The Silent Suffering of Capable Immigrant Wives

We were parked at the drive-thru of McDonalds. My mother repeated my order to the black speaker box again and again, yet the man on the other side could not understand her. Finally I leaned over and shouted my order. My mother’s face twisted into frustration and her hands tightly gripped the steering wheel as we drove up to the window. Afterwards she ranted at me for forcing her to go through drive-thru. I didn’t understand what the big deal was then. Now I understand. She was embarrassed by her thick accent.

My dad raised me to be the opposite of my mom. He wanted me to be strong, capable, and fearless. I think it’s because that’s what he wanted my mother to be. And also I think it’s because he knew too many other east asian immigrant families that shared the same dilemma. The breadwinner husband who quickly assimilates to the new country’s culture and is able to build a social network…and the wife who stays home to watch the children and ends up becoming detached from society and completely dependent on the husband.

The tragedy is that these women were smart and capable back in their old country. They had jobs–good jobs–and they had a lively social life. When their husbands decided to move to a new country, of course the wives followed. Unfortunately without a working visa and the language skills to hold the same jobs as they did before these wives slowly slip into isolation. Without friends or family, loneliness grows. Without the language skills, fear of the outside world builds. And without financial independence, these women feel helpless and trapped.

Thankfully those with children are able to keep themselves preoccupied for numerous years. However the moment those children leave the house to start their own lives – the mother finds herself once again alone. All those years staying home to watch the children did not help improve her language skills. All those work skills she once possessed are now irrelevant. Some of these women fall into such despair they became mentally unstable and their husbands find comfort elsewhere.

What can we do to help these women? What opportunities can we offer them so they can build a new life and stay financially independent?

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