There are a few things I wished I would have known before marrying into a Chinese family. Don’t get me wrong, I do not regret tying the knot with my husband, but I would have liked to be better prepared.
Of course there are all sorts of Chinese people and all sorts of westerners, so generalizations shouldn’t be easily made. I also think there’s a huge difference whether you’ve married a Chinese man or a Chinese woman, whether you’ve married someone with educated/urban/reasonably sophisticated parents, what level of exposure to western culture your spouse has, and most importantly your own open-mindedness, empathy, understanding of Chinese history and culture, and patience about overcoming the inevitable cultural difference.
In the case of my own marriage, sometimes I feel I had it especially difficult. My Chinese parents-in-law are from the countryside. They have never been outside the village (except my father-in-law for work), let alone have they interacted with foreigners ever before. I was the first foreigner they ever met (as I was the first foreigner to ever enter their village).
When you marry a Chinese partner, you marry his or her entire family. I have heard whispers about it, and occasionally heard people talking about filial piety, but I was not prepared to the importance of it all before getting married.
The first few years of our marriage were extremely peaceful compared to how our life is since we have moved close to parents-in-law (and had a baby!). Before we lived far away and everyone was minding their own business. We had the occasional Did-you-eat-enough?-Are-you-wearing-enough-clothes-phone calls, but except for Chinese New Year we were not required to follow any rules orpay attention to anything much.
Things changed dramatically when we moved just 30 minutes away from my husband’s parents. Things turned into a problem when I announced my pregnancy. But things really turned into a nightmare when our first child, their first grandchild, was born a few months ago.
This got me thinking. The concept of filial piety is so ingrained in my husband, even though he had been living apart from his family since very young. Of course I understand the importance of being filial to your parents, but in my world view your wife/husband should always come first. Parents will leave one day, even your own kids won’t stay with you forever (or want you to stay with them), so who will be there? Your partner. But in China you marry the entire family, and as soon as a grandchild comes into play, the entire games is moved to a new level.
What I have learned these past months is that the most important thing to do is to set boundaries. Both parties are adjusting to each other. We are from literally different worlds, different educational backgrounds and way of life, but we can still respect each other. My parents-in-law are slowly learning to give us our space and most importantly, not to interfere in any way of how we raise and educate our child.
I am happy with my little family. I am glad Sophie has grandparents in both worlds who love her, but we are still the core family, and even though I agreed to marry into a Chinese family, it is still important to find a middle way, so both sides can be happy.
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