Thai Proverbs,Thai Chat And A Chat Across Cultures:The Mother-In-Law

I am moving the newsletter ”Lashings Of Green Tea With Bide And Friends”  to the end of each month to make room for another idea.

Thai proverbs and Thai chat are where we start off with a proverb get a take on it and then knock it around in the form of a chat across cultures. To start with the proverb might not always be  Thai, but we will certainly have some very good Thai proverbs and non Thai proverbs throughout the posts. As you would have guessed Thailand will be the main focus of the subject, but we will also bring in to the field of play, other cultures as well, eastern and western.

We start the first post with a cultural  look at ” The Mother-In-Law and the sort of problems that might have arisen in the old day’s of being married, but living with the in-laws. In part two of this post we find out if and how things have changed across cultures in today’s world.

It all begins with an old Chinese proverb.


In China they have a proverb that says

” When a house is small, the wife and mother-in-law will argue”      Zhuang Zi, Warring States Period

The Chinese Mother – In – Law / Daughter In Law Relationship

The history of the wife and mother – in – law in China is well documented and a certain dread existed for a wife marrying in to a new family. It’ was a  bit of a  power and status battle where the mother-in-law sits a lot higher up than the wife.

It was said that the sons were the cream of the crop, the chosen one’s to look after their parents in old age and not the daughter. The daughters were ushered off to a new life and a new family that saw them having to serve the in-laws first and the husband second out of duty. The wife would have been very much near the bottom of the ladder in terms of status.

It was also said that the Chinese mother-in-law could be a bit of a difficult woman to please and very demanding. The point was that the mother-in-law would have once gone through this herself and had now worked her way up to the top of the power and status ladder.

Trevor: Well times do change of course and along with those changes a lot of the old ways, beliefs and traditions fade out. I wanted to gauge an eastern and western view of the Mother-in-law and of course a lot of my attention was centered in Thailand. It all started with a proverb as it usually does so this is not a personal grudge against the Mother-in-law more a look at customs, traditions, people and behaviour across cultures.

Trevor: So I asked a few people about the relationship between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law across cultures. Would it have been as demanding and intense in Thailand for instance?

Keown: (Thai National from the North-East of Thailand, but lives in England said)

In my experience, cases of the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law getting on together in Thailand were few and far between as they mostly argued. The Mother-in-law would use her power and influence inside of the family to maintain control.

I am lucky as in England now my in-laws are great and I get on really well with them. However my sister had a hell of a life with her in-laws in Thailand, she was like a slave to the house, washing and cleaning for the lot of them. Thank God I did not have those in-laws.

However it would be nothing compared to the Chinese Mother-in-law who was far worse and took control of everything. The daughter-in-law in a Chinese house would not have been able to do anything at all.

Kasinee Silapee (nickname Kade), Bangkok, Thailand: 

Actually, the conflict between the Mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law in Thailand is quite similar to the Chinese example,but certainly not all. Some of  the daughter-in-laws are lucky to be loved by their mother-in-laws.

For the most part and at first it will be the daughter in law that is the person who does her best to stay quiet and patient. However if she receives constant pressure and problems from the mother in law she is highly unlikely to take it forever. This problem could certainly flare up in some families.

In England: The Mother-In-Law Arrives

Trevor: In the UK to get news that the mother-in-law might be moving in for a couple of months would cause men to move to the pub if it was her mother and the wife to issue an ultimatum of either she goes or I do if it were his mother. In fact comedians in the UK, have made a good living out of mother-in-law jokes over the years.

My Mother: South-West England

 Meanwhile in England in 1961 my mother and father had just got married and were living with my father’s parents. My father was a builder like his father and he was building a bungalow for himself and my mother to live in. Married life for my mother began by living with the in-laws. My mother said that she did not see her mother-in-law a lot as during the day my mother worked, by night she helped out on the small holding and any spare time was spent in helping build the bungalow. A full day then.

However any spare time spent alone with my father usually had my grandmother sat in between them on the sofa and they were already married. My mother said that the mother-in-law was not that bad, but very victorian. The only time she left them together was to go in to the kitchen and make a cup of tea and even then she would prop the sitting room door open so that she could see what was going on. My mother said she moved in with the in-laws in October 1961 and moved to the newly built bungalow Christmas Eve 1962. Even then the bungalow was just down the other end of the drive from my Grandparents, but far enough away to be out of sight, thankfully she said.

Trevor: So what about in Indonesia?

Siu Fen, Bandung, Indonesia 

Link to the Photography of Siu Fen

After marriage, a woman will live with her husband. Some times they will live with the husband’s family and that would mean the daughter in law will stay with her mother in law. It is then more often than not that the mother will want her son to respect her more than his wife.

That is why in these days, many indonesian woman (especially chinese descendants in Indonesia), want to have their own house when they get married and not live with the mother-in-law

Here is another angle for you Trevor, Sudanese people who stay in West Java province in Java island have a different culture. When a woman gets married with a man, the man will stay with the woman’s family. That’s the difference between Chinese and Sudanese culture.

Marriage is between a man and a woman, so it would be much better if the mother-in-law respects the marriage. The mother must know and understand that her son is a man and he has a responsibility to take care of his wife and that is my opinion.

Trevor: Surely no interfering mother-in-laws in the beautiful province of Ontario, Canada?

Judy, Ontario, Canada:

Carrying on from the Chinese proverb that introduced this post Judy said ”Trevor, it has always been my impression that there is not a kitchen big enough to hold two women”.

Trevor: I thought that was a humorous but a very true point Judy.

Judy, Ontario, Canada

My friend is older than I, and said she had some experience living with her husband’s parents for a couple of winters. She told me that it was not a good time at all, since her mother in law made her fully aware that it was her home and her KITCHEN. MY friend also said that her father in law also seemed possessive about his son and tried to interfere with his son and wife, spending time together. For instance he would ask his son to stay up or go out to visit with him when his son and wife decided to retire for the night.

She also told me that back in the 1930’s, her mother and father in law moved in with his parents for a while. Her mother in law told her that is was a very bad experience, she was put upon to do most of the housework. It apparently was not a positive experience at all.

Nowadays it is most uncommon to hear of a son bringing his wife to live with the parents. I think it would indicate that there must be severe financial problems. But now the welfare programmes that are in place would probably prevent such a move from happening. I , personally have not heard of any married couples who live with their parents, and usually young people are all too willing to leave home.

Trevor: So If There Were Problems In A Mother-in-law / Daughter-in-law Relationship In Thailand. How Would They Be Overcome?

Back To Thailand

 Kade: Bangkok, Thailand:

Here is good insight in to some words of Thai wisdom regarding perseverance and care in a rocky relationship, but also showing evidence of Mother-in-law / Daughter-in-law conflicts over time perhaps.

พูดไปก็สองไผ่เบี้ย นิ่งเฉยเสียได้ตำลึงทอง
It is useless to argue, keep your mouth shut, you will get more than lost.

บัวอย่าให้ช้ำ น้ำอย่าให้ขุ่น
When saying or speaking anything, try to not hurt the feelings of others, keep your bad words inside.

อยู่บ้านท่านอย่าดูดาย ปั้นวััวปั้นควายให้ลุกท่านเล่น
When you come to be a daughter-in-law of your husband’s family, don’t be lazy, try to do any kind of house work or other work to support them.

ลูกสะใภ้กับแม่ผัวเหมือนฟืนกับท่อนไม้ มักกระทบกันเสมอ
Daughter in law and mother in law can be compared with the log and the stick, usually crashing against each other all the time.

Finishing off part one with a few other mother-in-law quotes and it looks like the Japanese might have lived with the mother-in-law at time as well.

”Never rely on the glory of the morning nor the smiles of your mother-in-law”  Japanese Proverb

”Just got back from a pleasure trip. I took my mother-in-law to the airport”  Henry Youngman

” Be kind to your mother-in-law, but pay for her board at some good hotel”  Josh Billings

” The mother-in-law frequently forgets that she was a daughter-in-law

See Part Two right here

Please Note:

I am shortly going to be making a Thai Proverbs section on the website below that will have all translations of proverbs in order for you to recite. I will update this page with the specific information soon.

Engaging Thailand Website

For more information, articles and stories about Thailand travel, food and all things Thai related, please visit the website

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by Robert Cooper

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you have welcomed a new country with open arms, you
start to wonder if your new environment has welcomed
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6 thoughts on “Thai Proverbs,Thai Chat And A Chat Across Cultures:The Mother-In-Law

  1. Great reading Trevor………… I think it makes some very interesting points, guess the ” Mother in Law” syndrome is the same the world over……..LOL

  2. Thanks Stevie,
    It all started with a proverb and I certainly didn’t mean to give the poor mother-in-law a further bashing, but it does seem universal. It’s probably more about territory, personal space and the need for the highest recognition and status that does it. Do you know Stevie this starts with a proverb and a bit of a plan and then it goes where anyone takes it to, fun though. Thanks Stevie.

  3. One thing I don’t understand that alot of Women,behave like their Mother-in Law to their kids!!after what they went through it them sleves!with they own Son as far as the Son’s Wife or GF concerned.Wouldn’t it make you want to be better with your own Son innit,whos ever that going to comes in to his life as a Wife or GF..the last thing he want to feels is in between his own Mum&Wife or GF!! I kept reminded me selves never wants to be a typical or nonsense Mother- in Law to me Son..put your self in their shoes,let see how its feels eh..

  4. Thanks Keown, I am going to have to go and read more Jung or Lao Tze (Tao) to figure all this out Keown. My hunch would be perhaps it’s human nature and that old green-eyed monster of jealousy that kicks in. Being number one for so long then suddenly demoted to number two might be hard to take. It’s a good question Keown and your son is lucky he has a great mum.

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