Living with a Chinese family

Since Chinese New Year I’ve been living with my Chinese boyfriend and his parents. A decision that makes me seem a bit crazy in the eyes of my parents, siblings and friends. So how is it actually like to be part of a Chinese family and live with the parents?

 I call my boyfriend’s mother ayi (aunt) and father shushu (uncle).

From living alone to living with the parents

I can say I’m pretty independent person, I moved away from my mom’s home when I was 15 in order to attend high school. Since that I’ve lived in a boarding school, in a dorm, alone and with a boyfriend. I’m used to having my own space and doing things the way I like. Usually this means messy rooms and doing laundry the last possible day.

Living with parents of course means losing a part of  your freedom. Everyday I have to consider my boyfriends parents. I can’t keep on having my bohemian messy lifestyle and I have to call ayi every time I don’t come back home for dinner.

In a Chinese family you also have to get used to people commenting your way of life. Cleaning, sleeping, eating, everything is up for discussion and advice. Usually if the parents aren’t happy with my boyfriend, they will tell me and let me talk to him. That also goes the other way around. I will hear from my boyfriend if the parents don’t like me keeping the air con on all the time.

Often you also can feel a bit awkward. For example I can spend the whole day on the sofa surfing the net and watching tv series, but I sometimes feel guilty of not doing anything useful. I wouldn’t feel that way if I lived alone. Also there are those times when ayi asks me to go dancing with her to the local park and I try to find excuses not to go.

But it’s not all negative either.

Food, food and then some more food

One of the best things about living with Chinese parents must be the food! I guess we are seen as kids who would starve if we weren’t given two warm meals per day, breakfast buns and fresh fruit and snacks. Ayi is a stay at home mom and spends her days cleaning, making clothes for extra income and cooking. She knows what to eat in every season and makes basic healthy Cantonese meals. She often comes up the stairs with a plate of sliced fruit before I’m even hungry.

By living with the parents I have learned so much more about their family and about my boyfriend. I’ve heard stories of their life before, how my boyfriend and his sister were like when they were kids. How ayi married shushu, built this house and later made it even bigger. I’ve learned about festival customs and experienced them first hand.

Living with a Chinese family is a bag of mixed emotions. Sometimes you feel so loved when everyone around you cares about you, sometimes you feel super annoyed because of the lack of your own space.

Our plan is not to live with the parents forever. Our dream is to renovate their old house that is almost next to this one and move there. But that is another story.

Have you lived with your Chinese in-laws? Or perhaps visited a Chinese family? Or is moving in with your boyfriend’s parents something you would never even consider?

  • Alva

    I am sure you are learning a lot with this experience.
    Dont forget is a family and not only a roommate, this means..those night dances do not seem to be a bad idea…!

    :)

    [Reply]

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Those dances are really for the old people! :D

    [Reply]

    Alva Reply:

    Near by my home and in our compoung there is a big group of women dancing every evening, they now have young ladies also!

    [Reply]

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I can’t move my hands and legs at the same time. I’m sure it would be really funny for everyone to watch :)

    [Reply]

  • Barbarka

    I’ve lived with my bf’s parents for a few weeks (almost one month after he introduced me to his family and later when I decided to move to China to stay with him, got a job but we were still looking for a flat). They are supernice and we love each other dearly but I’d never actually live with them, mostly because I don’t like when people treat me like a baby. I know that to my bf’s parent’s I’m a child, just like to my parents I’ll always be a child but it doesn’t mean that I can’t take care of myself. My bf, his sister and brother-in-law visit their parents every weekend (I usually work on the weekends). They stay there for two days doing nothing while their mom cooks, washes their clothes and so on. And they are all in their 30′s! I know that my mother, if my sitser, her husband, my bf and I would show up at my parent’s place with this kind of attitude “I’m hungry so cook sth and I want to have a nap after lunch so you do the dishes, and here are my dirty pants”… my mom would just kick us out. But for my bf’s parents it’s completely natural that their adult children act like this and it actually makes them happy. The food is also an issue. I don’t like local food that much, especially the hakka food my bf’s mom cooks. It’s not really healthy (and even the latest medical my bf’s parents had can prove it), I can’t and don’t want to eat this kind of food but also don’t want my bf’s family to cook especially for me or to adjust just because I don’t eat meat/fried food/rice and so on. The last but not least – my own space. I need a studio to paint, I don’t want anyone to touch my stuff there, I don’t want anyone to comment that painting until 5 a.m. is a bad habit because I’ll be tired or that the table is dirty… To make things clear, my bf’s parents never said this kind of things to me directly, I just know that I’d never fully live my own life (and they are a part of this life) if we’d live with them.

    [Reply]

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you for sharing Barbarka!

    Lack of my own space is absolutely one the biggest things that I think will affect that we won’t live with the parents forever. I could imagine that it would be really hard for me to listen to others’ child rearing tips 24/7 for example.

    Food luckily isn’t a big probmel for me, I mostly like what my boyfiend’s mom cooks. I do try to eat less rice though as I’ve gained weight since I moved here. We also eat out few times a week with my boyfriend.

    [Reply]

  • R Zhao

    OMG Sara, I don’t know how you do it! I lived with my husband’s mom for a month while we were engaged. We were about to become homeless right before we went to the U.S. We had to move from Beijing back to his hometown in Hebei Province at the last minute because the lease on our apartment was up. It was all very stressful.

    In a way, it was a good experience. I assume that I will live with my mother-in-law again one day when she is old and needs help. She actually is a pretty great lady and respects my need for independence. She isn’t too pushy and doesn’t baby me too much because she knows I don’t like it.

    BUT living with anyone can be hard, especially someone 30 years older and from a different culture. You must be so adaptive and patient! It is really great that you are doing it though, because if you do marry your boyfriend you’ll have a really deep understanding of him and his family, which will lead to less conflict in the future.

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  • xun

    Awesome, you seems like a hero, I even can’t bear to live with my dad, thank god, he only came home once a week because of his busy job. He likes smoke, you can image that smell in the living room, he likes to lie on sofa to watch TV, so others have to sit on chairs. BUT still I feel extremely uncomfortable to live with gf’s parents(although I don’t have a gf now), I can’t talk what I want to talk, I can’t sleep late, wake up late because I will have to have breakfast with them, and if I wake up very late, they may think I’m a lazy guy. If some day in the future I get married, I will never live with my spouse’s parents, if during a holiday, one or two days is possible, but long time? Elder people always gossip, often talk about what their colleagues or friends’s children have done(often achievement or earn money), seems like I am a loser, I hate that, they love comparing their children to other’s children, if I have a master degree, they may say who and who has a PHD degree, if I am a king of a kingdom, they may say blablabla’s kid is an emperor of some empire.(“They” are not my parents, I mean some parents)

    [Reply]

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Xun, you had excellent point why someone should NOT live with the parents, I agree on many myself too.

    I hope my kids to have a better relationship with their grandparents that I had with mine, but perhaps living in the same house forever isn’t really the best option.

    [Reply]

    xun Reply:

    The mindsets of grand parents and that of grand child are really different, they grow up in totally different environment and era. I’m sure my grandparents love me very much, but I don’t think I can live with them for a long time without any conflict, especially ideology… fortunately, they live in countryside, we only go to visit them during some holiday once or twice a year, that would be happy.

    [Reply]

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I agree. Even though I’m now living with my boyfriend’s parents, I can’t even imagine how could it be like to live with my own grandparents for example. It’s even been a long time since I lived with my own mother.

    [Reply]

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