The Filial Side of Moving in With My Grandma

John and I with my grandmother
John and I with my grandmother

Lame, loser, or just plain “oh Lord.” My American friends could have easily thought any one of these things — if not more — about me, all because my husband and I moved in with my grandmother.

That’s why I never just told people in America, “We’re moving in with Grandma,” but made it clear that this move came with an asterisk. She’s 89, she had a stroke some years ago, my grandfather passed away last year and she lives alone. We’re moving to China next year, once John finishes his internship — it just didn’t make sense to start a new household all over again, only to have to leave it all behind in an international move. Without this addendum, I felt certain we’d get branded as just another pathetic boomeranging couple leaching off of sweet little grandma.

But my Chinese father-in-law never needed — or asked for — the footnotes on our move. “Of course it’s better you live with her,” he said, just before he cited that one Confucian value every Chinese knows: filial piety, a value that includes respecting and caring for one’s parents (and, by extension, grandparents). For him, staying with grandma meant we could make good on one of the most important values in Chinese culture.

Of course, he could have easily been reading my husband’s mind. After all, John often mentioned filial piety when we discussed the idea of moving in with grandma — how good it would be for us to care for her, and bring her a little happiness in her old age.

Then again, even when I marched out every single reason I rehearsed for all my American friends, the truth was, I felt the same way as John did — that I too wanted to be a little more filial towards my grandmother.

I must say, though, that I have no idea if this came about from my marriage to a Chinese man. Years before I went to China, I remember attending this summer camp in high school, and during this “getting to know you” teamwork-building activity, several people praised me as being “family oriented” (a label that actually surprised me way back when). Maybe I always had this whole “filial” side of me all along and never really saw it, who knows?

The other day, I fried up a cheese and basil omelet for my grandmother for the very first time, and sat across from her as she ooohed and aaahed over each bite. “Jocelyn, you’re hired,” she said with a smile, a humorous nod to the fact that, in her eyes, I was fast becoming her personal gourmet chef. And you know what? There was nothing lame about it. 😉

Have you ever thought about being filial to your family? Did your cultural values — or those of your loved ones — influence or change your ideas about it?

21 Replies to “The Filial Side of Moving in With My Grandma”

  1. Thank you for sharing. For me, being married to a Taiwanese guy has reshaped the way I see my own family. We spend many of our holidays back with family and husband is often the one to suggest we visit our grandmother.

    But I do, however, struggle with trying to live up to my inlaws’ expectations of filial piety. Although we give a (small) fortnightly allowance, phone regularly and recently went back to Australia to visit, I sometimes feel like no matter what we do it is never enough. Many friends in Taiwan tell me how their parents or inlaws expect them to visit every weekend (if they are not living together), or at least every other weekend. This can be hard on people when they are already working long hours and don’t have much leisure time, especially if they have to travel long distances. So I think that while filial piety is mostly good, some aspects of obligation can be hard to meet.

  2. My parents showed filial piety through words and actions: my mom calls my grandfather everyday around 9 pm and when he was in the hospital she was always by his side no matter what. When my grandparents were alive, my father often called them once a week on Saturday mornings to Moscow Russia. I think that part is what drew me to Asian cultures in the first place. When I was a teenager, I guess I felt that this is something that Americans will not be able to understand, no disrespect intended.

  3. MOST american kids nowadays are selfish and they don’t want to take care of parents or grandparents. I don’t know if it’s in my DNA to take care of my mom but I’m happy to see her. Don’t feel embarrassed by this. They will understand. I have another very very close american family that I know for over a decade. Both parents can’t move around so their son is taking care of them. The trend is coming back…. kids taking care of parents.


  4. Why not? My family is the same way. My grandmother had her mother moved in with her. My aunt quit her high ranking job and moved to the same state as my grandmother to watch for her. My dad lives near my grandmother. The reason why they don’t move in with her because she has a husband and it’s her wish. 😉 Not lame at all! I think it’s great. 🙂

  5. Definitely not lame. If my grandparents were alive I’d definitely do the same thing. But I guess I’ve pretty much been raised to expect to take care of the old people in my family. When my grandma was alive my mom, aunt and uncle (her 3 kids) all lived near her and I always rode kg bicycle to go visit. I think she would have killed them if they tried to move in with her though lol. I stayed the night a lot especially after grandpa died.
    I’ve pretty much been raised to know that when my parents get old I’m expected to take care of them, they took care of me and now its my turn.
    Plus, I like living with my parents, no matter what they’re always your elders and if you get sick they take care of you.
    But I guess I feel like I owe them, so its a good thing for the young people to take care of their elders. I think its something that’s lost nowadays because kids are so bad now. I think we’re the last filial-ish generation of America.

  6. It’s great that you have moved in to live with your grandma, even it is for a year or so. I am sure she is happy to have you and you have a place to stay. But the bottom line is not about a win-win thing. The bottom line is this thing you call filial piety. What are family for if they are not for each other? Chinese people do expect their children to care of their elderly. And I don’t see anything wrong with it. So don’t feel bad about the whole thing of moving in with your grandma even though it appear to others that in your case it is taking advantage of your nice grandma. BTW, she looks good for her age. And do take care of her.

  7. Taking care our parents have been a struggle for both my wife and I, because our parents are getting to the age which they need a lot of care. I grew up in China and share the view of taking care of elderly as one of the virtues of Confucius. But I also share of the Western view, which is that children don’t “choose” to be brought in this world. I don’t feel that my children “own” me anything, because it was our decision to have children to enrich our lives. I feel they “give” us as much joy, love, and fullness of life as we “give” them our care. Our family is different from our parents’ family, we have different values, eating habits, what to teach kids, etc. we found it was very challenging to have them live under “one roof”, however, having them live near by seems working much better for us. My parents will be in the US for 2 month soon, we are looking forward to seeing them (and our kids too) in the nearby house that is about 15 minutes away.

    Chen Gang

  8. Grandma will be happy that you move in. Old people don’t want you to leave trust me. I know. They get lonely.

  9. The challenge arises when you take that filial role in another country and culture . It is much easier to do that for your grandparents or parents in China. By the same token, it is still easier to live in with your American grandparents in America. If you trade spaces, that is where the fun begins.
    In either culture today, this arrangement might not work for longer term. It is also interesting as one culture (Chinese) tries to stay away from this type of arrangement, the other culture (America) can find virtues. But I found even the older generation in this country (US) wants to have more independent living.
    Something to be mindful in case your grandparent has bad days.

  10. I have mixed feelings with all this filial piety thing… as a mexican Im also close to my family,even here in China I still call my mom several times a week and send emails almost everyday,dad wants to know everything since how’s the weather to what im going to have for lunch today… so the idea of me or my sisters taking care of them later in life doesnt annoy me at all,however they have never asked us to take care of them or to give money to the house or mention that we “owe” them something.
    Talking to my coworkers i often listen how they need to get more money to be able to give it to the parents ” they took care of me for many years,I owe them a lot” another one told me that if he doesnt buy a gift for his mom every payday she will get angry saying how ungrateful he is. the most shocking comment came from a girl saying that she wasnt ready for kids but she must have one soon or who is going to take care of her.
    When I mention that I was thinking on staying another year in China they asked “will your parents allow u to stay?” I said “they would like to have me close to them but they want me to do whatever makes me happy, they gave their opinion on the matter but never ordered me anything” they were shocked.
    Some close friends have told me that they think that western people is too cold with parents or too ungrateful, even my boyfriend told me that when I told him that my grandma doesnt want to live with my parents.. he thinks we are cold and we dont care about each other… I explained that we care and we love each other… but parents dont ask us to express it in the same way chinese parents do.

  11. A good friend asked me whether I gave my parents money every month. She seemed a bit shocked when I said no. I tried to explain that my parents would be horrified if I, as a new graduate, gave them money. They would feel like they were stealing from me, as I needed the money far more than they did at the time. I’m not sure if my friend understood me. It’s always far easier to label the cultural differences as being “cold” or “ungrateful.”

  12. YES…Filial piety is really very important………………….My girlfriend is Italian She can speak Chinese Her 21 years old .. I am also a 21-year-old I love my parents I also love her parents

  13. Filial piety really turns on asian men. We like family oriented western women :). Many asian /mixed asian men complain to me that MOST white women are not family oriented and they don’t understand why asian men always have family gatherings all the time. Families are very important to us. We don’t like the ideas of not talking to our families. It’s like a lonely , single, stranger wandering around.

  14. This type of relationship is reciprocal, similar to any other relationship in Chinese culture.
    For younger generation growing up with less repression, more of them want feel love to parents is earned, not taught.
    Chinese is not the only people having such culture expectations. Italian family tend to be tight-knit and share similar values. But Confucius has trumped all other cultures for this.

  15. Hispanic /latin families are tight ,too. Yes, this is the main ingredient to attract a person. We need quality and substance in a woman.. OMG! 🙂 I’m turned on already lol. OMG 🙂

  16. Just surprised that, many of your “american friends” bash you and your Chinese husband so often, how the heck you still choose to stay friends with them??

    give me a break, if I were on you position who give Fxxx to those ” friends”

  17. I think the American friends won’t understand a lot of things without Chinese perspectives. It is not their fault either.
    Plenty of Chinese complain about the responsibilities to the parents given the fact a lot of Chinese parents are not so good to begin with. Maybe we can look at what we have lost rather than gained from taking up a certain role once a while.

  18. Joycelyn your grandmother is so cute! Nice picture. In my culture family tends to be a bit closer, and in a number of cases children will live with family. I find that in general I run into problems when someone in the dominant culture will invariably ask “why are you still living at home?” and make negative assumptions about that. The funniest thing happened when I went to the nail shop my mom frequents, the owner and the people who work there treat her with so much love! I was asked when I was leaving rather I lived with my mom or not. I knew that what the owner was really asking, based on the cultural norms he grew up with, rather or not I was a filial dutiful child. I have often pondered rather or not the cultural norm in Western culture is better, or rather the cultural norm in other cultures where even extended family live together is the better way to live? Often in Western culture it is expected that an adult child lives away from home. Peers and family will frown upon an adult who lives at home with a parent.

  19. You also see the same thing with Muslim families, as Islam teaches them to respect their families. It’s not uncommon even in the West for unmarried Muslim adults to be living with their parents.. but not in the squatter sense 🙂

  20. @ Salma

    Word. Same thing in my moms household, and I think in most families in the West. If you do not pull your weight you’re outta there.

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