Under Pressure asks:
We have just had our first child. My Chinese husband is one of 2 children, and is the eldest. Our child is the first grandchild so you can already see the pressure there!
Due to logistical issues we moved into the granny flat of my inlaws 2 months before our baby was born (our new house is still being built, financially it is better to rent out our old house because I was going on maternity leave and I was the higher income earner in our household. and I had poor health leading up to the birth) I was hesitant because I am very independent and was worried that his parents would provide too much input into our childs upbringing but my husband assured me he would not allow them to do that.
Needless to say, baby is here, inlaws are in the granny flat EVERY DAY a FEW TIMES a day and I feel that my husband (who is still working full time) and I do not get the chance to enjoy our own personal time with bub as much when he gets home because they are always ‘popping in’. For example bub is quite unsettled most of the night and most of the day and for some reason she is calmest between 6-8pm. Instead of us being able to enjoy her, the inlaws come in and want to hold/talk to her which of course stimulates her unnecessarily when she is catching up on her much needed sleep and the cycle of course starts again. I have asked them to not stimulate her but they come up every night nonetheless.
They made a big deal about her name, they didnt like what we chose and made it quite clear. When they finally let that go they went on about how we really should have considered a name that is not so hard for Chinese to pronounce! Then now they are going on about why she does not have a chinese middle name (which I asked my husband about when we were pregnant and he made the call that he did not want our baby to have one) All this fuss over her name, completely disregarding our right to name our own child!
They have also orgnaised a traditional chinese party when she is one month old (in a week an a half) and only last night told us that they have invited ‘their’ friends and it is all organised etc. They did not even ask us if we wanted to have one or if the dates were convenient. I am not happy about this because our baby was quite preemie and has only been home a bit over a week and the last thing I want to do is parade her in front of a bunch of gawking guests who will no doubt go on about how small she is and want to touch her just like every one else on the few occassions we have had to take her out of the house to go back to the doctor. Given she is preemie we want to minimise her exposure to people unnecessarily given her fragile immune system until she is at least a bit bigger!
It is driving me nuts and I have spoken to my husband about it but he is too quiet to stand up to them and of course I cant say anything because we are in their home! I understand and respect that they have a culture they want to follow but given I am of mixed heritage myself I find it quite rude that they are not considering the very clear fact that she is NOT 100% Chinese and has both my Asian and Australian culture to consider (which thankfully my parents are not pressuring us to follow!) Given we are living here temporarily for the next few months I do not know how to approach the situation without offending them given my husband is too soft spoken to say anything. I actually find the whole thing ironic given my husband and his sister were not raised traditionally Chinese, in fact they cannot even speak Chinese themselves yet here are his parents pushing 100% Chinese compliance on our baby!
Welcome to the world of Chinese families, where the parents rule.
Chinese have lived for thousands of years with the Confucian value of filial piety — showing respect for family elders and ancestors. The flip side to this is Chinese parents expect to have a lot of control over the lives of their children (and even, in many cases, grandchildren). One Chinese once described it to me like this: “Chinese parents think of their children as furniture” — something they own, something they should be able to “move around” as they please. Consider yourself under new management.
Since you’re living in their Granny Flat, it’s even harder to escape this reality. You’re so close to them and, furthermore, you just gave birth to the newest generation in the family. And, as the eldest members of the family, they want to ensure you’re raising little bub according to Chinese standards — a cause that has unleashed intrusive grandparents into Chinese families the world over. Even though they didn’t do it with your husband or his sister, maybe they see your baby as the opportunity to make up for the past mistakes.
It’s too bad your husband isn’t much help here. Normally, the Chinese husband or wife can mediate when conflict arises, but he must have his reasons (perhaps a childhood of too many lost parental battles?).
Still, Yeye and Nainai (that’s paternal grandpa and grandma, in Chinese) need to be reasonable — they may come first in the Chinese family hierarchy, but your child’s health should come first in any decision, even theirs.
It sounds like you have valid concerns about your baby’s rest, and potential harm from the one-month-old party. While you and your husband may never convince them, a doctor might (though, be prepared — some Chinese mistrust doctors, so one opinion, or sometimes ANY opinion, may not be enough). Start with one doctor, though — hopefully someone that his parents know and trust — and have the doctor write specific advice (or even communicate directly with them, if that seems appropriate) to make it clear that disturbing baby’s evening nap and inviting strangers, and all of their potential pathogens, into your house are harmful to the child.
His parents may still want to party — it’s auspicious for little bub, they might insist. Internally, they may worry about loss of face among the people they invited. Is there middle ground here? Maybe little bub can make a virtual appearance (via a web video camera) while the party goes on at their home or a restaurant (and not your Granny Flat)? No concession, however, should ever, in any way, put your child’s health at risk.
This might be tough for them, so consider “throwing them a bone” by letting them give her a Chinese name. It doesn’t need to be on her permanent birth certificate — just let it be a Chinese version of her name. I can sympathize with the pronunciation issues. Americans have a hard enough time pronouncing and remembering my English name, Jocelyn Eikenburg (just for the record, roll call on the first day of school was hell), so I’d never expect a Chinese to do anything more than know me as Ailin (è‰¾ç³). Your inlaws’ presence means and your husband’s ethnicity means, like it or not, your daughter is still involved Chinese culture at some level, and a Chinese name wouldn’t hurt. They’ll be happy she has a Chinese name, and their Chinese friends will have an easier time remembering it — but you don’t have to call her that. After all, I’d never expect my dad to call me Ailin. 😉
It’s never easy navigating Chinese in-laws — especially if you live under their roof. You might console yourself over a few Pearl S. Buck novels on the matter — such as East Wind: West Wind, The House of Earth Series (The Good Earth, Sons, and A House Divided), or even The Mother — which were written in pre-Communist China days yet still ring true. Buck should be required reading for anyone marrying a Chinese.
If you’re hoping to build better relations with his parents, have a look at my advice for getting closer to your Chinese mother-in-law.
But for now, when times get really tough, remember this — you’ll move out sooner than you think.
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.