Why Korean Mother-in-laws Are The Best

Korean mother-in-laws are by far the best mother-in-laws to have.

Okay, my title is misleading and the first sentence may or may not be entirely true and that picture is NOT of my mother-in-law. I only have experience with one mother-in-law, from here on out MIL, in particular and she just happens to be Korean because I just happened to fall in love with a man who is Korean, but she is pretty great. The tales of evil or mean MILs seem to abound, but where are the good stories? When was the last time there was a movie done with a nice MIL? Maybe MILs think they should be harsh and mean because the only stories they ever hear are of the evil and mean sort or because they had a terrible MIL themselves. Perhaps if we tell the tales of a good MIL, others will follow suit.

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Here are 6 reasons my Korean MIL is the best:

1. Boxes of Food

There was the box with 50 apples, side dishes and a pan. There was the box with what seemed like objects from a closet she’d recently cleaned out: cans of tuna, socks, boxers and two Kipling bags. There was the box of rice, two pots and side dishes and these are just the boxes off the top of my head. The boxes always have some assortment of fish, my MIL is from Busan a coastal city after all, and some meat. There are salty side dishes and kimchi sent up regularly. What’s not to appreciate when it comes to boxes of food showing up on your doorstep?

2. A Clean House & Delicious Food

My MIL is always on the move in her house or ours. There is always something delicious to be cooked or something to be cleaned, even if I’ve already cleaned it. There’s no talking her out of cooking or cleaning, it’s what she wants to do. I have to admit that at first this made me uncomfortable (read my first reaction to her FIRST visit to our house way back), especially when we were in my house. In her house she can obviously do what she wants, but in my house she is a guest so, wouldn’t etiquette entail that I do all of the cooking and cleaning while she looks on and silently judges? Not so with a Korean MIL. Delicious food and a clean abode, here we come… whether or not I like it. There’s something to be said for how nice this is though.

3. Caring Calls

Speaking Korean on the phone is not my favorite thing to do, especially with my MIL because she speaks a lot of southern dialect, but I know she’s calling because she cares. I also find the conversations amusing because they always hint at what is to come.

“Are you warm? It’s cold this winter. Is your boiler working?” (I got a parka in the mail shortly after this.)

“Do you like apples?” (As mentioned above, I received a box of 50 apples that week.)

“It’s very hot this summer. Are you keeping cool?”

She seems to know what I need before I know I need it and that suits me just fine. The year I received the parka was one of the coldest winters since I’d been here and though at first I wasn’t sure how fashionable a big puffy parka was, when it became cold, I didn’t care how unfashionable or fashionable it was as long as I was warm. My mother-in-law can tell me what I need before I need it anytime.

4. Lessons on Strength

My MIL is  a strong woman and she doesn’t openly display her feelings that often, which at times has caused me to question whether or not she approved of me or what I was doing. I can probably count the number of times she has smiled without thought on two hands. I, on the other hand, can’t hide my emotions at all. I laugh, I smile, I cry and I also became ferociously grumpy and moody when I’m hungry or sleepy. My husband often reminds me that this is something I should consider trying to control and when I’m with his mother I can understand why. She is thoughtful in her requests and what she expects of people, but because of the way she carries herself, this underlying strength, no one denies her. I respect this strength that she has learned over time through many highs and lows in her lifetime and I know that I have the opportunity to learn a lot from her.

5. Appliances of Approval

Our small fridge waving goodbye from the shadows of the newer bigger one.

Our small fridge waving goodbye from the shadows of the newer bigger one.

When my husband and I moved into our first place, I was surprised to get a washer delivered to our house one day. My husband, who was just a boyfriend at the time, said his mom and sister had decided we needed a washer, which we did, and they were going to buy it for us. I’d never received such a large gift before. When we moved into our most recent house my MIL came to visit and I joked to my husband beforehand that she’d probably love the house with the exception of our small fridge that we’d had through a few houses and I wouldn’t put it past her to buy us a new one. What did she comment on? The fridge of course and her departing comment to me was that she’d be buying one soon. Since we don’t live together, she does this to show she cares and she approves and since the fridge was the only thing she felt the need to purchase, I know I’m doing something right.

6. Hugs

As my MIL is Korean, she did not grow up hugging people, but I did. I need hugs. I need hugs to feel close. I need hugs to show that I’m close to you. I just need to hug. Why bow when a hug is an option? My MIL is by far my favorite to hug. She spreads out her arms well before I’m close enough to hug her to be prepared for me to swoop in and manhandle her. Sometimes I’m not even thinking about going in for the hug and she opens up her arms all ready for one, so of course I’ll take that hug whenever I can get it. I say manhandle because she’s a foot shorter than me so I practically pick her up. While I am a natural hugger, doing what we do, she is not and she awkwardly pats me on the back lightly while I’m hugging her in her attempt to be close, while not wanting to be that close, but all the time knowing that this makes me feel close. My husband and my MIL now hug as well. He didn’t want to be left out because he loves hugs too! I think this goes to show her willingness to be as open to my culture as I am to hers.

I know that I am a lucky woman and not all MILs are like my own.

My heart goes out to the women that have the mean MILs that just won’t end the cycle of harassment and berating. However, I do think it’s important to promote the goodness that some MILs possess and show to their daughter-in-laws. Korean MILs get a lot of flack, but I have to say that my mother-in-law does not deserve it at all.

To that end, learning about Korean cultural norms and taking the time to learn the customs and traditions that are particular to each family (Korean or not) also go a long way in helping overcome some differences that may cause issues in relationships. My family is quite traditional and my mother-in-law and father-in-law were surprised and happy to learn that I had taken the time to learn about the proper setting for the Jesa table as well as learned the steps and order of the Jesa ceremony that takes please each Lunar New Year and Korean Thanksgiving. They didn’t expect this, but I wanted to learn in order to show their family traditions respect as they have shown me respect. While my mother-in-law would likely wish I could cook more Korean food and would cook more for my husband, she seems happy enough that I’ll clean the dishes after dinner without being asked.

6 Reasons Korean Mother-In-Laws Are The Best: Korean mother-in-laws get a lot of flack but they're not all bad. Here are 6 reasons my Korean mother-in-law is the best. 6 ways Korean mother-in-laws are awesome!

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22 Responses

  1. Lili Bayou says:

    I absolutely loved reading this and agree a 100% with your statement that not all Korean MILs are like the bad stereotype 🙂

  2. Married 16 years to a Korean man. I like your take on things. You have learned to see the positive side of the culture clash! Can you control your emotions yet? Yes, it takes strength and practice, but worth learning. Don’t give up on that one! It will help your husband in the long run.

  3. loza says:

    lovely post-she sounds like a gem. my MIL is from a small town near Ulsan, I wish she could be closer to us as we are far away in New Zealand. i also love giving her hugs and telling her i love her. i don’t think she has experienced those things many much before we met.

  4. Bobae Omma says:

    I loved reading this! I also have an amazing Korean MIL. Lovely, lovely person, and I’m so happy to read this story about yours 🙂

  5. jkwdesigns says:

    I just came across your blog, and this post made me smile. I have a Korean mother, not a Korean MIL, but I loved reading this anyway. 🙂

  6. Mrs You says:

    Awwwww my mil is also pretty great. She’s trying so hard to show me that she cares for me even if it’s in her own very korean ajumma way. All she wants to do is feed me, and who can say no to that! My husband’s father past away years ago and my husband is her only son, so she could have done the typical drama thing and not approved, but she’s never been anything but kind to me. Man, I just love ajummas.

  7. Secret says:

    I guess you were very lucky, but korean MIL are horrible creatures.

  8. Sandy says:

    So basically you like having someone buys things, cook and clean for you. FYI that is not th typical MIL. what an ignorant post.

    • Hallie says:

      Sandy, I feel that you may have missed the point of this post. It’s hardly ignorant as I have a Korean mother-in-law and I’m speaking from experience with her, not any other MIL. Perhaps if you look that word up, you’ll understand what it means for the future. If you want to read a story about a terrible MIL, there are plenty out there. I merely wanted to touch on some interesting and different things of a Korean MIL versus an MIL from where I come from and how they could be seen as negative, but I’m choosing to look at them under a positive light. If you look back through other posts I’ve written about my MIL, you can see that I definitely did not want her to come to my house and cook and clean as I thought it was her saying I couldn’t cook or clean adequately. However, in Korean culture, and perhaps you don’t have much info on the subject, her cooking and cleaning and buying us things is her showing support for our marriage, us and our family. It’s just a post written to point out that though so some things could be seen in a negative light, they don’t have to be.

  9. AT says:

    Right. I have a Korean Monster In Law. She’s a horrible person and an abusive nutcase. Wish this article was true.

  10. FearNo5 says:

    Thank you for being so positive. I’m Korean American and my husband is Mexican American and it definitely took him a while to get used to my mother randomly buying us things (among other things). Now he knows to try and think of something if she asks us what we need because if he says “nothing” she’ll just randomly get something. I try to discourage her from this too since I am older and I should take care of her, which I try to do, but sometimes you just need to let them do their thing. I have managed to wean her off of cooking though. I think this was only possible because she moved to the states in her early 20s, ended up divorcing my dad, and became a career woman. So she would be considered very liberal by Korean standards. She actually hates to cook and once she realized I have a genuine love for it (after like three decades of telling me to stop “torturing” myself with the cooking) she settles back and satisfies herself with cleaning every nook and cranny of our place. It helps that my husband and cook together, I think she gets a kick out of seeing that.

    I just discovered your blog today and read through all the pregnancy and “a Korean…” Korean culture posts and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It’s so easy to misunderstand someone else’s actions and motivations when they they are not from the same culture as you and I have found it so important to view things within context when interacting with my husband’s family and luckily he has always been good about doing the same with mine.

    I’m always fielding comments from American acquaintances about how rude they think Koreans are (we live in Los Angeles with a huge Korean population) and then I: 1. Explain what a Korean actually thinks is rude vs polite, or 2. Roll my eyes and tell them to suck it up, that’s just how Koreans are, or 3. Some combination of 1 and 2. 😛

    • Hallie says:

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, the thinking of something when my mother-in-law calls and asks or comes and visits is so important or we end up with the most random things too. You’re right, it is extremely important to try and understand the culture from which people are coming from in order to understand their actions. Especially in the States where we have so many cultures represented, it’s boggling to me that people can be so closed minded there at times. In Korea, it’s just as boggling when foreigners come here and try to explain to Koreans why what they’re doing is “wrong” or “rude”. It’s all about context for sure.

  11. Loving Ajuma In Law says:

    Why would you tell the world about your own experience which differs from 99% of korean ajuma?

    • Hallie says:

      Well, I think your percentage is wildly inflated. People tend to talk about the issues and things they don’t like much more often than the things they do so of course most of the stories you hear will be negative. I decided that being positive and explaining that good Korean mother-in-laws exist, because they in fact do, was a better. I’m lucky, but so are a lot of people who have mother-in-laws that don’t meet the stereotypes portrayed on television and spread through stories.

  12. goldensky says:

    I totally agree with this. Even though Im not married to my boyfriend, his mom has been welcoming and sweet since I met her. If things do work out Im sure she will be a wonderful MIL and she even insists and loves when I call her Omma. Plus, my boyfriends sister is pretty great too.

  1. February 21, 2017

    […] I should add that I’m always grateful for the gifts and they are usually quite useful things, they’re just always surprising and above and beyond what she needs to do. She’s one of a kind to be sure and somehow she reads my mind before I know what I’m even thinking. This is one reason that I think Korean mother-in-laws are the BEST mother-in-laws to have; the power…. […]

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