting in the way of your trying TO defend your wife and stand up for her, and so it's not working.

I sympathize with the position you're in, being between your parents and your wife like this, but only so much of this can be attributed to your culture, I think. (Besides -- I respect your trying to describe what culture you're in; but, since you've been trying to encourage your wife to adjust to "culture shock", I have to wonder how much adjusting you've done. You may be from an East Asian background, but you live in TORONTO now, not Mumbai...)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:48 PM on November 16, 2009


Response by poster: I appreciate the last two responses by Optimus Chyme and EmpressCallipygos. Though harsh, they might be just what I needed.
posted by alshain at 1:30 PM on November 16, 2009


Response by poster: With me choosing to stay with my family (for now) is financial security. Right now, my kids needs are taken care of, my wife needs are taken care of, my needs are taken care of. Money wise, we don't have to worry. It's just that at times my parents really push the limits. And because of this financial security I succumb.

I am not getting a free ride to get this financial security. I work hard. But for me to get another job like this will be tough.

It's not all chaotic all the time. I hope you don't think it is.
posted by alshain at 1:45 PM on November 16, 2009


With me choosing to stay with my family (for now) is financial security. Right now, my kids needs are taken care of, my wife needs are taken care of, my needs are taken care of. Money wise, we don't have to worry. It's just that at times my parents really push the limits. And because of this financial security I succumb.

The thing is, though, your wife's needs are NOT being taken care of. She needs financial security, yes, but she ALSO needs emotional security. In fact, she may need that even more than financial security.

Also: giving in to your parents is keeping you from becoming your OWN man, in a sense, so YOUR needs aren't being taken care of either.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:54 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


And what your kids are seeing is that it's "normal" for parents to belittle their children's spouses, so they'll grow up thinking there's nothing wrong with that -- and that's not good for them, either. Your children need to be exposed to examples of respectful ways of treating people, instead of "chaos" (even though you say it's "not chaotic all the time," that means it IS chaotic sometimes). So -- their emotional needs aren't being met either.

Financial security is a concern, but emotional security is very, very important too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:56 PM on November 16, 2009


It's not all chaotic all the time.

That's why this type of situation is hard to leave, even if it's necessary. Obviously if your parents were physically abusive toward your kids, or were otherwise being extremely and obviously awful, you'd take action. There are enough "good" moments in your daily life with them that you've been able to gloss over the serious negative effects their actions are having on your wife, your marriage, and your family.

Resist the urge to overlook what is happening to your wife and to your marriage.
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:46 PM on November 16, 2009


Best answer: You didn't chose your parents. You did chose your wife. I think you need to start backing up that decision.

I too have a mom who likes to lay on the guilt. The really sad thing is that I don't think she does it on purpose. I've had a really hard time building a little protective wall around myself so that I can withstand the guilt trips. There came a point when I realized that she can't make me feel guilty if I don't let her. "I can't do anything right!" "Every time I try to do something nice I just get kicked in the teeth! Every time!" I know it isn't true, so I let her have her little rant, sigh to myself and move on.

As far as the parenting aspects go, I know that can be really hard. I tell my mom "I am the Mom, you are the Grandma. It is my job to parent, it is your job to spoil and love." I have to repeat this pretty much constantly, but it is slowly starting to take hold. I recommend you start saying this to your parents as they interfere. You can say it lightly and lovingly, but stick by it. When your wife makes a parenting decision, back it up. Don't let your parents contradict her. Ever. Your kids will start thinking that it is okay not to listen to Mom if Grandma or Grandpa say it's okay. This leads to all sorts of problems.

I think anytime you hear your parents talking down to your wife you need to disagree with them and follow up with a compliment. Even if you agree with them. You need to give your wife that moral support. If you do have an issue with something she has said or done, wait until you are behind closed doors to discuss it. Put up a united front for the family.

Your wife is being told that she is shy, clumsy, and overall not good enough. After four years, who can blame her for starting to believe it. Build her up, tell her how amazing she is daily, let her know you appreciate what she does, thank her for being a great mom, maybe once she believes that again she'll be better able to work on the cultural differences. Compliment her constantly, all the time, until she begs you to stop embarrassing her. Even then, tell her everyday how amazing you think she is.

I also second the idea of culture shock. She's not only trying to get used to the Canadian culture, she has to acclimate to your Indian culture. That has got to be double hard for her. Especially with all the family politics. In law family dynamics are hard enough when everyone is from the same area, your wife needs a medal for the fact that she is living with in-laws, of a different culture, in a different country, with no support system of her own. Your wife is a brave woman, tell her that.

There is a cheesy Mormon movie called Johnny Lingo. It is really a dumb little movie, but it focuses a lot on how someone lives up to the expectations that you give them. I recommend you watch it. It might help you. (It isn't preachy, and there is no mention of any LDS Doctrine. I am NOT trying to convert you!)
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:16 PM on November 16, 2009


I think there are likely two issues with the way your parents treat your wife that are making things hard for her.

One issue is how she's feeling about the way they're treating her. Spending so much time in the company of your parents, while they treat her so poorly, is likely a very miserable experience for her. A number of other people have talked about that already.

But the other issue is whether she feels like you've got her back. Whether she believes that you put her first, or whether she feels like you choose your parents over her. I don't know how you two made the decision to live in Canada rather than South Africa, but even if you mutually agreed it was the best decision, she's made some major sacrifices for you and moved an ocean away from everyone and everything she's ever known except for you-- and if she's done all this for you and you're all she's got, but she feels like you won't even risk your father's anger and your mother's guilt-tripping for her, I imagine she would feel very lonely and sad indeed, and it would really mess with her self-esteem.

I noticed you said With me choosing to stay with my family (for now) is financial security-- "me," not "us"? Have the two of you talked about your living situation? Have you discussed what you see as the pros and cons of living with your parents, and heard her perspective and feelings? The financial pros and cons, and the emotional pros and cons? It seems like it's only fair for the two of you to decide together what to do (particularly on the financial question, since you shouldn't sell out her happiness for financial security unless she agrees with the decision.) The emotional impact of losing your relationship with your parents if you move out is stickier, since it's hard for each of you to fully balance the way that would hurt you compared to the way that the current situation hurts her. But it may be possible that if you tell her "I think my parents would cut off contact with me if we move, and that would be extremely painful for me, but I love you and I don't want you to be treated this way, so I am willing to do that for you"-- that knowing you're willing to put her first and sacrifice for her may go a long way. And if she decides she's willing to put up with your parents' treatment (really willing, not just "no, no, I could never ask you to do that for me" willing-- don't let her get away with that, because I bet she'll try it, and you need to push and make sure you know how she really feels), and you decide together that it's best to stay with your parents, it may help her feel strong and loved and supported enough to let some of your parents' treatment roll off her back. (Although that doesn't absolve you from standing up for her and trying to get your parents to knock it off!)

Or it might not be good enough, and the two of you may realize that it's best for your family if you move out. Are you prepared to make that sacrifice for her and the kids, like she's sacrificed for you? Or do your parents come first and your wife and children second?
posted by EmilyClimbs at 7:13 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: I will admit that I am cowardly for not moving out. The main reason being the financial security and the relationship thing with my parents. Though it is more than that, they treat my kids with so much love, they also love me very much. I don't reciprocate the same amount of love to them because of this situation. So I have to think about how I would feel when the dust has settled (if we move out).

On a side note, I wanted to mention this earlier but I have become paranoid or jealous I don't know which is what but I have been obsessed with keeping track how my mother/father interact with my brother's wife. This would make me so sour that I would stop speaking to them (without telling them the reason) for at least a day or two.

The decision to move to Canada was mutual but I had a lot of influence in that I am a Canadian citizen and I have a good job here. Sure my wife has sacrificed a lot for me. There is something about parents that during the pre-wedding and even during the wedding they are all fine and dandy but come post-wedding they start to show their true colors. So, no, my wife did not expect this and it is something she has to live with for me. I am very lucky to have her. She is very patient but obviously this is taking its toll on her.

I know I have created this mess myself.
posted by alshain at 8:37 PM on November 16, 2009


My wife did not expect this and it is something she has to live with for me.

No, it's something that she does live with because of you, but she doesn't have to. No one has to live in an abusive situation.

I know I have created this mess myself.


But you can change that, and it's incumbent on you to do so. You don't have to do it alone (see the resources I linked to above--I think you're right that this is a more common problem than people would like to think), but you HAVE TO change this situation for your wife's sake, and for the sake of your kids and your own sake too. This is a really unhealthy dynamic and it will affect all of you, INCLUDING your children, who are, as someone said above, witnessing and internalizing a terrible model for behaviour.

You mentioned Deepa Mehta's movies. Have you seen her most recent, Heaven and Earth? It's not pretty. Don't let it get to that point. Move out if your parents won't change; even if it's hard at first, the sky will not fall.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:40 PM on November 16, 2009


Apparently your brother has managed to move out with his own wife and still remain closer to your parents than you. It sounds like you are using made up excuses to stay when you have the example of your brother to contridict your fears. I feel bad for your children, seeing their mother so ill-treated and unhappy must be very sad for them.
posted by saucysault at 5:05 AM on November 17, 2009


Lots of issues here, but if she needs a taste of home, check out Memories of Africa for South African food available in Toronto. There are currently 586 members of the South Africans in Toronto Facebook group. Depending on her interests, she may also be interested in the Toronto-based South African Women for Women organization.

The accent isn't a non-issue, either. If she's already daunted, having to repeat things over and over may make her give up and not try. I have friends who moved here (Toronto) from England and ran into the same issue, eventually changing their accent closer to the "Queen's English" so they could be understood.

Would there be a way for you to live in a separate house but still work in the family business? Or a way to take care of your parents while still having separate living space? Do you need to share the same kitchen? How could you ensure that your wife has space in her own home where she is safe and free from being belittled?
posted by heatherann at 6:17 AM on November 17, 2009


Response by poster: >Apparently your brother has managed to move out with his own wife and still remain closer to your parents than you. It sounds like you are using made up excuses to stay when you have the example of your brother to contridict your fears. I feel bad for your children, seeing their mother so ill-treated and unhappy must be very sad for them.

saucysault, my excuses are not made up. That is why this why I created this thread. This has a lot to do with Indian culture and to a certain extent Eastern Culture. The first son born in the family has to stay back with the parents. The siblings are the ones that do what they want.

This might sound like childs play but don't you think I would have moved out if I could? I certainly would have. But I have to deal with my parents, my job, just the wrath of the community would belittle my wife to the status of a prostitute and a home wrecker.
posted by alshain at 6:34 AM on November 17, 2009


Response by poster: Just last night as my wife was finishing laundry in the basement, she came up the stairs and my dad was standing there. So she came up to our bedroom. As soon as she came up, my dad grumbled, who left the lights on downstairs? Instead of my wife saying "I didn't turn them off because you were standing there, how can I turn them off while you are there?". She replied "I will turn them off".

When she returned back I explained to her what to say assertively and constructively. She said, its his age and why cause more trouble. So this the stuff I deal with.
posted by alshain at 6:37 AM on November 17, 2009


She doesn't want to stand up for herself? Do you blame her. If she asserts herself your dad will get angry, and your mom will get emotional. Until you teach them how to treat her, nothing she does is going to help.

I'm a pretty assertive person, but even if I was in your wife's situation I would have done the same thing:
"Who left the lights on downstairs?"
"Oops, sorry. I'll get those."

Just to keep the peace. If things are as bad as you say, your wife is going to have to pick her battles. Parenting and personal insults are really all she should speak up about, the everyday courtesy is something you are going to have to work on. And a lot of the stuff is going to have to just be let go for herr own personal sanity. Your wife is right, why cause more trouble. If you had been standing there when your dad was grumbling about the light, you could have spoke up, but I think your wife did the right thing. If she gets defensive about every little thing her life (and yours) is going to get worse, not better.

You are going to have to do a lot of the teaching by example, show your parents how you expect them to treat your wife. Get after them when you see them specifically doing something you don't approve of.

When your mom starts tutting because your wife doesn't know where something is in the kitchen, tell your mom not to tut at her like a child and suggest that your mom spend an afternoon giving your wife a thorough tour of the kitchen. When she gets after your wife for being clumsy, tell your mom not to call her names and help your wife clean up the mess or carry whatever she's about to drop. Say these things lovingly, but firm, the same way you would talk to your child. But don't back down. If your parents are overreacting to something, tell them that. Yeah, they will probably get mad at you. Yeah, they will probably yell. But change is hard and if you want to see results you need to stick to your guns.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:03 AM on November 17, 2009


When she returned back I explained to her what to say assertively and constructively.

How can you ask her to assertive and constructive when you refuse to do so yourself? You are unwilling to make to changes - you will not move, you will not change jobs, you apologize to your parents when you bring up issues.

You have much more power than your wife does, yet you are asking your wife to stand up to your parents bullying alone. You have demonstrated that you are unwilling to help her. You are being a coward.

Next time, don't tell your wife what to do. Go out there and tell your dad to knock it off. If you can't or won't do it, then don't pretend that your wife should.
posted by 26.2 at 7:05 AM on November 17, 2009


When she returned back I explained to her what to say assertively and constructively. She said, its his age and why cause more trouble. So this the stuff I deal with

What did you say to your father about his unrealistic demands? He's apparently conjuring up these little tests on purpose, as it would have been very rude to turn off the lights with him in the room. This is ridiculous.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:07 AM on November 17, 2009


You're frustrated with your family's Indian cultural traditions... and you live in Canada. Canada is full of people who are not from your family's culture--people who would not judge you for moving your wife and kids out of a toxic home, people who would not judge you for leaving the family business, people who would understand that choosing your wife's sanity over your parents' expectations is a valid choice. These people could be your friends and your community.

All this time you have been expecting your South African wife to live in an Indian cultural environment. Why can't you try living in a Canadian cultural environment? You write as if doing the same thing that your wife did--adopting a new culture different from the one you grew up in--would be unthinkable. Why? You don't seem to like your culture very much. You don't like the expectation that the first born son will acquiesce to any and all of his parents' demands. You don't like the expectation that your parents get to boss your wife around like a servant. You don't like the structure that this culture imposes on your life, dictating where and how you live. Yet you choose to remain a part of it. Why?

the wrath of the community would belittle my wife to the status of a prostitute and a home wrecker

I doubt very much that your wife would care if a community of people like your parents thought she had the status of a prostitute and homewrecker. Your parents belittle her and disrespect her and treat her like dirt on a daily basis. If she were able to escape that day-in, day-out stress of having to deal with them, why should she care if her cruel in-laws' friends thought badly of her afterward?

Your parents are being cruel to your wife, and apparently for them, this cruelty is somehow tied up in their understanding of their culture. You need to decide whether it's more important to you to protect your wife from cruel treatment or to be a part of your parents' culture. It's a monumental, scary choice to be making, but it seems to be a fairly stark one.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:09 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


This has a lot to do with Indian culture and to a certain extent Eastern Culture.

But you live in CANADA! What does Canadian culture say you should do?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:38 AM on November 17, 2009


Hang on a second:

When she returned back I explained to her what to say assertively and constructively.

I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I can't see how you would even be ABLE to advise someone else how to speak to someone assertively and constructively until you can demonstrate you know how to do so yourself. So far, in this thread, you've been giving us excuses for all the times you FAILED to speak to your parents assertively and constructively ("my mother gave me a guilt trip/it is Indian culture/blah blah blah"). Perhaps, instead of piling on the criticism your parents are giving your poor wife, you could teach your OWN self how to speak assertively and constructively - because right now it looks like you don't know much about the topic.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:50 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't like all the "but you're in CANADA!" comments going on here. They sound racist and dismissive of his situation to me. Just because he's in Canada doesn't mean that his family's culture is irrelevant. My family's Dutch Christian Reformed culture hasn't disappeared just because we've been in Canada for the last 60 years. It still has a very real impact on the way our family interacts. The fact that mine is Dutch and his is Indian doesn't mean one is more or less Canadian than the other. Toronto is full of immigrants. Many of us are struggling through this process as children and grandchildren of immigrants.

alshain, I know very little about Indian culture, which is why I didn't try to address more of the family interactions in my previous comments. Is your brother's wife Indian? Do you think that race is affecting the way your wife is being received by your family? Are there other people in similar situations in your community who you could talk to about strategies for dealing with your parents in ways that they would be receptive to? If you cannot tell your father he is doing something wrong, what can you do? Surely this comes up in your community. How do people deal with it?

Your family is not just Indian now. It is Indian-South African. Is there a way for your parents to see that? Is there a way for you, as the first-born son, to have an impact on what that looks like in your house? Can you make a safe space for your wife? Or, better, can you work together with your wife to imagine what a better type of household would look like for both of you and what you can do to accomplish that?
posted by heatherann at 10:23 AM on November 17, 2009


I don't like all the "but you're in CANADA!" comments going on here. They sound racist and dismissive of his situation to me. Just because he's in Canada doesn't mean that his family's culture is irrelevant. My family's Dutch Christian Reformed culture hasn't disappeared just because we've been in Canada for the last 60 years. It still has a very real impact on the way our family interacts. The fact that mine is Dutch and his is Indian doesn't mean one is more or less Canadian than the other. Toronto is full of immigrants. Many of us are struggling through this process as children and grandchildren of immigrants.

You make a good point, heatherann, except that alshain opened the conversation by discussing how much his wife was struggling with culture shock - which to me indicated that he was expecting HER to adjust to a new culture, but wasn't making quite so much of an effort to do the same himself. And I've been getting the growing sense that "east asian culture" is being used as a scapegoat to an extent here.

I could indeed be wrong, of course. But that's where it's looking from where I'm sitting, and that's perhaps why we're getting the "but you're in Canada" arguments from.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:31 AM on November 17, 2009


Reading this broke my heart. I am the product of a family dynamic exactly like yours. My father was the eldest son. My mother was the wife who was verbally abused, berated, yelled at, and taken advantage of. I am currently estranged from both of my parents because the toxic family environment was so bad that I had to escape to preserve my own sanity. As the eldest child, it became one of my jobs, starting at the tender age of 5 to navigate the minefield of dysfunction.

An elementary school child should not serve as a parent's therapist, but when your mother has no one else to talk to who will listen to her laments, that is what happens. It was a terrible burden. My father was not uncaring, but he could not, or would not act in any way that showed disrespect to his parents. My grandparents fired their housekeeper so that my mother would do all the cooking, cleaning and housework for her in laws, including my aunts, uncles and cousins. Even though my grandparents were more wealthy than my mother, they constantly asked my parents for money, much of which was distributed to my cousins. As eldest son, my father never refused, even if it meant going hungry so that my grandparents could have luxuries. My grandmother would discipline me as a way of hurting my mother, to prove that she was the authority in the house. It was always a power play, and my mother's self esteem eroded to the point that she became mentally unstable. Daily abuse and criticism, until she lost any sense of her own self, she was merely a servant to her in laws, and treated like a slave.

She had no safe place to retreat to, even in her own home, so when she was upset, she perceived me as an agent acting on my grandparent's behalf to torment her. My life growing up was filled with verbal abuse, and sometimes physical abuse when her anger finally spilled over. It took years for this to happen, but eventually she was ground down. She managed to keep a lot of it under wraps, but a few times a year she would be so overwhelmed by the awfulness of it all that she would explode, crying and sobbing until she could not physically stop, sometimes lasting for hours until only physical exhaustion took over. Then she would be bedridden for a few days and everything would return to "normal". My father never took any permanent action to change things, he would make promises and break them within weeks, because he could not sever ties with his parents. They were family, after all.

Although the vast vast majority of the verbal and physical abuse I experienced growing was at my mother's hand, I do not blame her as much as I blame my father. She became mentally unhinged because she suffered horrendous abuse at the hands of my extended family. She was on the verge of suicide when she realized she was pregnant with me, and found herself unwilling to take her own life. It is a sad sad thing when a child of 10 feels guilt for their own existence because death would literally have been a kindness to their mother. She was so isolated, so without a source of comfort in her life, that she endured repeated sexual assault at the hands of a relative because she had no one to tell, and nothing that she could do about it. She was mere chattel to them. My father was stunned when she finally told him. How could this possibly have happened? Was he not a kind man? A caring man? Did he not love her? Why did she conceal this? He was all of those things, and a coward to boot. And yet, I was not the least bit surprised when this confession was aired. I knew that she had no one to tell, and that her story would not be believed. Because I was the only support my mother had. Even now, nothing has happened to the person who assaulted her so often. He is a part of the family. He shows up at reunions. My mother still sees him, still treats him with respect, still sublimates her own feelings to behave appropriately for our culture. I was a child in grade school, and forced to act as emotional support for a grown woman who was broken by the repeated onslaught of such abuse.

I am not saying that your family is as horrible as mine. Very few are. But I would also bet every last dime I have that the situation is far more serious than you know. It is a slow insidious process, and your attitude about cannot and will not, because of tradition, because of respect, because of fear of being mocked by your community, is the EXACT same one that destroyed my mother and turned her from a vibrant person into the broken shell that she remains today. You will probably read this and roll your eyes. I am nobody to you. How could I know what is going on in your own house? But the story you tell right now is so familiar to me, because it is exactly how it started. Slow abuse that gradually builds up, each individual comment or action so mild that you can shrug it off. It's just family. Blood is thicker than water. Respect your elders. She didn't mean anything by it, you're just being oversensitive. That's just how he is. Until one day you look back and realize the level of insanity. This is exactly how it started. Step by step. Each day only a little worse, each day a little bit harder to speak up because of the weight of time behind it. Why didn't you speak up sooner? It can't be as bad as you say because no one would stand it for so long, you must be exaggerating.

You may not think this applies to you. Almost no one in my current life knows about my past because it's so crazy as to be unbelievable. But it happened. Even if you ask your children about their experiences, they will probably lie to you out of the same respect that keeps you under the thumb of your parents. I know I did. Things are worse than you know. She needs support, and she needs it fast, because it's not just her life that is getting ruined.
posted by deadlypenguin at 10:58 AM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


I apologize if it seemed I was suggesting that Canadians of a particular ethnic origin were somehow less Canadian than others.

My point was that, living in Canada, alshain is part of a diverse population. If his parents and their community are truly too rigid to accommodate a) alshain's expectation that his family treat his wife with respect and kindness, and b) his moving out of his parents' house if the living situation becomes too stressful for his wife, then I'd suggest he stop thinking of that community as his only option.

He seems to agree that the home situation is unacceptable, yet continually refers to his parents and community as if they make his decisions for him, saying things like "don't you think I would have moved out if I could?" I was trying to communicate that there is the relatively small population he knows intimately (his family, his Indian immigrant community) which might judge him for standing up to his parents or moving out of their house, but the larger population is not so intimidatingly monolithic.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:05 AM on November 17, 2009


Response by poster: >I am not saying that your family is as horrible as mine. Very few are. But I would also bet every last dime I have that the situation is far more serious than you know. It is a slow insidious process, and your attitude about cannot and will not, because of tradition, because of respect, because of fear of being mocked by your community, is the EXACT same one that destroyed my mother and turned her from a vibrant person into the broken shell that she remains today. You will probably read this and roll your eyes. I am nobody to you. How could I know what is going on in your own house? But the story you tell right now is so familiar to me, because it is exactly how it started. Slow abuse that gradually builds up, each individual comment or action so mild that you can shrug it off. It's just family. Blood is thicker than water. Respect your elders. She didn't mean anything by it, you're just being oversensitive. That's just how he is. Until one day you look back and realize the level of insanity. This is exactly how it started. Step by step. Each day only a little worse, each day a little bit harder to speak up because of the weight of time behind it. Why didn't you speak up sooner? It can't be as bad as you say because no one would stand it for so long, you must be exaggerating.

deadlypenguin, first off I appreciate your post and the time you took to write it. Though your whole post is not what is going on with my family. Yours is far more serious. But you can see some similarities.

The quote above from your post really sums up what I feel and I am going through. I did not roll my eyes. My eyes almost shed tears reading that.

Sometimes these situations are not black and white. I cannot just say screw you all, I am otta here. I really appreciate all the advice but this needs to be worked at. Like many of you have suggested, I have to start being assertive and I have to stand up for my wife. I have to do it now.

Yesterday with the whole lights situation, I should have asked my wife to stay and not go back down again to turn off the lights. I should have gone down and turned them off. May be say something along the lines of "you don't go down, you were just down there" so my dad can hear. It's lame but it would have been a start.

>>>alshain, I know very little about Indian culture, which is why I didn't try to address more of the family interactions in my previous comments. Is your brother's wife Indian? Do you think that race is affecting the way your wife is being received by your family? Are there other people in similar situations in your community who you could talk to about strategies for dealing with your parents in ways that they would be receptive to? If you cannot tell your father he is doing something wrong, what can you do? Surely this comes up in your community. How do people deal with it?

heatherann,

My brother's wife is Indian but born and raised in Toronto, she went to school here, has a degree at U of T and has worked many jobs before getting married. My wife, is not educated like her, didn't have much money, her family was poor.

It is not race, but there is a big difference in the way they treat my wife. This is a very taboo subject in my community. You see, my mother was treated this way when she got married back home. And her mother the same. So it's a cycle that keeps going. But on one wants to say, "hey I was treated so badly, why I am doing this to her?"
posted by alshain at 1:17 PM on November 17, 2009


alshain: forgive me, but I notice that you keep referring back to your cultural background as a way of explaining why things are the way they are -- which is good to help us understand the scope of what you're dealing with.

However, I haven't noticed you say much about what you plan to do to OVERCOME this background, so to be perfectly frank, that's why it is coming across as an excuse.

It's good that you recognize why your parents do the things they do, and it's good that you recognize why your mother treats your wife the way she does. However, being able to recognize why your mother does what she does is only part of the problem. The trick is, recognizing why your mother does what she does and THEN doing something to counter that yourself. Right now, it looks like you're just stopping at "recognizing what your mother does", but you're not doing anything to stop it, it looks like you're just throwing up your hands as if the situation can't be helped. Whenever we've encouraged you to do something to improve things, you give us yet another detail about "but the culture is like THIS."

What I am hoping to see from you is, "the culture is like THIS, and therefore I am going to work around it by doing THAT". Right now it looks like you're telling us "the culture is like THIS" and resigning yourself to things -- and, expecting your wife to resign HERself to them as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:25 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The reason I find this thread so compelling is that you originally asked it on behalf of your wife, but keep rejecting the answers that would help her on the basis of your culture. Imagine if, instead of your posting this question, she had posted her own:

"I am originally from South Africa, but live in Toronto with my Indian husband and his very traditional parents. His parents expect him, as first born, to live with them, so we do. His parents are kind to my husband's brother's wife, but they scold and criticize my cooking, housekeeping, and parenting every day. I have given up on trying to defend myself against them. My husband tries to stand up to them about how they treat me but they get angry and guilt him into backing down. He tries to encourage me to be assertive with them, but I feel they are too old and set in their ways, that it would just cause more trouble. He won't move us out of his parents' house because he feels obligated as their son to stay and also because this arrangement provides us with financial security. I have limited education and am uncomfortable socializing in Toronto because of my background and accent. What should I do?"

What would you want or expect the responses to be? Can you imagine being outside of your culture, living your wife's life? If one of your children is a girl, and she was having this experience (marrying into a different culture and enduring this kind of life because her husband said "I can't just leave my parents!"), what advice would you give her?
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:03 PM on November 17, 2009


This might sound like childs play but don't you think I would have moved out if I could? I certainly would have. But I have to deal with my parents, my job, just the wrath of the community would belittle my wife to the status of a prostitute and a home wrecker.

Again with the "I." You are married. Where you live is not supposed to be an "I" decision, it's supposed to be a "we" decision. Even in the best of circumstances, let alone a situation like this where the negative consequences of the current situation rest so heavily on your wife.

I hope that you are just slipping in your phrasing and that you and your wife actually do discuss this together and make decisions together.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 3:29 PM on November 17, 2009


The first son born in the family has to stay back with the parents.

Not in Brampton they don't! There are tonnes of first-born sons living in their own homes - especially if the wife is not from East Indian culture. You are in charge of your own life and have the power to change it. Except it sounds like the cost of living at home isn't too bad for you since you aren't your parent's target. No matter what your wife does it is her fault according to your parents, she may as well be labled a "home-wrecker" and have some self-respect. You left their house before to live in SA, clearly everyone in your community has moved on from that and does not shun you.

You really sound like you do not know many second generation East Indians who have already navigated all this family dynamic successfully. Believe me, there are a lot of people bridging the two worlds. Deciding whether your loyalty lies with your parents or your wife is not an exclusively East Indian issue, sacrificing a spouse's happiness in the pursuit of parent's money is sadly universal.

While looking for an apartment (at least living at home meant you could save money!) have your wife enrol in some classes she would be interested in to get her out of the house as much as possible (either serious like computers or more frivolous like cooking). Take classes together when you are not at work (dancing?), take her and your children out to dinner often to reduce the amount of time she is expected to cook in the kitchen with your disapproving mother. Do the laundry yourself and tell your parents she needs a lot of time alone in her room to do school work or send her to the local library with a laptop so she can have time away from the responsibilities at home. I hope she knows about the early years centres and is already taking the children there to network with other parents, there are lots of local classes she can sign up with the children and in your time off from work (cut back if you need to) there are tonnes of family events the four of you can go to for free in Toronto.

Being happy in your own life means the four of you will appreciate the time you spend with your parents rather than resent them. Good luck!
posted by saucysault at 4:31 AM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


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