The Nyab Series: Braving 20's
How old were you when you got married?
21 years old
How long have you been married?
How did you meet your husband? Were you in love?
My husband and I knew each other through family members. It wasn’t until we met each other on social media that we hit it off. Yes, we were in love.
Did you know your in-laws prior to meeting them? Did you get along with them?
I had the opportunity to meet them twice for a couple of hours each time. Both times were during small family functions, so I didn’t get to converse with his parents at all. I’m sure they had some information about me through my cousin, who is married to one of my husband’s relatives.
What are the expectations that you had prior to becoming a nyab? What did your parents teach you about being a nyab?
Expectations I had was to wake up early to make breakfast, know how to cook, clean the house, respect your in-laws, respect your husband, respect his relatives, and nobody is going to love you like your mom. Honestly, my parents just throw out those expectations here and there when we don’t do chores. It was never enforced upon us to practice them.
Was it what you expected? Why or why not?
Yes, it was exactly what I expected. A couple of weeks into marriage, my brother-in-law used my cell phone and did not return it to me. I had no alarm to wake me up the next morning. So the next morning my mother-in-law came knocking on the door for my husband and me to wake up and make breakfast. At the time I was embarrassed because this expectation has been imprinted in my mind that for some reason I felt obligated to do it.
What are the pros & cons of being a nyab? Explain.
-You get to learn how to be independent through all the times your in-laws make you feel like an outsider
-You get to practice your communication skills and become more open-minded with all the different personalities you meet
-You get to practice how to become a stronger individual
-All the high expectations with no support, guidance, or love
-Sometimes you’ll feel like you don’t belong anywhere
Did you marry the youngest son or oldest son? What is that experience like?
I married the oldest. Everyone expects you and your husband to do everything. Some younger siblings had disrespected my husband because they think they could do better or be a better older sibling. There is a lot of pressure and stress, especially, when you don’t have money. Buying house essentials and food can become very expensive when there are eight other adults living in the same house. At first, my husband and I would divide grocery expenses with his siblings. But after my father-in-law would buy groceries on his own and the other siblings would buy snacks here and there, we stopped dividing the expenses. Instead, we budgeted an amount for ourselves to use for food and house essentials. Little did we know that some people were not very happy with us dividing the expenses.
One time after my husband and I have moved out one of my brothers-in-law, who had just recently got married, was talking with my mom. She asked him how he and his wife were doing. After we moved out he became the oldest sibling in the house. His reply to my mom was, “My wife is great. She knows what she’s doing in the house. She will clean and cook without waiting for anyone to ask her. The only thing I had to do is give her money to buy groceries…And we don’t divide that expense to the younger siblings. I think as the oldest it’s your responsibility to do those things.” My husband was there, too. I knew my brother-in-law was directing that toward my husband. I was so angry, but my husband didn’t say anything. Later he just reminded me that they can say whatever they think is the best thing to do but will not know the struggle until they are actually walking in your shoes.
What is the relationship with your fellow nyabs in the family? Do you wish you could be more open with your fellow nyabs?
My relationship with my fellow nyabs in the family is very mutual. We’re neither close nor distant. Two of them live with the in-laws and another one is in a different state. I want to build a bond with them, become closer so we could be more open and work out issues together. I was really hoping we could support one another since we all married into the family. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The two who live in the same house don’t really call me up to do anything with them. Even when I’m around we just converse mutually. I don’t know if it’s because I live separately from them and don’t get that extra time to build the bond? I have tried to connect with them, but it didn’t seem to work, so I just keep the relationship mutual.
Yes, I really wish I could be more open with them. At the same time, I really wish they could be more open with me, too.
Describe what has been the biggest struggle for you?
My biggest struggle was to accept the fact that at the end of the day, no matter what I do, I am still the only option for my in-laws to love. I should have expected it. I was told that nobody will love me like my mom. The thing was, I was hopeful that maybe I will marry into a family that will welcome and love me.
Do you live with your in-laws? Would you move out? How would this affect your relationship with your in-laws?
No, I don’t live with them anymore. I think moving out helped the relationship.
What is your relationship like with your mother-in-law?
It started out fine, but sort of went downhill for some time. Now it’s slowly coming back up. Marrying her son, I opened my heart to love her. I don’t expect that she would love me like my own mother. At the same time, I didn’t expect that she would not want to love me because she thinks I was more fortunate than her other nyab. This really broke my heart. Not one time have I weighed what she had given me to what my mother had given me and entered into a dilemma of who I should love more.
I have lost my trust for my mother-in-law after hearing that. Not only were those words spoken, but it showed in her actions as well. She disrespected my family when they visited. She thinks my husband and I should pay more rent because she thinks we have better-paying jobs and have the master bedroom, even though there are other working adults in the house. Later, she even treated my children differently. An example would be, my children are her oldest sons’ children. Her other grandchildren are her grandchildren. Yet, she doesn’t even utter a word about her other daughter-in-law not working. One time she offered to butcher some chickens for my one-month post-partum diet. She brought them back from a 12-hour trip un-gutted and poorly cleaned. Not to say I paid for those chickens. She bought some for herself as well but cleaned hers. I didn’t mind that the chickens were not cleaned well, but she could’ve at least gutted them so they wouldn’t smell. Instead, the small chickens were in ice for 12 hours. The reason why this had upset me was that my mother-in-law is a super clean person and has a strong sense of smell. She cleans everything very thoroughly, and to be brought back some dirty chickens is quite an insult. I was angry, so I let the chickens sit in ice and was going to let her son do it. But my mom ended up dissecting them.
I trusted my mother-in-law once because earlier in my marriage she told me she wants to be friends with all her daughters-in-law. She wants that bond where we could trust and support each other as mother and daughter. I was so happy because I was ready to be her friend. I trusted her. After a few years of living on my own, I had time to heal and improved myself. And maybe she had time to re-evaluate herself as well. She treats my children and I much better now.
Does your husband stand up for you?
What is your husband's role in the family and how does that affect you?
He is the oldest, which pretty much makes him the man of the house since my father-in-law doesn’t do much. He’s the one who has the final say. I get to carry the pressure of the expectations they put on him as well.
How is your relationship with your brother and sister in laws?
Brother-in-laws = Great. A few of them, I know I could tell them something and trust that they will help me
Sister-in-laws = Mutual. We’re there for each other when needed.
How would you rate your relationship with your in-laws on a scale of 1-10? 10 being very good. Explain why.
5 – It’s really bad with a couple of them and great with the others. I think mostly it’s the loss of trust that I couldn’t open my heart to them anymore. Right now the relationship with everyone is very mutual. Which I think it’s better to leave it like this. Although, I hope that one day when we’re all older and more experienced that we could learn to open our hearts and accept each other again.
What do you love about being a nyab?
I have learned a lot about myself and my capabilities.
If you could go back and give your younger-self advice, what would you tell yourself, as far as being a nyab?
“You don’t have to make them like you. You just need to make them respect you.”
Knowing what you know now, would you marry at the same age, or wait until you're a little older? Why?
I would have waited until I was older. That way I would’ve had more courage, and be more open-minded to a lot of the things that had happened. I think I wouldn’t have been as bitter for as long as I was.
Part 2: 5 Reasons Why We Started the Nyab Series
Wow, I feel like I was reading about my own life. I’m glad to have read this, because I thought I was the only one who has been treated so poorly by my in laws. Since I am white as well, it stings a little more because I get judgment by a lot of extended family members as well. I tried to be a good hmong “nyab” in the beginning- I thought I was doing okay as by the example I was shown by my mother growing up, but I quickly learned that it was a big culture shock. The way my mother showed us love, and taught us how to be a good mom is in some ways different, other ways are the same; but because I don’t raise my mixed children the complete Hmong motherly way, I am looked down on as a bad Mom. Thank-you for sharing your story, and helping me to see that there are other nyabs who struggle with in laws and the same issues like me.
Reading these stories and then, reading the comments from everyone angers me. There is truly something wrong with how Hmong people treat and view their daughter in laws. I feel like with this series, the women married at a time when they weren’t able to stand on their own two feet, requiring them to live with the in-laws for some duration. Most of the readers disregard her entire experience based on that fact and just assume she’s whining and ungrateful. It’s frustrating. As a woman who married my Hmong husband in my mid 30’s, full career, and never lived with my in laws or received any help from them, the sad truth is that even the nyab(s) with my same background have similar issues, get treated with the same disregard, get expected to play these separate rules of being a “hmoob nyab”. And honestly, the rules of being a “hmoob nyab” requires you to be a doormat. There is something fundamentally wrong with the Hmong culture and way of thinking that allows this one way give-and-take relationship. I used to believe that each person had a responsibility over their own “nyab” experience, but now that I realized that most people will judge and assume, but no one really knows how bad it is until they become a nyab to a traditional/backwards thinking Hmong in-laws. A whole new set of issues arises from getting married as an older, more financially stable, and more self aware individual. There seems to be a need to deteriorate and minimize a nyab to become absolutely nothing but a dependent, begging, poor, baby machine and dishwasher. A week after I married my husband (dated 9 years), my mother in law pulled him aside to tell him that any woman who made more money than her husband will be a disrespectful wife. You’d think she’d be more grateful after I financially supported and put her son through college to get his career so he can pay her bills instead of our’s right? No. And if you spoke to anyone else about these things, the community tells the nyab to “ua siab ntev” instead of correcting the bad behavior because we (the nyab) married into his family but not them to us. Like I said. There is something fundamentally wrong with the Hmong culture and it’s way of thinking and until we can acknowledge that there really is a problem, we wont be able to start fixing it.