It’s not unusual for a Japanese woman to have a difficult relationship with her mother-in-law, particularly when filial duty forces her to live with her husband’s parents in their home. It is far less common for the relationship between a man and his mother-in-law to sour, so I was surprised when I overheard Nobuko saying that she couldn't stand her son-in-law.
Why not? I ask.
Because he comes over to my house too often.
That's great, I say. He likes to spend time with you. You should consider yourself lucky.
No, she protests. I don't like it when he comes over.
Because I have to cook for him.
Have to? No one is pointing a gun at your head and forcing you to cook. You don't have to cook for him.
But, I do have to cook for him; that's why he always comes over! My daughter told me he loves my cooking, so every time he comes over I end up spending the entire day in the kitchen.
Why don’t you just get your daughter to help?
That good-for-nothing daughter of mine doesn’t lift a finger. No, she just loafs in front of the TV the whole day.
Well, with you buzzing around the kitchen like a worker bee, why would she? Anyways, how can you be so sure that your son-in-law actually likes your cooking?
Because my daughter told me so.
Nobuko, has it ever occurred to you that your son-in-law may not like your cooking all that much? The two of them may have figured that, judging by the way you scramble around the kitchen preparing meals, you must live to cook. They probably don't have the heart to hurt your feelings.
You never know, Nobuko. It seems like everyone in your family is trying hard not to hurt each other's feelings, trying in their misguided ways to make each other happy, but all you’re doing is getting under each other’s skin. You resent your son-in-law because you think he wants to eat your food. He never asked you to cook for him, certainly not every Sunday. No, you did that out of your own free will. If you had been honest with yourself, your daughter, and your son-in-law, and refrained from cooking so much, you would all be a lot happier today. Life's too short to try to make other people happy at the expense of your own happiness. If you don't feel like doing something, then by all means don't do it.
I have no choice, she surrenders.
Because I’m Japanese.