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?