Or should that be: ARRRGGHHH! Family.
Those of us bethrothed to a lady of another nationality have not only the Mars/Venus collision to deal with but also the at times stupendous cultural differences to hurdle and manage. Understanding women is the holy grail of any man's life. Cultural 'clashes' however are certianly not always down to the wife and the wife alone, the accompanying family can have a large part to play in our headaches ( I will use the possessive pronoun 'our' representing all my bretheren in this situation).
In my experience potentially the most explosive sitauations are tiny misunderstandings. Things so easily get lost in translation, a sea of idioms, facial expressions and lost sarcasm. Never communicate important matters in writing. In the larger, longer term picture - we have to accept that there are some things about the Vietnamese that a foreigner may never understand - and that's not a bad thing either. For some it adds to the mystery and excitement. To others, it mounts into a burden of frustration. I know of many who have split from their foriegn spouses - but statistically we know of the divorce rates in western countries and should image the rate of divorce in mixed marriages is no higher if not much less. This article talks about it a little.
Now add children.
Our little babies come into the world and bless em they take over our lives and we watch them grow with joy. Parenting is a contentious issue in any household, never mind one that has to share the mindset of two continents. It starts from birth. Vietnamese traditions with regards to the birth of a child are not for the fainthearted and include the mother moving back in with her family, not leaving the house for a month and also not showering. Amongst many, many others. Personally, I think it all a load of nonsense with no basis in reality, but that's an opinion. I would have struggled to go along with it all if I was in a traditional family. Chi is also not worried or concerned with 'traditions' of this nature and although she has a large family, they are not close. Furthermore we had Louisa in England, away from all that cultural interference that, I am sure, just adds to the stress of the new mother who just wants to be left alone with her new baby. For this, Chi was doubly glad. It was a nice start. Others suffer the brutal onslaught of aunts and nannies and grandmothers storming the poor little thing and dicatating the environment and conditions of the first weeks and months. I guess it all depends on your family situation, but I'd imagine most westerners come to a compromise with thier adopted families - as in, when to back the expletive away from my little son/daughter and let me do it.
As soon as we returned to Nam with our 7 month old daughter under our arm the 'advice' began. Two tendancies the Vietnamese seem to have towards babies. One is to gorge them on food - gigantic bottles of formula milk being shoved into their mouths. When they should be moving onto solid foods (natures hint is the teeth she provides), they tend to be force fed bottles of liquid food as well, even until they are 2 or older. Louisa has been chewing on carrots and eating rice since she was younger then a year old. Concerned aunts seemingly try and grind Chi down by saying that Louisa is 'too thin' just because she is not as 'plump' as all the other babies. You can see them with a big bottle of food and a small towel hidden behind their backs just desperate to shove the whole lot down her throat and fatten her up. Well, she looks OK to me. Proud to say, 100% breast fed till this very day.
Taking a walk in the park and a Vietnamese father in broken English asks me when Lou started to run around like a maniac, as she was at the time. I told him she started walking between nine and ten months old. Rather pitifully he looked at his 13 month year old son who still could only sit on his bum. 'What kind of milk does she drink'? he asked me, as if all he needed to do was change his brand and suddenly his son would be up and about. Sure, children develop at different speeds, but absolutely no doubt about it, the environment you create for them has a massive impact as well. And this is point number two. We call it mollycoddling. Overprotection. Incessant carrying of the child doesn't help it develop muscles in order to lift its head, then crawl, then grab the furniture and haul itself up and eventually take its first steps. Babies get carried here I feel way too much when they should be left on their backs and then their fronts in a safe space on the floor. It is also, in my opinion, essential that baby smacks his or her head on the table in order to learn that table is hard and it hurts when you smack your head on it. Same goes for eating dirt/flowers/grass/grit/fluff etc. Depriving these sensory learning experiences that wire the brain with a proper understanding of the world impedes development.
I would add my own disclaimer - T.V. This flickering, confusing and noisy instrument has no educational benefit for young children - yes, even if it is on Disney channel. What it does do is interfere with the development of the area of the brain that handles attention - and the ability to hold attention. Whilst the child is staring hypnotised at the machine it is missing out on the more important happenings around it such as watching and hearing the conversations of adults in the room - amongst the many health problems associated with over exposure to TV is attentional disorders and speech problems. Anyone wants a copy of this book, mail me. I digress, TV is by no means an exclusively Vietnamese problem.
Hopefully I've explained some of the pitfalls and tribulations involved in a mixed marriage and raising children within one, and some of the irritations I have come across being a father in Vietnam. All stereotypes within this post must be forgiven for the sake of the whole.
Finally, here's our daughter Louisa, 16 months old, with her latest trick, making herself dizzy when the music comes on...