What I am struggling with is living with a strong young Hmong woman who is very different from me, my nyab. My youngest brother and nyab married two years ago when he was 16 and she was 14. They were very young- everyone opposed their marriage but the men in both families agreed and proceeded with the wedding anyways. They started out like any young couple, very loving and attached to each other but eventually faced the reality of a marriage life. I immediately saw the changes in both their personality and marriage. Through their struggles, I gave emotional and mental support to my nyab. I did not have a relationship with her prior to their marriage so I'm getting to know her through all this. My brother, on the other hand, was an introvert and he distant himself from the family every time they come across a dip in their marriage therefore we just gave him his space.
My first impression of my nyab, she was very mature for her age. For a while I thought she was my brother's age when they married and found out later that she was much younger. Her looks and the persona she carried was very pleasing to my parents because she came from a modern yet traditional family. It all quickly changed, literally overnight, after a huge argument they had that almost led to a divorce. After my brother stormed off, my nyab said she wants a divorce and started packing her belongings. My dad and grandpa (both who agreed to the marriage and carried it out) told her she was too impatient and that a girl who wants to divorce her husband is shameful- she is a bad daughter for not thinking about her father's face. For the first time, she cried out and talked back asking them what they want her to do, she is tire of this marriage already. My grandpa continued with his lecture in front of the whole family as everyone stayed silent.
Seeing her in pain, I walked up to her and calmed her down. For the first time ever, I hugged her and told her not to leave yet and wait for my brother to return and they can talk this out. She cried even harder when I put my hand over her head and comfort her. After this incident, my dad and grandpa suddenly changed their attitude towards my brother and nyab. In addition, the dynamic in their relationship has changed. My nyab "wear the pants" in their marriage now and stays in their room more. She talks back to the elders and I've heard her complain about the family more. I realized they both bought a mini fridge for their room and rarely join the family for dinner. It has gotten to the point where I feel like they have distant themselves from our family.
My mom is a very strong supporter for them. She is not always around when these incidents happens but she always give advices and offer her support to my nyab. My mother and I realize early on that she is very young, indeed, and may not know how to navigate through the different identities she has. Though I was raised in a traditional Hmong household, my mother is a strong Hmong woman and through her love and guidance I've learned to be the woman I am today. I'm outspoken and independent, however, at the same time I know the cultural structure enough to compromise myself with it. We've given so much support for my nyab so she can feel empowered and have autonomy but it all seems to backfire.
As a feminist and Hmong woman, I understand that we all don't have the same views but we should support one another. My nyab is a high achiever, strong-minded, smart and bright young woman. However, the other day she commented that she is "sick and tire of my mom" with no particular reason. It hurts me because (1) it's my mom (2) my mom is one of the few smart and strong Hmong woman I know out there and (3) my mom is the sole supporter for their marriage. It breaks me that my nyab doesn't see it and does not appreciate all that my mother does for them.
I started to take note of these changes, I'm not simply picking on her but these small things have made a big impact on my family that I cannot ignore. I tried to understand and address this as best as I could. First, I thought about what we can do as a family- we don't have the best family dynamic but we all do make an effort to check-in with each other everyday. Secondly, I know she is young and is currently in high school- her friends and environment can influence her personality and character but that does not mean that she can behave as such towards her family (us). Third, we're all not perfect, I can understand when she's mad or agitated by someone for something but constant "smack talking" about someone is something I cannot and will not tolerate. I do not wish to change her, turn her into a feminist or anything, I just want her to understand that she is apart of the family now and you don't treat family members that way. I don't know if she realizes that it hurts me when she talks to me about my brother, dad or mom.
I've been thinking a lot and now I'm starting to ask, am I being too harsh for holding her against the standards of being a Hmong daughter-in-law while being a feminist myself? Is there a bigger picture I'm missing out on? Am I too emotionally invested?