3 Challenging Things About Meeting the Parents for People in Intercultural/Interracial Relationships

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When John first told his parents about me, here’s what his father said: “You can be friends with foreign women but not date them.”

Anxious doesn’t even start to describe the way I felt after John said this to me. And, believe me, I had reason to worry. My previous relationship with a Chinese guy ended in an ugly breakup simply because he could never take me home to meet the parents. He said his mom and dad would never accept having a foreign woman in the family. Ever.

Yikes!

Growing up in a very white, very middle class suburb of Midwestern America did nothing to prepare me for surviving meeting the parents in China. It’s the complete opposite from the casual way I used to shake hands and chat with a white guy’s mom and dad back in America, even on the first date! How was I supposed to know that meeting the parents in China was as serious as an engagement announcement, a promise of wedding bells in the near future? For that matter, how could I have ever guessed on the many other cultural pitfalls on the pathway to becoming the foreign wife of a Chinese man?

Here are four things that I’ve found challenging about meeting the parents and family in intercultural and international relationships:

1. When the Family Doesn’t Want You to Date

When your boyfriend’s father says you should be friends but not date, it’s the polar opposite of getting that ever-coveted family blessing. And even if your boyfriend smiles and reassures you it’s not a big deal (like John did), in your mind you’re envisioning all of the future family feuding over your relationship. And, quite possibly, a breakup on the horizon.

Sigh.

Yes, it’s a huge headache and then some. Still, John and I survived it, all because he insisted on staying by my side. (Never thought I would say this, but thank goodness for John’s stubbornness!) We’re living proof that you can indeed overcome this, provided you and your partner are totally committed to the relationship. Just realize you might be in for a very bumpy ride if the parents initially say “no” – the kind that could make the movie “Meet the Parents” look like kindergarten stuff.

2. When Relatives Say Totally Inappropriate Things About Your Relationship

Back in May, I ran a guest post from the blogger behind Big Asian Package, a Chinese American guy who shared his crushing experience meeting the family of his white girlfriend:

“Are you happy about those secrets?” said a voice from beside me.

“What? I’m sorry?” I said. It was my girlfriend’s grandpa.

“The nuclear secrets. I know you came here to steal from us,” said her grandpa,

“I go to school…” I say, protesting.

“You’re Chinese, I know you are,” he says quietly, triumphantly, like he’s got me checkmated.

“Yes,” I say, now seriously confused, not quite believing what I’m hearing.

Oh my. There’s nothing like a racist comment or two from grandpa to turn meeting the family into one of the most chilling experiences you’ll ever have.

Sometimes it’s not even a direct attack, but an assumption based on stereotypes or prejudice. Like how I’ve heard some relatives praise John for being great at computers (because, of course, all Chinese are that way….). If only they knew that my husband calls on me for all things computer and tech-related. (I’m the one who just set up his new smartphone!)

People have even expressed concern about the fact that John and I have a bilingual relationship, and have cautioned us against speaking one language too much over another. (Insert image of me banging my head on a wall.)

What makes this super-hard is the fact that you’re often related to the people in question. You’re not exactly going to win points with family by calling grandpa a racist.

That doesn’t mean you always have to let these things go. Over the years, I’ve had some really thoughtful conversations with family about racism and prejudice. John and I have educated relatives about what modern racism actually looks like (it’s not what you think it is) and, in the process, become even closer as a family. Who’d have thought you could bond over stuff like this?

3. When the Family Gets Confused by Your Relationship

Yocelyn of My Chinese Boyfriend voiced another issue with meeting the parents:

I don’t think our families could comprehend our relationship at first. They were too confused by it. 😛

What happens if parents aren’t in opposition to you, but they just don’t understand why you would want to be with this person?

I’ve only ever experienced this with other expats – people totally mystified by how a white American woman would even think of dating Chinese men in China. Let me tell you, it already hurts even when someone you’re not related to suddenly thinks it’s weird to date this amazing person you’re deeply in love with. I can only imagine the pain you’d feel when people who you’re stuck with by marriage or blood think this way about your relationship.

Love just happens between two people for good reasons. Why can’t the people we care about understand why we love someone as well?

Of course, it’s unrealistic to think that everyone will always understand us 100 percent of the time, including relatives. Which means that some of us will get the questions and odd looks from family when we decide to date “outside the box”, so to speak.

I don’t know that I can say anything to make a situation like this better. I’d like to hope that things will get better for you with time, and chances are they will, but who really knows?

Still, whatever challenges you face with the family, remember that you’re not alone. There are lots of people out there in interracial, intercultural and (like in my case) international relationships who have survived all sorts of familial scrutiny. People like me, who have lived to tell the tale – and will be happy to listen to your stories, nodding as we say, “Yes, I’ve been there and I’m here for you too.”

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29 thoughts on “3 Challenging Things About Meeting the Parents for People in Intercultural/Interracial Relationships

  • June 29, 2015 at 9:00 am
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    My husband and I have been lucky in most regards. However, my brother-in-law did give a few snide comments about my husband and our relationship at the beginning over the phone – something that my husband has asked me to blog about and I will. When they finally did meet, my husband brought it up as a joke [but I knew he wanted to make a point and wanted to let my BIL know that he knew] and my BIL was so embarrassed.

    Reply
    • June 29, 2015 at 9:33 am
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      Ha! Good for your husband. Bide your time, turn it into a joke, and zing the offending relative. I suppose it is childish of me to cheer, but, yeah, I love it.

      Reply
  • June 29, 2015 at 9:30 am
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    I was also very lucky as my bf’s family is very well traveled, lived abroad for a long time and is from Hong Kong (which is more international than Mainland China).

    I think dating a Mainland Chinese with traditional parents must be a real challenge. I frankly cannot imagine myself doing it, but kudos to those who successfully overcame the obstacles!

    Reply
  • June 29, 2015 at 9:41 am
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    Yeah, my welcome by the China-born parents wasn’t exactly warm, but I think Andy timed it nicely. A few months before we started dating, his parents tried to push a suitable Chinese girl on him during a family trip to Hong Kong. Andy ignored her, then showed up with me the following year.

    By then he was almost thirty and the parents were probably desperate. So I guess that’s my oh-so helpful advice. Wait to show up until the parents are worried their #1 son may never give them grandchildren!

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    • July 1, 2015 at 2:04 pm
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      My husband’s family often jokes that they were also getting worried as Alan had never brought a girl home before. The only thing his mother said to me before we got married was that I have to be absolutely sure that I want to be with Alan, they don’t do divorce and it was okay if I had changed my mind. She said that in a caring way, wanting to make sure that I was in it for good.

      Reply
  • June 29, 2015 at 10:47 am
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    Lovely post! Although I didn’t have any problems with my Chinese ex-in laws, I’ve always been an other in my relationships and it has to have been hard for the parents I’ve met, whether it was being American in my first marriage or a divorced single mother in my second. I have friends who were cut off from their families for marrying Chinese men or men of other races or religions. It’s really tragic.

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  • June 29, 2015 at 10:52 am
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    Great article!

    For us, the Chinese parents are very welcoming, but unfortunately we’ve had some racist remarks from the Austrian side (often indirect remarks, making it hard to reply to it). I hope that this will change with time.

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  • June 29, 2015 at 11:39 am
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    I have some thoughts about first point – what if his parents don’t want him to date with foreigner? Well… sometimes it’s better just stop the relation at this point, you know.
    My first Chinese boyfriend took me with him to visit his parents during Chinese New Year. We were supposed to stay there as long as we could, but after everyday-comments “she will leave you”, “don’t be stupid”, “this is the last time we see her” and so on we just left. At the beginning I believed that our love will change an old man’s view over the time. Now I know that if prejudice is that strong, there is a big chance that outsider has to go, because for many Chinese guys family (understood as parents, grandparents etc.) stands first. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. It just means he doesn’t want to choose between family and you and he wants a simple life. For my first Chinese boyfriend there was no choosing. It was obvious parents aren’t happy with his idea of having white girlfriend, so he just made me go.
    And you know? I’m very glad it went that way. Now I have a good husband and his family loves me, too. I don’t have to struggle. Sometimes it’s just not worth fighting.

    Reply
    • June 29, 2015 at 1:06 pm
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      I see your point. I think I’d rather know up front, without wasting my time on a guy, if he was going to wilt in the face of his racist parents.

      Reply
  • June 29, 2015 at 12:51 pm
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    My future Chinese family did not like the idea of my future husband dating a foreign woman. His mother wanted him to marry a nice Chinese woman. His grandma even thought I was an American spy from an old Chinese film. I was worried he was going to break up with me because of what his family thought, but he didn’t. He has heard all kinds of comments like, Why are you dating a girl from the USA? I have even had my fair share of a lot of negative comments about my relationship with him.

    Our relationship is an international long distance relationship. He lives in China and I live in the USA. It was a challenge to fight off the negativity around me but I was able to. Very soon I get to meet my future parents-in-law and I am still a little nervous but my future mother-in-law seems very excited. I am so glad she changed her mind.

    I think there will always be people out there that will disapprove of relationships no matter what. Thinking back throughout history, my relationship with Yu would have been against the law. Knowing there are still people who believe it to be wrong, I try to not think too much on their poor view. From hearing comments like, “He is Chinese so you need to be careful,” “Why date a Chinese man? You should date a white man,” and the list goes on and on, I get mad but then I have to let it go, as Yu tells me all the time. I even experienced a couple telling me that I should choose between marring Yu or becoming a godmother to their child. That choice was very easy to make. I don’t need negative people in my life.

    It is harder to deal with family members whom are negative. It takes time so you shouldn’t give up. It will get better, believe it will. And as Yu says, let it go, you shouldn’t get mad at views that are not right. Life is too short to get mad too often.

    Reply
    • June 29, 2015 at 1:03 pm
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      Hi, Jen, and oh, I laughed over your story about being considered an American spy. It’s like Big Asian Package’s story, only in reverse! Crazy relatives on either side of the Pacific. With all the presumed spying going on, how did any AMWF couples ever have time to fall in love?!

      Yes, you are right, better to just shrug off, but oh! What silly, ridiculous, and shortsighted people to exclude you from being a godparent based on your love’s race. I’m glad you can shrug it off. (I want to throw things for you.)

      My Chinese-American guy went down to a fair near Redondo Beach (LA) and reported that he spotted about ten AMWF couples there. Including couples with kids. We used to be trendsetters, and now we’re going mainstream. I swear, I am going to start taking pictures for the AM commenters on this blog that keep insisting American women will have nothing to do with them.

      Either that or the Redondo Beach/ Hollywood Riviera/ Torrance area is strangely attractive to AMWF couples. I expect y’all to be moving here soon. 🙂

      Reply
  • June 29, 2015 at 1:03 pm
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    Preach! I really enjoyed this article. I can relate to every point you described. I’m happy to say over the years my boyfriend’s family has warmed up to me. They are more open to our relationship and whatever obstacles we’ll face in the future.

    My family took a good while…They are still learning. They are very opinionated, traditional, and don’t fear making it known how they feel about you. I’m glad my boyfriend has been patient enough all these years to earn their respect. Yes, my crazy uncle still tends to make racist comments from time to time. At least it’s calmed down since the first meeting. 🙂

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  • June 29, 2015 at 3:07 pm
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    I’m glad it worked out in the end for you – and that you and your husband were able to stick it through!

    Unfortunately, for me (an American woman) and my Chinese husband – it didn’t turn out as well. Thankfully my parents, the only family I have, met my husband with open arms. They are the most accepting and supportive people I could of hoped for in parents. They support and love us through everything we do. Race never would be an issue.

    My husbands family, on the other hand, was totally against us being together from the beginning (especially his sister). It got so bad that we actually had to cut them completely from our lives. I never expected such hatred because I always thought of myself as a “good person.” But, the racism I experienced before they even met me was eye opening. I was innocently thinking I would be able to be part of a large family (something I had dreamed of)… but, sadly, they didn’t want to even be civil. It’s especially sad since my husband, the eldest of three children, had always been good and supportive to everyone in his family.

    Sometimes things don’t work out the way you hope they would. And looking back – the best advice I could give to anyone in that situation would be to accept the reality of the situation and know when to walk away. Some relationships are worth working on… But, others are not. That’s okay! Because even if you are in and intercultural relationship you still deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.

    Reply
  • June 29, 2015 at 6:20 pm
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    I guess I have been pretty lucky, I was accepted by his family with open arms (the grandma was actually very excited to meet a foreigner, haha). As Autumn said, the fact that he was divorced and almost 30 when we met might have something to do 😛 My family has also been very supportive from the start.

    Reply
    • June 30, 2015 at 2:03 am
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      The older the son gets, the higher chance the parents are going to accept whoever he brings home. In my uncle’s case, my grandfather would be smiling if he had brought a woman of any background home.

      Reply
  • June 29, 2015 at 6:42 pm
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    Hi Jocelyn, what a good timing to find your mail in my inbox this morning!
    Sorry to ask (hope it is not impolite from me – maybe you already got this question many many times in the past), but how old was your relationship with John when his father expressed his veto? And did John report it to you immediately? I think his staying by your side makes him very brave!!
    When I told my parents about my relationship with M, my dad did not seem very happy, though I know the problem is not race, but eventually the possibility of me, the first daughter, already living abroad, flying away forever; my mother, on the other hand, was only concerned about us (M and me) being in a LDR. My mother still frets when I mention we had a discussion, and asks me how he is going every time I call my parents. So, in my sometimes-naif imagination, I believe they accepted him even though they have not met him yet.
    After I flew back to Europe, he got home in Inner Mongolia for a short vacation, and told his mother about me (his dad passed away a few years ago – he also has one older brother and one older sister); she only said him we might be a short-lived couple due to our cultural gap, and did not add much more to it. Another concern is, just like my mom, our LDR.
    M asked me to go and meet his family for Chinese New Year, next year, so there is enough time before panicking, but still…

    Reply
    • July 3, 2015 at 12:17 pm
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      Roberta, that happened really early on in the relationship. We had just started dating (only a week or so) and my husband mentioned our relationship to him. (But his dad had never met me.)

      You should totally go for Chinese New Year — it’s a good opportunity to get on their best side. It was during Chinese New Year that I really won over John’s parents.

      Reply
  • June 29, 2015 at 11:36 pm
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    Chinese rejection seems like cultural while a white American rejection likely has to do with race. A white family in the south which does not like a mainland Chinese boyfriend or girlfriend probably does not like a Hapa mixed race boyfriend or girlfriend whose families have been here in the US for generations…so it has to do with color in most cases and not culutre.

    Reply
    • June 30, 2015 at 2:30 pm
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      I agree with you very much. It seems everything has a racial undertone in the US. Sure there are white women willing to date an asian man , but it’s like trying to find a needle in a heystack.

      They don’t like anything but white.

      Reply
  • June 30, 2015 at 2:40 pm
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    Thankfully there were no such issues when meeting my future in-laws/ my wife meeting her future in-laws. It always depends hoe open minded and tolerant people are and there is nothing you can do to prepare them beforehand.
    I heard also a lot of terrible stories over the years when it came to meeting the parents or family but thus far nothing like this ever happened in my case 🙂

    Reply
  • July 1, 2015 at 1:13 pm
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    Another great post! My in laws had their reservations when my Korean husband and I started dating but they warmed up quickly. They knew my husband is stubborn and would do what he wanted and he is the second son so there was less pressure on him since lots of the responsibilities for taking care of the parents falls on the first son. And… I like to think I won them over with my smile 😉
    Now my mother-in-law is happy since I produced her 4 grandchildren!!

    Reply
  • July 2, 2015 at 3:49 am
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    I met my bf’s mother when we had been dating for 3 months, but he had already told her he was dating a foreigner almost as soon as we started dating. She was worried at first, but spoke to her brother in law who is also a musician and he convinced her it was better for my bf to date a foreigner because we give our partners more freedom and don’t demand the house-car-money deal that many Chinese girls want in order to marry.

    My bf met my parents the first time when he came home for Christmas with me the first year and even though his English isn’t so good they were able to communicate with him and can see we are happy together. He’s a skateboarder and my father used to skate/surf when he was younger and still competes as a cyclist in his 60’s, so they have that love of sports in common. My bf was worried at first because in China as a musician/skateboarder most gf’s families would not take him seriously.

    We’ve now been together 2 1/2 years and my parents just met his mother last week on their 4th trip to China. It all went well, my parents can see that we are happy together and are planning a future split between NZ and China. He’s the second son, so there’s no huge pressure from his mother for us to get married, but she thinks that my parents worry about me here, so she kept assuring them that I am like a daughter to her, and she and my bf will look after me, so they don’t have to worry.

    Reply
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  • April 13, 2016 at 1:36 pm
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    My boyfriend is brown and I am chinese and I still haven’t had the courage to introduce him to my parents after we’ve been dating for a while. I was even nervous to introduce him to my friends and I am SO happy and relieved when I did, because now I don’t have to lie about missing my friend’s bday dinner because my boyfriend and her has the exact same birthday! My parents are Christian and I just don’t know what they might think and people back home in Hong Kong calls brown people racist names and I don’t want to face any of my relatives’ comments. I worry what my parents would worry how they would tell their friends and family that their daughter is dating a brown guy. I know I need to grow up and face this! So glad I found your blog on line to know I am not alone!

    Reply
  • February 20, 2018 at 3:41 pm
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    Hmm.. I’m still struggling how to introduce my bf to my family and I know I have to do it. But my parents do have strong prejudice on interracial dating with someone who is dark skinned. The worst they could do is cast me out from the family. I am really confuse how to begin too…

    Reply
    • February 24, 2018 at 3:52 pm
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      Hey Silly, thank you for the comment and sorry to hear you’re struggling with family issues, and the potential to be cast out of the family. That’s horrible. It might help if you have a supportive family member (should there be anyone who would be supportive) present.

      Reply

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