domestically disabledI have been noticing a trend as friends and family are getting married over the recent years. I have observed that it is completely okay for a girlfriend to lack in the cooking, cleaning, and other “womenly” duties department, but once she’s married, she is expected to conform to traditional roles.

What is the difference between a girlfriend and a wife? Why does a man not expect his girlfriend to cook for him, do his laundry, take care of him and/or his family until he has married her? Even if they had lived together before marriage, she is not expected to uphold these responsibilities until after marriage. If he expects his future spouse to be a certain way (heaven forbid), why not inform her so she can run for the hills if she needs to? Why wait until after marriage?

This subject is for the girls to think about as well. Why do you feel the need to all of a sudden, change your habits or conform once you’re married? Familial obligations?

Like most Hmong girls, my mother was grooming me to become the perfect Hmong wife. She didn’t teach me how to cook and clean; she expected me to learn by observing and doing. And she reminded me every single day that I needed to be perfect or no Hmong man would ever marry me. I didn’t do much observing nor practicing. My interest was in school. And I also was very open about my domestic skills. “I am lazy,” I told Mermaid when we were dating. “I can’t cook. I’m a messy person. I’m not wife material.”

And although Mermaid didn’t expect much from me when we got married, he still expected some. And I did try to do it initially, but I got tired of not being genuinely me. We both fell into doing what we thought was expected of us: Him being the “husband” and me being the “wife.” But somehow, these roles didn’t work very well for us. And as we grew together as a couple, we shifted things around so that our household would work… for us.

But why do we feel the need to conform? For me, I did it because I thought I had to. This was what I had been told all my single life. The focus was to be a good Hmong wife—not girlfriend.

5 thoughts on “Hmong Wife vs. Hmong Girlfriend

  1. 🙂 I see where you are coming from, and totally understand. I think when it comes down to it, it really all depends on the woman. If one does not care about anyone’s opinion, then continue as one always has Or, if one cares enough about image, then change. To me, it’s not so much conforming, as it is growing up. I didn’t understand and use to complain about why we Hmong women are expected to do so much in the house, while men don’t. I’ll like to share with you something my grandma shared with me when I complained to her: “It’s not about who does more work. It’s about love. It’s about caring for one another and wanting to build the best possible life that you both can have.”

    This is is something that i would like all hmong women to consider as well: If you know you do want to to “conform” to a Hmong wife, chose your husband wisely. If you do not want to conform, why should he as well? There should always be a balance and compromise. Things like this should be talked about… If you’ve been with someone long enough, you should know whether or not they hold onto tradition or not, or what their families expect. If you cannot tell, then, well.. maybe you both don’t know one another well enough to make a commitment to build a life together?


  2. This is a really interesting observation. I’ve never put that thought together. I’ve witnessed this too… My sister was dating a guy whose parents adored her because she did everything a ‘nyab’ would (help with cooking, dishes, always asking if she could help) and the parents did not like the brother’s girlfriend because she would never do any of these things. In *my* family, and like you, the eldest 4 daughters (ages 28-22) were expected to observe and learn how to be a good ‘nyab’, lest “no one will marry you” or “they’ll send you back.” The 3 younger daughters (ages 13-18) were not held to the same standards.. at all! I’m sure you’ve heard and observed this too. In some ways I think we had a more advantageous upbringing than they did but that is another story! My point here is that your observation most applies to the younger generation, right? Though I can easily see this happening with any “girlfriend” under the age of 35. Even with this background, when my brother brought home girlfriends we never expected them to do these ‘nyab’ type of duties in my family. If it happened, it made an impression, but we never expected it.

    And so your theory is:

    * Boyfriend and/or boyfriend’s family doesn’t expect this until they become an official ‘nyab’, then traditional roles and expectations kick in (Your observation, of which I’ve also witnessed)

    And I’ll throw in another theory:

    * younger hmong daughters are no longer indoctrinated into becoming that ‘nyab’ so the result is two-fold: Families don’t expect it of their son’s girlfriends and their son’s girlfriends don’t default to this state (such as with my family)


    1. I forgot a key point about the story with my brother. Had he married any of these girls, the family would have absolutely fallen into the expectation of our new ‘nyab’ to conform! There is no doubt that while families let it slide pre-nyab that expectations will be in full force after marriage.


  3. I’m glad someone brought this up! I’ve been battling with these gender role expectations with my recent boyfriend. We are both Hmong, and the expectations when I visit his family and when he visits mine are so different. When I visit his family I feel like I have to wake up extra early, help cook, clean, and take care of his siblings (even though I’m only his girlfriend). When he visits my family he doesn’t have to do any of that, it’s like that Hmong saying, “Nws nyob dawb dawb xwb.” It bothers me because my parents valued education more than raising a daughter that is “wife material” therefore, yes I have a college degree. Do I know how to butcher a chicken? Not at all! The things I’ve done to help out my boyfriend’s mom, I’ve never even been asked to do from my own mother so it makes me sad to think…how can I do these things for his mom, when I don’t even do it for my own mom? It just doesn’t sit well with me. I feel like it’s a lose/lose situation. Speaking from just the “girlfriend” point of view if you don’t know how to cook, clean, etc then his parents will complain. But if you make an effort to help out, the parents will also say, doesn’t that girl know Hmong tradition? Isn’t she embarrassed to be doing so much for our family and she’s not even his wife? I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but these are just my experiences. And you pose a great question…why DO we feel the need to conform? I still cannot fully understand my own actions and articulate the reasons for why Hmong women feel the need to conform. Maybe it has to do with acceptance from his family. When you love someone, I think it’s only natural to want to be accepted by their family, so of course you will wake up early just to help his mom prepare breakfast and go to the garden with her even though you never gardened a day in your life and cannot tell the difference between the weeds from the actual plants. I’m interested in hearing how you and your husband were able to find common ground and make up your own rules. I think it’s important advice for young Hmong couples especially as we transition out of these traditional gender roles.


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