Saturday, February 9, 2013

Daughters-in-law vs. mothers-in-law

Haha , I enjoyed a lot this K drama at KBS ....and get to know many things about day to day life of the Koreans.
The daughter-in-law, is portrayed by Kim Nam-joo, and the mother-in-law portrayed by Yun Yeo-jeong.                                                         /  Courtesy of KBS

Wives forced into ‘temporary slavery’ during holidays

The 2012 KBS drama “My Husband Got a Family” dealt with the frustrating relationship between a woman and her mother-in-law.

Around this time of year, daughters-in-law around the country start to panic as they travel to their mothers-in-law’s house to feed and serve their husbands' family members, even dead ones, through the ritual called "charae."

Major holidays continue to be a cause of stress and anger for many housewives in Korea. For them, the Lunar New Year holidays entail an endless series of kitchen chores that husbands rarely help with.

"Holidays are when many housewives in Korea are made to feel like maids," said a 35-year-old mother of a girl toddler who preferred to remain anonymous. "During the years I have been married, it never occurred to me to have some time to myself or take a vacation during the 'myeongjeol’ (holiday) season."

Like every year since 2009, she will travel with her family to be with her mother-in-law for the Lunar New Year. Unlike many Korean families, her in-laws do not practice charae, a ceremony that involves bowing to deceased ancestors and offering food and drink prepared for their spirits. But this doesn't mean her time with the in-laws is stress-free.

"During the holidays, I feel an unbearable amount of pressure. Even without charae, I have to prepare all the meals during family gatherings. It's not easy trying to make huge meals in another person's kitchen."

One housewife The Korea Times spoke to said she feels sick because of the stress she endures around this time of the year and other major holidays such as Chuseok. She said that she normally starts having panic attacks and headaches a few weeks before the holidays begin.

The mother of two girls, aged 6 and 7, in Mok-dong, Seoul, also spoke on the condition of anonymity. She deplored the misfortune of having in-laws from some of the most conservative parts of the country in Gimcheon, North Gyeongsang Province.

"For the first three years of marriage, I traveled to Gimcheon for the holidays and did what I was told to do, without feeling much resentment," the 40-year-old stay-at-home mom said.  "But then as the years went by, I started to feel an uncontrollable sense of anger. These holiday visits are a huge waste of time and money, but unless I intend to divorce my husband, these visits are an indispensable activity in our marriage," A former journalist with the economic daily Money Today, she has been married since 2004.

"It's not so much the kitchen chores that make it so hard. It's the stress that I feel when I am with my husband's mother and his siblings," she said.

Normally, the Daegu native is forced into the kitchen the minute she arrives at her mother-in-law's house, making heaps of “jeon” (traditional Korean pancake) and other holiday dishes for family meals and charae. In addition, she has to make side dishes for drinks that the male members of the family invariably will have after dinner and clean up after all the meals.

It was interesting that while these housewives were willing to speak frankly about their experiences as "holiday maids," they were fearful of having their names printed in the newspaper.

"Speaking ill of the in-laws is like spitting on my own face because they are people I have chosen as my family. That's why in many cases, housewives will not openly speak ill of them."

One housewife who did give her name had somewhat of a traditional view of a women's holiday duties.

Cheon Yeong-hye, 35, said that she would teach her three girls to be mindful of what it means to be a daughter-in-law.

The banker plans to visit her mother-in-law in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, for the holidays.

"Usually my mother-in-law prepares most of the holiday meals and I usually just clean up afterwards. Because I grew up in the conservative Gyeongang Province, I don't harbor much resentment about these kinds of activities," the mother of three girls said.

"Korea isn’t a country that respects daughter-in-laws. But I would still urge my girls to fulfill their basic duties of a daughter-in-law and refrain from placing personal comfort before family duty."

So how do mothers-in-law feel about all this?

"Daughters-in-law are a part of my family and I want all family members to take part in the holiday celebrations," Yoo In-sook, 65, said. "There is no rule that says they absolutely have to visit during the holidays. But ideally, a woman should perceive myeongjeol duties as a part of her obligation as a daughter-in-law."

The holiday stress is in some cases so extreme that it sometimes leads to divorce.

A new term "myeongjeol divorce" has been circulating in the media, referring to the rise in divorce rates in February and March following the Lunar New Year holidays.

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