Living with Chinese in-laws…or not?

I’ve been now living with my Chinese in-laws for a year and reading Jocelyn’s recent blog post inspired me to write more what it is like to live with your Chinese husband’s parents. Jocelyn writes that she is happy in staying in the family house and the village that surrounds it, but honestly speaking I wouldn’t be able to do that my self.

Of course there are many good reasons for all to live together. You don’t have to pay rent for example that can be very expensive especially if you live in the center of a big city like Guangzhou. Moving to the city would make my husband’s daily commute much much shorter, but it would also mean paying even 3000RMB per month for rent.

It is also a luxury to have my mother-in-law to cook for us day in day out. She makes simple Cantonese dishes which I mostly like and not having to cook also means you don’t have to do grocery shopping either. As I don’t know how to cook Chinese food, I help out with washing the dishes.

Living together with Alan’s parents gives us a sense of safety as we don’t have to worry about not having enough food to live and eat. But on the other hand it makes us feel too safe and living with parents can make you fall back into being a kid again.

So what are the reasons that we are now renovating the old family house for us and wanting a place for just us two?

First of all we want to be grownups and take care of our selves in a way we think is good for us. Having Alan’s mother to peek into our room everyday looking for shirts and socks to wash isn’t good for us, because we should be the ones taking care of that. We should be aware of the costs for eating out versus cooking yourself. Having parents in the same house makes us too carefree and doesn’t allow us to be independent.

Secondly me  and my husband disagree with his parents in many cases. For example the parents think that eating out and going to movies is too expensive, but me and Alan need these date nights to keep our selves happy. Because we live far away from the city center, we also often see our friends in one of the restaurants around Guangzhou.

Thirdly we want a place where our words is the final word. Of course living in the old family house means that the parents live just a few steps away and own the house, but we can still decorate and furnish it the way we like. We can stay up late watching a movie and sleep in on weekends without having the parents blame us on having unhealthy living habits.

As an introvert Finn I also need that mental space for my self to be truly happy. I don’t think it’s very realistic to think I would change into someone who would love to have company all the time, especially company who tells you how to live your life.

Living with the in-laws have been extremely valuable time for me. I have got to known them so much better, including my husband, that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. I’m very grateful of all their help and support as well.

But this Spring it’s time for us to start our independent life. It will be very exciting and new for all of us, but me and Alan believe it’s the right decision to make.

  • Maria

    I agree 100% with everything that you have said here Sara. I think that it is good for you to have a solid foundation in the beginning, but then it is time to branch out on your own and live your own life. I hope that you and Alan are happy living in your first home together!

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you Maria, I can’t wait to move to our own place!

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  • Nicki Chen

    It sounds like you have thought things through and have made a decision that is right for you. When you have your own home, you will feel like equal partners. Best of luck.

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you Nicki. I also think that living in our own home, but close to family, is the best decision for all of us.

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  • Donna

    Totally agree. I also can’t imagine to live with parents – neither my own, nor my parents-in-law. I need my own living space, I want to be able to walk around the house in my underwear, eat what and when I want, listen music, watching movies, all that without someone telling me what should I do or what I shouldn’t etc.
    Of course I respect and love parents but in my adult life I want to have control of how I live.

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I agree with you Donna, I think we are on the same wavelength on this.

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  • chinaelevatorstories

    I agree with the points you’ve made. For us the situation is a bit different, since my in-laws are staying with us and not the other way around, but there was still some getting used to (and not only on our part, but also on my in-laws’, mainly my FIL’s part). My FIL will be going back home soon because he isn’t used to living in a place different from home (and we’re not used to having the TV turned on 24/7, so it will be much quieter soon, thanks god), but our MIL has decided to stay with us and help out with cooking and stuff – being pregnant, she is a really big help and I’ve chosen that over my own freedom (and the decision of how to clean the dishes, etc) in this very special situation. But it will only be temporary for us too, since imo a married couple just needs their own space.

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I can totally understand you living with the in-laws, later with MIL, when you’re pregnant. It gives you a chance to rest more and concentrate on the baby. I think when that time comes for us, it’s nice to have family close-by, even though I do want to take care of my children my self. I like that in China you have a closer relationship with your grandparents too.

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  • Ca

    Living with my in- laws seems to me as living a nightmare…even they are not chinese.

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I really thought it would be a nightmare before I tried it out, it’s not as bad as I thought. But still we want and need our own home to have the life we want to.

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  • http://martalivesinchina.wordpress.com/ Marta

    Totally agree with you. A couple should live independently.
    I have been living on my own since I was 18 and I don’t think I could get used to live with my parents again, and specially not in the same house with my boyfriend and my parents.
    His parents for the moment don’t seem interested in moving with us (thank God hahaha).

    PS. Just 3,000 RMB for the rent in Guangzhou? That is cheap! In Suzhou I’m paying 4,000… and in Shanghai it must be almost double…

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Me too, I used to take care of myself in high school already, I’ve moved across the planet my self so I think I can handle living in our home home with my husband ;)

    Of course it depends on the place and the size of the apartment. Two years ago I rented a living rom + bedroom apartment that was 2700RMB. I’m sure the prices are bit up at the moment.

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  • Jocelyn Eikenburg

    This is a great article, Sara, and I can totally understand your reasons for wanting to be out of the house! For us, we’ve been through a really difficult time recently (things I’m unable to write about…which actually would explain a LOT of my satisfaction about living at home) and right now just need a very simple and uncomplicated life where we don’t have to worry about a whole lot. Never thought I would be in this kind of position…but we are. So I feel grateful to just have that support in my life.

    And I probably should have written more of this in that post — ah well, hindsight is always 20/20, eh? ;-)

    Wishing you and Alan a happy life together in your new home!

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I really hope and believe you will get through this difficult time, luckily you have the help from the family. I wish all the best and better time for you in the future.

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  • Kaiser

    我和我中国父母住在同一所房子的时候太阳从西边出来!我和我亲父母住在同一所房子的时候太阳从西边出来!他们住在一所离我房子很近的房子就好了。

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    Kelvin Lai Reply:

    Hi Kaiser
    看到你留言,觉得不是很通顺,虽然明白你的意思,但是还是应该给你一点关于你的留言的修改意见,应该增加假设前缀,能够更明白地表达Impossible的意思。例如:

    要我和我中国父母住在同一所房子,除非太阳从西边出来!要我和我亲父母住在同一所房子,除非太阳从西边出来!他们住在一所离我房子很近的房子就好了。

    如有冒犯,请见谅!:)

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    Kaiser Reply:

    感谢!我现在知道除非的意思也是ONLY IF。可我还搞不清楚。请帮我明白这两个句子--“我不要去逛街除非你陪我去”和“我要去逛街除非你陪我去”--有什么区别。谢谢!

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    Kelvin Lai Reply:

    Hi Kaiser
    中文有负负得正的表达方式,第一个句子就是这个表达方式的具体表现形式,”不要“是否定的意思,除非也是否定的意思,”我不要去逛街除非你陪我去“这句话就是负负得正,把这句话里面的两个否的去掉后就是原话意思,即”我去逛街,你陪我去“。

    第二个句子只有一个否定的词,因此原话的意思是不去逛街。当然,这句话在具体运用的时候,也有询问的意思。

    在数学表达式上,1减去一个负数,结果就是加上这个负数的绝对值,例如:1-(-1),那么结果就是1+1=2。同样道理,中文句子里面出现两个否定的词就是肯定的意思。

    呵呵。:)

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    Kaiser Reply:

    提到问题前我先想说每个我问的中国人都同意你:“要我和父母住在同一所房子,除非太阳从西边出来”,就是语法正确中文。但是根据上面的负负逻辑我觉得我们应该写:“要我和父母住在同一所房子,太阳先必须从西边出来”,或者“我不和父母住在同一所房子,除非太阳从西边出来”。总之我还搞不清去。请别中止帮助我啊!何况假如亚雪芳能帮我一个忙的话请帮助!毕竟她虽是老外但她汉语比我的好多了。谢谢!

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    Kelvin Lai Reply:

    Hi Kaiser

    你的原话中,没有“要”这个字,我加上去的用意是强调跟实际情况不同,我并没有跟父母住在同一所房子,加上“要”字,就是说明实际上我不和父母住在同一所房子,这种句子多数发生在对话中,例如:

    A问:为什么你不和父母住在同一所房子?

    B答:要我和父母住在同一所房子,除非太阳从西边出来!

    这里B的回答隐含了主语“你”,应该是:你要我和父母住在同一所房子,除非太阳从西边出来!这里的对话中,很明显B并没有和父母住在一起,因此引用了一种不可能发生的情况来说明自己不和父母住在一所房子:太阳从西边出来!

    根据负负逻辑,你改写的两种情况是对的:
    “要我和父母住在同一所房子,太阳先必须从西边出来”
    “我不和父母住在同一所房子,除非太阳从西边出来”

    一听就明白。

    提示:“我和我中国父母住在同一所房子的时候太阳从西边出来!”这句话明显地带有英语的语法:When I live whit my……,Only if….。英语的语法直译成中文的话,句子的意思绝大部分中国人都能听明白,但是书面语不能这么写,最好改成有明确的主谓宾的形式,例如上面的第二句,“我”是主语,”不和”是谓语,”父母“是宾语,后面的”住在同一所房子“是对主谓宾的情况说明,如果你对中国人说:我和父母。100%中国人会追问:你和父母怎么啦?因为你没有对”我和父母“作一个说明。第二句后面部分”除非太阳从西边出来“是对前面的主谓宾做一个肯定的说明,使用”除非“这个否定词,语气非常强烈。负负得正后,原话就变成:“我和父母住在同一所房子,太阳从西边出来”。这种情况是不可能发生的嘛。

    主谓宾的例子有很多:
    1.我喜欢你
    2.我恨你
    3.我想和你交朋友
    把上面的“我”字去掉,也成立,隐含了主语。

    只要能够把英语语法中的主谓宾凑齐了,转换成中文,表达的意思就八九不离十了。
    能够帮助到你,是我荣幸。Have a good day. :)

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    Kaiser Reply:

    这个句子怎么样?“要我放弃学中文,除非你给我地球上所有的黄金!”

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    Kaiser Reply:

    我答应你不在对牛弹琴!谢谢你教我正确中文!

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  • Clint Scott

    I think you have a very good perspective of the situation. I live with my Chinese wife and her in-laws. They have been here for about a year. It can be hard. I am kind of introverted myself. I hide away in the office.

    But I do have to point out that having them here to help with the little one and to cook and clean far outweighs the disadvantages of privacy and molly-coddling.

    I run a training school in Dongguan and my wife works as a merchandiser in one of the bigger furniture companies here. If it wasn’t for the free time having them here allows, I would not be able to work as hard as I do. Therefore, not able to buy the apartment we are now renovating (interesting… i found your blog while searching for tips on house renovation in China.).

    It can be tough. Just remember the silver lining and, as it is with most older Chinese people, they are only doing what they believe is the best (and quite often the only) thing they can do to help you and your husband live your life.

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    Kaiser Reply:

    If your parents or in-laws live nearby, you can have your cake and eat it too. That is, you can have personal freedom and family solidarity all at the same time. At least that’s the way I like it and it works out great!

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    Kaiser Reply:

    The truth is, there is no right or wrong answer here. If you like living with your in-laws or parents, cool. If you don’t, cool. Whatever floats your boat. Different strokes for different folks. That said, if my in-laws or parents ever got sick or too old to take care of themselves, I would certainly let them live with me. But as long as they’re in good health, I prefer we live near one another, not under the same roof. But that’s just me.

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    ordinary malaysia Reply:

    Clint Scott, my reply to Kaiser was actually meant for you. So, may I reproduce what I wrote in reply to Kaiser:

    “you have added a much needed balance to this whole thing about living with in-laws. You can’t have the whole cake and eat it too. There are always pros and cons. And as long as your in-laws aren’t too intrusive into everyday aspect of your life, you should be grateful for what they do for you. Learn to be a bit more appreciative instead of groaning at the slightest inconvenience. Most articles on this topic are negative ones that read more like pitiable assays to flog the in-laws, esp the the mother-in-law! Haha.”

    Cheerio, Clint Scott, for your take!

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    Kaiser Reply:

    Actually I do have the whole cake and I eat all of it too. I don’t have any cons. I love my situation. It’s perfect.

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    ordinary malaysian Reply:

    Great for you Kaiser! And I like your spirit!

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    Kaiser Reply:

    I’m not being arrogant. Sometimes a person’s situation is out of his or her control. I remember about five years ago my wife and I had to live in totally different cities for almost a year due to work requirments by my employer. That year sucked and I hated it. It was a “con” year as you put it. But I’ve worked real hard to set up my current situation and for the time being it is for all intents and purposes perfect.

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Hi Clint,

    How interesting that you are renovating an apartment too, and nice that you ended to my blog.

    Parents always, well usually, want what they think is best for their children. That’ why I do appreciate all the help they have given me during this year and continue to give later on. But the society is different now than in their age and me and my husband disagree on some of their parenting methods for example. That’s why it’s best to keep the peace by living close-by, but in our own home.

    I’m introverted too so I can totally understand you hiding in the office, doing your own thing. Luckily my MIL likes peace and quiet as well.

    So great to hear your side of the topic, thank you for sharing,

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  • MM

    I think Sara’s situation is perfect e.g. renovating the old house that is quite near to the in-laws , you are still close yet have your own independence.

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    Kaiser Reply:

    I totally agree. But of course I’m biased because that’s the way I like it too.

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I really hope it’s going to be as good as I think it will be.

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  • http://crazychinesefamily.com/ Timo

    I believe I would be only able to live with my in-laws in a very big house. Now my mother-in-law is here already one month because of the baby and it is pretty stressful. I mean I can still handle it but my wife is going crazy with her mom.

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I can totally understand you Timo. We have a big house, four floors in total and the third floor is for me and my husband. But of course the whole family is free to wander around the house at any times, so there’s a lack of privacy. Perhaps a huge house with a separate wing could solve the problem.

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  • Aaron

    I cannot wait for my Chinese mother in law to leave my house. One more week to go (after 6 months). Dealing with constant drama is not worth having a meal I don’t want ready for me everyday. I value being independent thank you.

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    One week goes by fast doesn’t it :)

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