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Russian MIL visiting

post #1 of 91
Thread Starter 
Help! My Russian MIL is coming to visit in feb for three months and I'm kind of scared.
Have no idea what to expect.
can anyone help me brace myself for the storm?
Thanks!
post #2 of 91
Well, I'm from Poland, which is obviously very close to Russia. Moreover a lot of our customs are the same. I'm not sure what you would like information on, though. In Europe, we take off our shoes in the house and wear slippers. We eat the biggest meal in the middle of the day. It's also the warm meal. Breakfast and the evening meal are usually cold, though not always. That's about the only difference I can think of, lol. But, then, maybe because I'm from Poland, I'm not seeing all the differences.
post #3 of 91
I live in Russia and have experienced the following cultural differences:
Russians hate anything cold. They don't approve of feeding your child cold yoghurt, water, milk....
Because of this fear they over-bundle their children and will shout at strangers in the street if they think your child is under-dressed. KIds at the playground were in snowsuits in September with temps in the 60s.
They adore children. Really dote on them. Alot of grandparents seem to look after the children if the Moms work and they're always at the parks walking babies. They strongely believe that children should be out for walks everyday from birth to get fresh air.
I think smiling is seen as a weakness though and they seem brusque on the outside.
You are family though and I'm sure your MIL will be so happy to be with you. Just be prepared for the fact that she may find your 'ways' strange!
Good Luck!
post #4 of 91
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by welsh View Post
I live in Russia and have experienced the following cultural differences:
Russians hate anything cold. They don't approve of feeding your child cold yoghurt, water, milk....
Because of this fear they over-bundle their children and will shout at strangers in the street if they think your child is under-dressed. KIds at the playground were in snowsuits in September with temps in the 60s.
They adore children. Really dote on them. Alot of grandparents seem to look after the children if the Moms work and they're always at the parks walking babies. They strongely believe that children should be out for walks everyday from birth to get fresh air.
I think smiling is seen as a weakness though and they seem brusque on the outside.
You are family though and I'm sure your MIL will be so happy to be with you. Just be prepared for the fact that she may find your 'ways' strange!
Good Luck!
What about crying and babies? I don't let my baby cry at all. Will I be looked upon like some kind of a freak for coddling my baby?
post #5 of 91
I would say (1) remember that anything she requests is temporary because this is a visit and (2) try to remember that if she seems tense, it could be culture shock and insecurity as much as anything, so try to be as accommodating as possible.

-Most Russians do not let babies cry. However-
-They do feed children a lot of sweets.
-They let small children (toddlers) drink tea with sugar.
-They swaddle. If baby does not cry, let her swaddle baby if she wants. If baby does cry, explain that this is from your side of the family, but that baby will be fine.
-If, God forbid, baby should sneeze or cough during the visit, and she wants to medicate baby, this could be quite worrying because she will probably really want to help (as the grandmother, naturally! who can blame her) but also may have different ideas about what is appropriate. Make sure she understands that here, we never give baby anything
without the doctor's express consent. Yes you may end up calling the doctor for stupid things but it's better than arguing with MIL about whether baby needs to have some bizarre Slavic home remedy inflicted on her for clearing her throat.

I don't think they over-bundle their children. I have never heard of a Russian child dying of heat stroke in September. I would say that many Russians have a slightly more old-fashioned take on dress (keep your hat on) but this is from a people that have kids walking to school in -30 C as well. If she wants you to put a light cotton hat on your baby, do it. Really, it is not going to hurt the baby. Same with socks. If she really goes to far, tell her, "In this climate, the cool doesn't affect the baby in the same way- it is a light, dry breeze." Emphasize the different climate. When I was in Russia, they kept telling us, "Yes, it was this cold in America but this is a different climate." So I believe the "climate" argument should hold some weight. If she personally feels chilly, tell her her body is still adjusting to the climate, baby is adjusted, thank you, but offer MIL a sweater.

Russians wear "house clothes" indoors, which saves a lot of washing. You may be expected to provide slippers, but otherwise do not be surprised if your MIL appears to wear pyjamas all day. They are not technically pyjamas, they are house clothes.

Remember that as a grandmother, she has been dying to see this baby and you get to see the baby every day. Yes you are the mom, but in Russia, babushki hold a special place in the child's heart. Let her have her time. If you miss the baby, tell her so, but try to remember that she may want to just soak up every bit of grandbaby she has in a limited amount of time, and respect that. She will be so far away when she is back in Russia and she won't have her own son there, either. Try to understand that if she seems posessive of baby. It is because it is for so little time.

"I think smiling is seen as a weakness though and they seem brusque on the outside."

No. It is not a weakness, they just don't go around smiling for no reason. I think they are more thoughtful and introspective in temperament and enjoy introspection and a little moroseness now and then. They do not express happiness through smiling or friendship through words. It is something deeper than that. They like it when we smile at them, provided they have reason to believe it is genuine. At least, people who are not arrogant teenagers generally do.

I found that Russians usually have soup for dinner, not a cold dish! Though, breakfast is sometimes cold.

Ask your MIL to prepare and teach you as many dishes as possible. She will feel needed and appreciated. Even if you don't plan to make it again, who will it hurt and it will give her such joy to think that her son could get these dishes in the U.S.

Your MIL might expect you to be as coy as Russian women are to their husbands. She might find you very demanding and forward, as a woman. Tell her it is your culture but if she wants to give you tips, she is welcome. Again, remember that this is a visit so if she spends two weeks being happy by "fixing" her daughter in law, it's her vacation, not yours, it will be over soon. Smile and relax- she is just doing what she can.

Russians love to take walks unless they are ill.

Russians believe bananas make you happy (this is actually somewhat scientific). If MIL seems sad, buy bananas for her to show her you care about her well-being.

When a Russian feels neglected, sad, lonely, stressed or whatever, he or she may develop a psychosomatic illness like the flu, and expect to be pampered. Blood pressure is also something that can suffer. If your MIL seems sad, offer vitamins as a precaution. If you personally take a certain brand, and can afford the same brand for her, try to help her feel cared for by offering a similar vitamin and sending some home with her. Maybe this could prevent a cold or flu if she does start to feel homesick or lonely.

Russians like to have long chats over tea, talking about their problems. Even if you don't speak Russian, invite her to chat or teach you Russian over tea while you breastfeed or whatever.

My MIL is not Russian but I lived with a Russian babushka and I fell in love. They are very opinionated and demanding but they have earned it. You just have to kind of enjoy being the child for awhile and go with it. Of course you have your limits and it's your house but the more you can let babushkaness flood your home the more you will enjoy it. They might look cold and brusque but that is just the outside that holds in so much love.

Good luck! Where is MIL from, by the way, and what does she do for a living?
post #6 of 91
[QUOTE=EdnaMarie;13056750]
I don't think they over-bundle their children.
Here in Moscow they do. One of the best known Pediatricians in the city (who is Russian) is quite outspoken on the topic.

I would say that many Russians have a slightly more old-fashioned take on dress (keep your hat on) but this is from a people that have kids walking to school in -30 C as well. If she wants you to put a light cotton hat on your baby, do it. Really, it is not going to hurt the baby.
Of course. It is understandable that they fear the cold. It can be deadly here.

"I think smiling is seen as a weakness though and they seem brusque on the outside."

'No. It is not a weakness, they just don't go around smiling for no reason. I think they are more thoughtful and introspective in temperament and enjoy introspection and a little moroseness now and then. '


Interesting perspective. When I lived in the US, I found the whole 'have a nice day' culture unnerving at the beginning as it felt fake to me, being from Europe. However, here, no-one in a store has ever smiled at me even when I smile (genuinely) and am attempting to speak Russian. Equally Moms at the playground smile at DS but me, never.
Obviously though Anna's lovey, you and your family will get lots of smiles and love because she'll be delighted to be with you all. I would not expect your MIL to want to let the baby cry, just the opposite!
post #7 of 91
Culture is one thing, personality another. She may be the sweetest thing on earth.. or not.

I think the big thing is that this is not just about her culture, but equally about yours. (Well, actually, more about yours, as it is your home.) So, bend in all the little things (three months can be a looong time) but don't give an inch in matters that are big to you. YOU are the mother of the baby and make the decisions (including about when grandma gets to hold your child). Now is a good time to establish that so it won't become a struggle for years and years.

I know a Russian woman who must be about the same age as your MIL. She used to be a nurse in Russia and is a big believer in giving water to babies, even newborns. So... whatever may come your way... Be prepared to smile and thank her for the comments but tell her you listen to your pediatrician or something.

Good luck!
post #8 of 91
Well, my MIL is Ukrainian, but from Eastern Ukraine, so culturally similar to Russian. Don't get me wrong, I love the woman to death. She is probably the kindest, most generous, most thoughtful and loving person I have ever met. Seriously. However.....She has very set ideas about things. Overbundling has been mentioned. DEFINITELY true in her case. And God help me if I forget the close the window and there is--gasp--a draft. Drafts are apparently deadly, even in 70 degree weather. You know, I can't even think of specific things right now--maybe something will come to me later, but OVERBEARING is the word I would use. I will say her overbearingness comes from love--she really wants what it best. She just has kooky (in my opinion) ideas about what is best, and will not listen to differences in opinion. She kinda stresses me out at times.
post #9 of 91
Quote:
'No. It is not a weakness, they just don't go around smiling for no reason. '
ITA. They just think that people who smile for no reason are either insincere or mentally deficient. Americans smiling all the time ticks my dh off to no end. That and the insincerity of "How are you?" "I'm fine" when it is very clear that person is not fine at all.
post #10 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by EVC View Post
ITA. They just think that people who smile for no reason are either insincere or mentally deficient. Americans smiling all the time ticks my dh off to no end. That and the insincerity of "How are you?" "I'm fine" when it is very clear that person is not fine at all.
I think a lot of Europeans feel this way. Especially about the "how are you?" When it's clear that the person asking doesn't really give a s***. It is seen as false and insencere. Smiling and being interested in other peoples wellbeing is nice. But only if you really care. Otherwise it's seen as superficial and even rude. Don't ask if you don't want to know the answer.
post #11 of 91
Quote:
I forget the close the window and there is--gasp--a draft. Drafts are apparently deadly, even in 70 degree weather.
This is where the climate explanation comes in really handy. Aren't you in SoCal? Tell her it's how all those South American Indians manage to walk around half naked all day and stay so healthy. Seriously.

Quote:
They just think that people who smile for no reason are either insincere or mentally deficient.
I think at the heart of it this is one reason I love Russia so much.

FWIW, I was reflecting on this and ultimately, I think it is just that Russians smile to express joy, whereas we do it to express general well-being, as in, "The meds are working." When Russians just don't cry, we smile. When they smile, we say, "woohoo!" But when asked to integrate into a Western work environment, they adjust very quickly. It's not like it's something they hold on to.
post #12 of 91
Quote:
This is where the climate explanation comes in really handy. Aren't you in SoCal?
More northern cal (SF area). But actually she hasn't visited us in the US yet and I doubt she ever will (she probably wouldn't be able to get a visa and even if she did, her health isn't so great at this point--you know, the davleniye and all--so the trip would be too hard on her). Travel, therefore, falls on us. And we keep putting it off for various reasons (lack of time, lack of money), so it's actually been about three years since we've seen her--the last time we saw her dd was still pretty much a newborn, and that was in the Caucasus.....
post #13 of 91
Quote:
I think it is just that Russians smile to express joy, whereas we do it to express general well-being, as in, "The meds are working." When Russians just don't cry, we smile.
Yes, and even more than that I think. We also smile when we are embarrased, feel awkward, feel shy, feel angry but are trying to control it and, well, when we feel a whole range of emotions that have nothing to do with feeling happy. Russians I guess tend to disentangle their emotions more--they smile when they are happy, yell or frown when they are mad, cry or sulk when they are sad, look nervous when they feel awkward, etc. Thinking of it now, I think that might be part of the myth of the "Russian soul"--more vivid and accurate expression of emotion, whereas our emotions sometimes appear "watered down" because we smile and say we are fine.
post #14 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by EVC View Post
Overbundling has been mentioned. DEFINITELY true in her case. And God help me if I forget the close the window and there is--gasp--a draft. Drafts are apparently deadly, even in 70 degree weather.
I had to laugh about this comment... I am in Serbia and the same thing is SO true here. Drafts will *always* give you a cold, which is very dangerous . Oh, and the same thing goes for bare feet as well. They even have a single word for "bare feet" in Serbian! One woman told me that my ovaries would freeze if I wouldn't wear sock indoors.
post #15 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by AstridS View Post
I think a lot of Europeans feel this way. Especially about the "how are you?" When it's clear that the person asking doesn't really give a s***. It is seen as false and insencere. Smiling and being interested in other peoples wellbeing is nice. But only if you really care. Otherwise it's seen as superficial and even rude. Don't ask if you don't want to know the answer.
"How are you" is a conventional politeness which doesn't mean "how do you feel" any more than "good-bye" means "God be with you" from an atheist. It's just rude if you don't say it. Speakers of French and Italian don't really care if the cashier they've never met has an especially good day, but they still use "bonjour"/ "buon giorno" to say hello to him/ her because it's rude not to. Culture shock is alleviated when conventional politenesses are not taken literally.
post #16 of 91
Well, I'm from Ukraine, so I can give you some pointers.

Very true about the draft, my mom will not fail to mention it every time.

Your mil will definitely want to cook, A LOT. Especially, since it's for her son. You can ask her if you can help, but she'll probably do it her way - she will appreciate the asking though. Good time to learn how to cook some things from her.

Sitting around, talking, drinking tea w/sweets is usually the time everyone looks forward to.

If you have satellite or AT&T it might be nice to order the russian tv package for a few months.

A lot of people are into herbs, natural medicines - so a trip or two to Whole Foods might be in order.

Nak, I'll be back to see if you have any more questions.

ETA: i don't know if you have a baby, but many older people believe that babies need to be bathed every day, so you might want to explain that it's not needed, especially in the winter.
post #17 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by EVC View Post
ITA. They just think that people who smile for no reason are either insincere or mentally deficient. Americans smiling all the time ticks my dh off to no end. That and the insincerity of "How are you?" "I'm fine" when it is very clear that person is not fine at all.
Yes, yes, so true! I'm from Poland, and feel exactly the same way. People are always asking me what's wrong, and I'm like "nothing, but I'm not going to walk around smiling for no reason."

The American culture of "how are you, I'm fine" etc., and smiling all the darn time, drives me crazy. I'm also a recluse and don't like talking to strangers, so that does play into it. But, it does strike me as insincere when a stranger asks me how I am, and the expected answer is always fine - even if I may not be fine. I understand it's just a way of being polite/nice. But, it drives me batty - not only because of the cultural difference, but also because I'm asocial and would rather not have anyone speak to me, lol.

But, yea, we're not sad or depressed all the time. We smile when there is a reason to.

I forgot about the tea. Most Europeans do this, though. Tea is drunk by toddlers. In Italy, they mix a tiny, tiny amount of tea with warm milk. Or even coffee, in some parts.

I grew up drinking tea, as well. Didn't harm me, though. I think.
post #18 of 91
Quote:
One woman told me that my ovaries would freeze if I wouldn't wear sock indoors.
Oh yes, in Russia your ovaries will apparently freeze if you sit on cold ground, or something made of stone, etc.

Quote:
They even have a single word for "bare feet" in Serbian!
Yup, Russian too.
post #19 of 91
Quote:
"How are you" is a conventional politeness which doesn't mean "how do you feel"
That's what I've tried to explain to dh. "How are you?" is just another way of saying "Hello", and isn't actually a question.

And, darn it, many European languages (including Russian) have "good day" as a standard greeting--and you say it even when you have had a really crappy day and when you are secretly wishing that the person you are talking to will have a crappy day too
post #20 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by EVC View Post
Oh yes, in Russia your ovaries will apparently freeze if you sit on cold ground, or something made of stone, etc.
In Poland, your bladder will freeze, and you'll wind up with a massive infection. I assume they mean something like a UTI. I can never sit on cold stone when I'm there with my family, as a result.

We also have a single word for bare feet. And that's something that is NEVER allowed in Poland. No walking bare foot or sock footed in the house. Slippers are a must, lol. Even when my grandparents visit me, to make peace, I wear slippers. Just because otherwise, hear ALL about how bad it is.

Oh, and I don't know if this is cultural, but my family is big into changing their clothes when they walk into their homes. They have "house" clothes and clothes for going out and about. I actually like this habit because I love lounging around in comfy clothes all day that I wouldn't be caught dead in outside.

We wash hands a lot too - before every meal, every time we use the bathroom, and each time we come in from the outside.
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