The Nyab Series: Marriage in Your 30's
1. How old were you when you got married? 22
2. How long have you been married? 8 years
3. How did you meet your husband? Were you in love? We were acquaintances in high school and became friends later into our last couple of years. After high school, we started dating and fell for each other pretty hard. We were definitely young and quite in love.
4. Did you know your in-laws prior to meeting them? Did you get along with them? No, I didn’t know them before I actually met them in person. I only knew what my husband told me about them. I got along with them for the little time that I spent with them. I didn’t spend much time with them before getting married; just quick meetings here and there.
5. What are the expectations that you had prior to becoming a nyab? What did your parents teach you about being a nyab? My expectations were like most Hmong girls’ expectations I guess, you pretty much slave for your husband and his family going forward. My parents were strict and my mother had never directly said what to do when you become a nyab, but it was implied. This was part of learning to read between the lines. You bite your tongue and do as they say in order to not shame your parents’ names. You must get up at the break of dawn to start your day for your in-laws and don’t rest until they are satisfied, which is hardly ever heard of.
6. Was it what you expected? Why or why not? It was not completely what I expected. I didn’t expect to have such a good relationship with them; I give credit to my in-laws, who are very understanding. I’m very fortunate that I’m not miserable in my marriage because they love me like their own. I know my role; I put my husband first as they would expect, I try my best to be the one to help cook and clean. I can’t say I know how to cook traditional Hmong meals, but I make an effort and they see it. I do what I can.
7. What are the pros & cons of being a nyab? Explain. I love the fact that as uneducated as I am about the Hmong culture, I can always go to them with questions and they will happily explain it to me. I like that my in-laws treat me like family and not just another outsider. I like that we see eye to eye on most things; I can’t say I’m very traditional or that they are more modern than most, but they try their best to be open-minded about the newer generations. What I don’t like about being a nyab is that there’s an enormous amount of pressure put on the women to do most things, whereas, in our more modern times, a married couple is expected to equally be held responsible. Another thing I don’t like, but it’s probably more of a habitual thing, is the utter difference between the family rules and upbringing. Our families were brought up differently and sometimes their way of thinking is quite different from yours if that makes any sense.
8. Did you marry the youngest son or oldest son? What is that experience like? My husband happens to be the middle son of the siblings. I may not carry the role of the oldest or youngest nyab, but I was the first nyab in the family. It was hard, in the way that there was no other nyab to rely on and learn from. But over the years, I’m grateful that I’ve seen the family grow the way I did. It feels good to know that although I’m technically an outsider to the family I have a great relationship with my husband’s siblings over time.
9. What is the relationship with your fellow nyabs in the family? Do you wish you could be more open with your fellow nyabs? I get along just fine with the other nyabs in the family and vice versa. I do see that we are all different in our own ways, but for the most part, we understand and value family, especially now when we are starting families of our own. I have always envied those families where the nyabs are close and almost like BBFs, but I understand everyone is different. I agree with some nyabs about particular things and some with another.
10. Describe what has been the biggest struggle for you? I think the biggest struggle for me as a nyab, aside from the fact that I can barely keep a conversation in (strictly) Hmong, is that I don’t know enough about being a nyab to this family and how/what they want from me. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m very fortunate my in-laws are not very quick to scold me; actually, I don’t know that they’ve ever done so. I’m always available to help in any way I can, but she’s lenient on us, which I think is a good and bad thing. It’s good because we don’t have to feel like such failures as the horror stories I’ve heard of growing up. It’s bad in the way that we as nyabs will not know what to do and don't know how to lead in the time of need. Sometimes I’d wish that my mother in law would sit me down and tell me exactly how to do things and make me learn it so I can be more useful in the future. She can teach me once or twice, but since we don’t live with them, I don’t do it enough to remember and perfect it.
11. Do you live with your in-laws? Would you move out? How would this affect your relationship with your in-laws? We don’t live with them; never have. My husband is the best; he’s the most understanding person I know. I’ve told him from the beginning, “Don’t get me wrong, I love your family, but I can’t live with them.” We moved out together, which I understand does not “look good” in the Hmong culture, but we married less than a year later. I’ve always been the type to stay independent and pull my own weight, and he was with me on this. Luckily when my husband shared the news to his parents, they were surprisingly very supportive. My father in law is a smart and honorable man, he told my husband that for two housewives to live together under the same roof would cause friction within the household. It made total sense because we’re all raised differently, we’re creatures of habit, and not everyone shares the same habits nor house rules. That’s when I felt better about marrying into this family. – Now if you turned the question around, if I’d move in? I’d definitely try my best not to, not only because of my pride and feeling of independence but also because I know how particular I can be. Luckily my husband and I have agreed to and secured ourselves so that it wouldn’t happen. If we moved in, I’d probably be miserable; I know I’m not an easy person to live with, I have certain pet peeves that I would have difficulty over-looking, I’m lazy, I have a resting-bitch-face (RBF) that can only hide so much, etc.
12. What is your relationship like with your mother-in-law? My mother in law is sweet, thoughtful and positive. She has never made me feel like I wasn’t good enough for her son, whom I secretly think she favors because he doesn’t hide his love for her. We have a great relationship, for the most part, we have similar views. I’ve always told my friends that if I had to pick out a flaw about her, it’s that she loves her children too much because she does everything for them. I’ve heard from other female relatives that she is very hard working/efficient. She does everything with her love and I love her for that.
14. Does your husband stand up for you? My husband most definitely stands up for me, but only if he knows I’m in the right. If he sees that I’m in the wrong, he has no problem telling me like how it is; and I’m glad he does. I’m not kidding when I say this, but I have THE best husband ever; I can go on and on about him, but let’s not. He is fair and wise as his father. He is patient and listens like his mother. We both value our Hmong culture, although we don’t agree with all of it; what’s most important is that we see eye to eye about what we agree and don’t agree with about the traditions. I think this is something very important that has kept us together on the same team.
15. What is your husband's role in the family and how does that affect you? My husband is the go-to guy for anything that has to do with cars; whether it’s something as small as an oil change to something like purchasing another vehicle, he is summoned for it all. He also wears the handy-man hat for most of the things for their house; he hardly knows how to do any of it, but relies on Google and YouTube. They rely on him for multiple things that they may not be able to understand such as car/home insurance incidents, etc. He’s not the only one, I feel each sibling have their own strengths and knowledge that my in-laws can rely on. These responsibilities take my husband away from myself and our growing little family, but I understand it is his duty as a son. I refuse to make it a point to pull him away from his family, of all things, his parents, because I want more time with him; I refuse to be “that wife”. As I said, he is fair, so if there is something that more pressing, which hardly happens, he will let them know he’s unavailable. I believe that because we have the same values on certain traditions we can come to terms with most things and find common ground.
16. How is your relationship with your brother and sister in laws? I love my relationships with my brothers and sister in laws. It’s fantastic that they are easy to get along with and keep an open mind. Being the first nyab and being in the family, and for so long, I like to think we have a good relationship. Yes, there are things that I may not agree with, but I know my role and my standing in the family. Despite our small differences, we still have a love for one another.
17. How would you rate your relationship with your in-laws on a scale of 1-10? 10 being very good. Explain why. I think I’d have to rate our relationship about a 7 or 8. Overall, we get along well and can agree on most things. I grew up learning of the Hmong ways and I’ve learned to keep an open mind when it comes to people’s differences; I think this has definitely helped us get along and see things in a similar view. I also think it’s also due to their kindness and understanding that we have such a good relationship; they’re not the kinds to push a matter in their favor just because they’re the parents. I’m very fortunate.
18. What kind of advice would you give to a younger nyab? I’d advise that she take into consideration the saying that when you marry a Hmong man, you’re not just marrying him; that you’re also marrying into his family and that definitely plays a role in the marriage itself. Couples in love forget to take into consideration where their lives would be in 5-10 years, with or without their parents. It’s when you marry and officially become an “OG”, that you start to understand the ways of our culture. Not all of it may sound appealing or right, but take what you can and continue to pass it on as with each generation, we’re losing more and more of our culture. Also to be open-minded about her in-laws; each family grew up differently and have their own ways of seeing things, accept what they go by, not necessarily erasing who she is. Communication is the key! If you don’t know; ask, learn, repeat. She doesn’t have to please everyone, but do what’s right; she must not overstep her boundaries but know when to choose her battles and bite her tongue as well. And most importantly, play your role right. Everywhere we go, we each have a role; at work, at home, at school, with kids, with friends, etc. For example, and this will vary, but if your man is in charge of cooking and you’re in charge of cleaning at your home, so be it. BUT when at your in-laws’ house, if your man is to stay out of the kitchen, let it be, play your role. I think this is why it’s harder for the nyabs who stay with their in-laws; they’re always expected to play the nyab role day in and day out. If you can, move out to get your own space, every nyab can appreciate their own privacy.
19. What do you love about being a nyab? What I personally love about being a nyab is that I have such a loving family that I can build my future with. Especially now with kids in the picture, it’s all worth it. Every family has their own flaws and issues, but I wouldn’t change mine for anything else. I love the family-oriented in-laws I’ve landed because that’s something we all value.
20. If you could go back and give your younger self advice, what would you tell yourself, as far as being a nyab? I’d go back and tell myself to take the initiative to learn what they like and actually get it down. I’m horrible, I still don’t know how to cook some of the simplest meals. I don’t steam rice (I use the rice cooker), I don’t make boiled chicken, and basically all other Hmong dishes. Sure, I help, but it would be a disaster if I was to make a meal from start to finish all on my own.
21. Knowing what you know now, would you marry at the same age, or wait until you're a little older? Why? Knowing what I know now; yes, I’d do it all over again without regretting anything – in a heartbeat. I love what I have and I wouldn’t change it at all because I love it, and I’m very content with where we are now.