Russian mothers-in-law are complicated – firstly, you’ll probably have issues just pronouncing the Russian word “tyoscha” correctly (but this video exercise may help). Anyway, if you want to maintain good relations you must keep the old lady at arm’s length while also involving her in your family life. This is no easy task. In Russia it’s impolite to call your mother-in-law tyoscha – on the contrary, even if your wife wants you to adopt her mother as your own and call her “mum” – don’t! Your new mother-in-law will definitely perceive this as fawning and suspect you of being dishonest. Even if keeping a balance is tricky, it’s essential for winning over your tyoscha – and believe us, it’s really worth it.
1. Love your wife
For your mother-in-law, her daughter’s happiness is paramount. And in Russian culture, a woman can’t be happy if she isn’t loved. Money, fame, nor success can fill the void (and your wife probably thinks so, too). George, 33, from London, who has been happily married to a Russian woman for more than eight years, says treating your wife well is definitely the most important thing in the eyes of mothers-in-law. Flattering or not, most foreign guys are perceived in Russia as being very rational, strict, or even morose, so don’t be afraid to show your gentle side to your wife – you’ll feel more connected to her mother.
2. Eat responsibly
In medieval Russia, only a person who ate well and had a corpulent body could be considered trustworthy. It seems that this notion has survived to this day and if your tyoscha notices you feeding her cooking to the dog instead of eating it she’ll suspect you of either feeling unwell or being disrespectful. So don’t eat too much before visiting your wife’s mother, be prepared for a lavish meal, and compliment her cooking no matter what.
3. Compliment her looks
Read our tips for a happy life with a Russian woman and as you’ll know, your mother-in-law takes great care of her looks. Even if she’s not very young, or the hardships of Russian life have taken their toll on her appearance, she’ll do everything to look pretty, and you can’t fail to notice. A new dress, a trendy haircut, or nail polish demand a compliment. Even if she dyes her hair toxic blue and tattoos Gorbachev on her arm, she looks gorgeous.
4. Never argue with your wife in the presence of her mother
It’s no wonder that many people, male or female, Russian or not, have had troubled relationships with their parents. As grown-ups, many people make peace with their mum and dad, or at least learn how to deal with them in tricky situations. But when a husband enters the stage, the peace between mother and daughter may fall apart. Sometimes, the mother might praise her son-in-law and scold her daughter, although the other way around is more likely. Anyway, in this case it’s two against one, which is never fair and can lead to disaster. So it’s probably better not let your mother-in-law become involved in your private family matters (the same goes for your own mother).
5. Let her babysit your children
Remember, if you’ve married a Russian woman and are planning to have children, your mother-in-law will soon become a babushka. And if you don’t know already, a Russian babushka is more than a grandmother – it’s a state of mind, a philosophy, and a calling. And having grandchildren is one of the cornerstones of a babushka’s universe. So even if she lives thousands of miles away, she’ll want to have a hand in your children’s upbringing and share her endless love with them. So invite your tyoscha to babysit and don’t be afraid that your kids will adopt some grim Russian habits – most of the time they’ll just have fun with granny.
6. Help her with the chores
Many mothers-in-law won’t hang around when it comes to demanding you help with moving furniture or carrying shopping bags. However, others may keep silent and wait for you to offer your help. Then there are the those who will refuse any help on the grounds that you are her guest and it’s impolite to “use” guests for daily chores. In that case, you can ask what hobbies she enjoys – it may be cooking, gardening, knitting, or watching HBO. “It’s important to connect with your mother-in-law on a personal level,” says George. “A good sense of humour can also be very useful. My mother-in-law loves good jokes, so cracking some of your best may be a great way to connect.”
7. Take it easy (or try to at least)
What to do when you actually meet your mother-in-law for the first time? Alfie Alcosta from Mexico met a Russian girl while studying and they had long distance relationship for some time, but finally the time came for Alfie to meet his girlfriend’s parents. “I was jumping into a completely different culture I barely knew anything about. And boy, was I nervous,” Alfie says. “In Mexico meeting the parents is considered taking a very serious step. As a Mexican, meeting someone’s parents means the relationship is gaining momentum and you’re gravitating towards marriage.” Alfie imagined that it’s also like this in Russia.
“What should I say? How should I approach the situation? Do I kiss my mother in law first? Do we kiss at all? Do I go for a firm and strong handshake? Maybe a high five?” – these were the questions Alfie asked himself and the same ones many, many guys ask when meeting Russian parents for the first time. The only advice useful here is, however – take it easy. Russian mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law will most likely be super excited to meet their child’s loved one and will do their best to treat you with kindness and respect.
In Alfie’s case, his girlfriend unexpectedly kissed him in front of her parents – in Mexico this would only happen after the wedding. Alfie’s soon-to-be tyoscha (plus his girlfriend’s sister and father) all hugged him warmly. “I can only tell you from experience – things will not go as planned, but it’s alright, cause in the end if you will survive the encounter, it will be a story for you to share,” Alfie says.
We hope that this little guide helps you get on with your mother-in-law. But if you are really planning on marrying a Russian woman, think twice – maybe it’s not such a good idea after all? We (jokingly) collected the reasons not to marry a Russian woman. Good luck!
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