On moving in with my Chinese in-laws

“My parents miss us,” said John, who beamed like a Mid-Autumn moon. “They want us to be back at home. They like it better when it’s renao,” or lively.

While working on to-dos for our trip back to China, my thoughts turned to living in the family home once again. And just like that, John reminded me of the warm welcome we’ll enjoy when we move back into the same two-story building his parents call home.

I felt that same welcome from John’s parents during the summer of 2009. On the phone, my father-in-law spoke of home renovations they planned to complete before our arrival. “Why are they wasting their money on that?” I once asked John. Turns out, the renovations were a whole new addition to the family home — including a two-bedroom and bathroom suite that my father-in-law would later dub our xinfang, that new home every newly married couple should have. “This is your home,” my father-in-law said to me once, after I claimed John and I didn’t have a home of our own.

In the US, this reads more like a fairytale — or even a myth. While your parents might kick in some cash for your wedding, they’re sure not likely to leave a “vacancy” sign on for you and your spouse to move in and call it home. And as for the married child, well, moving back home with your spouse is an utter embarrassment — or even life failure.

But John’s parents wanted us living with them so much they made room for us — literally.

And, strange as it may seem, I want nothing more than to live with them too. I love the way his father gets excited about the flowers in the garden and Chinese poetry and writing about the history of his ancient village. I love how his mother keeps me stuffed with the most sumptuous home-cooked vegetarian dishes, and won’t let me do my laundry, and teaches me how to cook with her fire-powered wok.

Maybe most Americans can’t understand why I’m excited about moving in with my in-laws. And that’s okay. The more time I’ve spent with John, the more I’ve realized that not everything about the white US culture I grew up in makes sense either. Sometimes, it’s not about what makes sense to the world or to others, but what makes sense to you.

All I can say is, I’m already missing my mother-in-law and father-in-law and can’t wait to be home with them.

21 Replies to “On moving in with my Chinese in-laws”

  1. It’s always best to do what feels right for oneself (in a situation like that), no matter what other people think of it. There’ll always be people who don’t understand why you do something, listening to them won’t make you happier, but listening to your heart will.

  2. It’s a very good decision that you’ll move back. Chinese parents leave everything to the kids anyway so it’s okay. We are just very tight as families. Yes, something in America doesn’t make any sense to me sometimes. I’ve said it many times, “just be happy”. No matter what people think of you like if you’re poor, you’re loser in life etc etc.


  3. I’m happy for your coming back and I actually admire your decision to live with your in-laws. I had a short period of time living with my in-laws when I visited them and I wouldn’t want to live with them unless they cannot really do things by themselves anymore. My mother-in-law’s love to my husband is so huge that she believes only she can make everything good for him, after her on the list people who are capable to make her son happy it ‘nothing, nothing, nothing’ and somewhere there it’s also me, also we have different view on relationship and he should be ‘the princess’ when I think of us as quite equal – for example I saw his mom carrying groceries, I took them from her because she’s older (57) but it was really heavy so I gave my husband one of the bags. When she saw that she just run to him, took all the things he carried and got mad that her ‘little boy’ (at that time 26 yo man) had to carry one shopping bag. It’s a love-hate relationship, we might get mad or upset because of how different we are, but she will take care of me and I will take care of her so for us it’s better to not spend 24/7 together 🙂

  4. I find the US you describe in this blog generally does not match my experience. If you want to live with your in-laws in the US…fine, what’s the big deal? Also, it is common for extended families to not necessarily live in the same house but they’ll be in close proximity…

  5. What a sweet post! You have good in-laws. I wish you all the best.

    When we were first married, my dad built a house for us across the street from their house on a lot owned by my grandma. (This was in Washington State.) With my mom just across the street to help babysit, it worked out very well until four years later when my husband lost his job. My mom wasn’t the type to interfere, and my husband was a loving son-in-law.

  6. Jocelyn, I think you’re fully assimilated at this juncture! It’s wonderful that you are pleased with the living situation that everybody wants. That means it must be harmonious, so whatever any outsider thinks- who cares! I think the old adage “you can please some of the people some of the time…” is fitting here. And most importantly, of course, those “some” should be the ones closest to you in your life. In China, however, since this type of living arrangement is nothing out of the ordinary, I don’t expect you’ll encounter any negative feedback.

    Maybe the biggest challenges are pushing past our own negative cultural stigmas. Such as the one you mentioned about moving back home with a spouse being a sort of “life failure.” But in reality it happens for so many reasons, which is why we should try to be more gracious and less judgemental. If families around the world were more supportive of each other, I think we’d have a lot less problems. For example, there are significantly less homeless people in Taipei than in American cities of comparable size. I attribute this to the fact that families are closer and don’t allow members to become estranged and alienated.

    As for cohabitating with the in-laws, good for you. I really admire you for breaking a lot of western stereotypes about how we “want to live.” For me, I did move out since I prefer to live independently with my husband, but we go back to see his folks on a regular basis and they are happy that we are happy. They aren’t alone, as they have two grandchildren that stay with them during the week while their parents are working. I might also mention that our new apartment is less than 5 minutes walking distance away (literally across the street).

    To reiterate my previous point, don’t worry about what other people think so long as you and your loved ones are happy. That’s the most important thing in life. There’s always going to be someone, somewhere judging you. Maybe some Chinese don’t think western people should marry into a local family, or maybe some white western people don’t think grown children should live with their parents because they think it’s regressive. But you’re smart enough to keep your head above all that. Welcome back to Asia 🙂

  7. This really is a lovely post. And I’m glad that you’re moving back to a place of belonging, a place where you feel “at home.”

    Sometimes when we feel lost in life, being near family makes all the difference and helps put things into perspective. Because really, family will stick with us to the end (and now, John is your family).

    I’ve lived in Asia so long now that the concept of ‘living at home’ has become absolutely normal tome, whereas people in the west find it appalling (but due to the downturn in the economy, it’s becoming more of the norm to move back in with the parents and it’s losing that nasty ‘loser’ stigma).

    I really love the Asian emphasis on family. I think it’s something we don’t do enough in the west. We dump our parents off at a nursing home when they become old and a nuisance. We give little care to our spouse’s parents and find them a bother rather than someone that is actually related to us. Sometimes our only connection to a relative is to write a Christmas card once a year… the list goes on. Really, it’s not good. My dad’s family (white) lives in the USA, and I’ve only met them once in my life and they rarely call me. My mom’s family (Asian) all live in France and I’ve met them dozens of times, they give me multiple phone calls, and they always send ‘thinking of you’ packages. It’s not mere coincidence–it’s just that Asian people put more effort into keeping family together, which is extremely important.

    Anyway, good luck in China! Having home cooked meals is also an amazing bonus 😉

  8. I lived with my boyfriend’s parents for about 3 weeks. They were suuuper kind and always cooked my favorite food 豆腐 and 茄子。
    When I go back to him next year, we will probably stay with them for a few months after we get out own place.

  9. I am happy for you, Jocelyn. 🙂

    My Aunt had a very high paying, important job in Cape Cod only to quit and move back to Maine to be near my Grandmother. Most of my family are in driving distance from one another. Many of the elders live with their sons or daughters, expect my Grandmother by choice. Many times we would have dinner and so many Generations are there. Even distant cousins. My husband’s family, on the other hand, are not very close.

    chinaelevatorstories: I couldn’t agree more.

  10. Jocelyn, you are amazing. While I love my Chinese in-laws dearly and I am sure they would be thrilled if we moved in with them, I am plagued with the Western notion of wanting my own space. The house where they live (which actually belongs to my husband) has a large bedroom and bathroom that would be ours if we ever did decide to make the move, but what I am really deathly afraid of is my in-laws getting to know all of my flaws and imperfections if we lived in that close of proximity. Also, although my mother-in-law is a fantastic cook, the kitchen is clearly her space and that would be difficult for me. I love to cook, and I love my Western food. What would be ideal is to have a separate home nearer by to them. But I am so happy to read your post about this topic and it really makes me think and appreciate having good in-laws, and it brings me comfort to know that if one day I did have to live with them, it probably wouldn’t be so bad.

  11. Happy for you and John! And we can’t wait for your posts from China! I am sure your Chinese-in-laws do miss and would love to have you and John back with them. That’s generally how Chinese parents love to have their children – even grown up and married ones – living with them.

  12. We live with my husband’s parents. Actually, they give us plenty of space to do things as we please. I am not going to say it is the same as going out and living alone with your husband only, but actually there are lots of nice things about having them there. His mom cooks lovely things for us regularly, which is so sweet of her. Also, she is always reminding us to go on dates and do fun things together. She is a good friend to me, and I can definitely call her a second mother. Also, she swears that when we have kids she will babysit! How nice, right? Also, Brandon’s grandmother lives with us and she is just adorable, cheerful, and the kindest woman in the world. Love them all to death.

  13. Great Jocelyn!

    Remember you are not alone living in China as a westerner for a long time. Charlotte MacInnis and her grandparents are examples.


    You will always have us your moral support. Give my blessing to John as well.

    Chinese are going back to China to contribute their homeland. Look at this Yale graduate.


    Contributing meaningfully to the homeland and making a fuss about everything seen in China is totally different.

    My suggestion is jot down some of the memorable events that your in-laws used to celebrate during winters, summers, festivals and such. When those seasons come back, show your in-laws how strong is your memory from the previous year. Your in-laws will LOVE you like there’s no tomorrow. My wife does that and my parents love that. 😀

  14. I’m happy for you Jocelyn! The most important things is that you two and your family are happy.

    I’ve now lived my my boyfriend’s parents for almot a year, it’s been an interesting year and they have been very nice to me. But I still need my own space and our own home for just us too, so we are moving as soon as we get the old house renovated.

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