Tag Archives: family

A Love Letter to my Chinese Mother-In-Law

Looking back at some of my posts, I realise that most the quirky anecdotes and the weird stuff tends to involve her, my MIL. That might give the impression that we don’t get along but that’s actually not the fact at all. The main reason that most of my funny and weird China stories, such as rearranging wardrobes, happen with her, is simply because she is the Chinese person I am closest to and spend the most time with. Mr Li doesn’t count, as his long time in the West and my terrible influence have turned him into as much a confused culturally non-identifiable mashed potato as I am. After five years of having him in my life, and thus her by association, I have come to learn a few things about her in relation to other Chinese mothers-in-law that make me thank my lucky star that she is indeed the MIL I ended up with. So, here we are. My love letter to my MIL:

Being Supportive of us Dating

To start off, I have to say cudos to my MIL for never once suggesting to my husband that dating a foreigner was something bad. I know a few other WWAMs, such as Jocelyn, whose potential parents-in-law had misgivings about their son dating a Western woman, since we stereotypically tend to be seen as “loose” and heartless monsters who will abandon their duty to look after their parents. My MIL was never anything but welcoming to me, even when I could be a total bitch when I was struggling with culture shock.

The day we got our certificate

A Strong Woman to Look Up To

I think one of the things that I really appreciate about her is the fact that she is a business woman, who owns her own kindergarten. In a country, where still the ideal role of a woman is to take care of the family members, young and old, it is rare to find a woman who has such a successful career, and a family. Actually, being a divorced woman in rural China in the 90s – that’s some pretty tough stuff –  and she has been through some really intense shit in her life. But she came out of the other end a strong and successful woman, a total trail blazer. I have only two words for that: Absolute Awesomeness.

Giving us Space

I find one of the common worries of dating Chinese men can be the fact that many Chinese family members, particularly the mother, struggle with the concept of personal space in the way we Westerners think of it. Most Chinese parents expect their sons to live in the same city as them, many even on the same street or (scary thought) under the same roof. However, this, from what I hear and experience myself, can lead to conflict very quickly, as two strong headed women from two different cultures often tend to have clashing opinions. Our husbands, the poor sods stuck in the middle, are often not outstanding at managing these cross-cultural issues either. I’m therefore incredibly glad that my MIL is accepting of the fact that we won’t be moving to Inner Mongolia and have our own lives.

Not Pressing Us on Children

While the rest of the family is a different story, I am incredibly lucky since my MIL doesn’t put pressure on me to have child. This is very uncommon in China, and I think it has to do with the fact that my husband’s parents are divorced. Maybe she wants to see if we can make it last? Who knows. All I know is that all I get from her in terms of procreational pressure is the occasional “Doesn’t your husband look cute with his little niece.” Thanks MIL, I really do appreciate it.

After marriage pressure comes…baby pressure!

Being OK with Us Moving Back to Europe

This is a big one. Many Chinese parents I know of, and more so those with sons, are heavily opposed to the idea of their child moving to another continent, because “who will take care of me in old age?” So the fact that my MIL is totally on board with the idea of us returning to Europe at some stage (mainly for breathable air) is not a given. She went to Germany for the first time this summer and overall seemed to quite enjoy it. There is of course a possibility that she would like to join us in Europe but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Home sweet home.

Almost Always Picking My Side in Fights

This is a really interesting one. From the beginning, when Mr. Li and I tend to go at each other, I’d say 90% of the time my MIL would be the one to talk him down and who picks my side. Especially in the beginning of our relationship she was the reason we didn’t break up many, many times. I have actually had to force myself not to call her to knock some sense into him when we have had the occasional fight. This has been a massive help to me, since I am aware that especially when it comes to cultural conflict, it’s an easy thing for the Chinese relatives to gang up on the foreign partner. It’s probably the same the other way around. So her being able to see my side is something I really appreciate about her.

Spoiling Me

Yeah, I have to say, my MIL tends to spoil me rotten. She will always buy things that I don’t ask for and often even feels the need, when she buys endless stuff for Mr Li, to buy me something too so I don’t feel left out. She will go out of her way to make me comfortable and constantly feed me food, if I let her. When you are in a country far away from your own mum, it does feel nice every now and then to be showered by such affection.

Being Pretty Cool to Travel With

I think this is the funniest one in a way. After Mr Li and I got married in China last year, I went on a 2-week honeymoon not with him but with my MIL. He was working as usual, the workaholic. And it was actually pretty awesome. She never travelled much in the past but is now in a phase of her life where she is really enjoying exploring the world. And so I know that if I ever want to travel to a cool place and my hubs is busy, I can just ask her if she wants to go. And actually, she is as active as I am, so she is totally down for a busy schedule and looking at loads of places, as opposed to my little couch potato of a husband ;P

Our MIL-DIL Honeymoon at Qinghai Lake

So, yes, while at times certain elements about Chinese culture drive me insane, I have to admit that overall I have been incredibly lucky with my MIL. She’s definitely not what you’d call a traditional Chinese mother-in-law!


Cultural Customs (1) – Marriage and Babies

Being around the whole big Chinese family over New Years would be a challenge to any sane person; but it just so happens that I grew up most of my life with just my parents and paternal grandparents around. Christmas was the five of us on the night of the 24th and the rest of the holiday was just chillin’ with my peeps – three musketeer style. While I do have a large family in the UK, whom I love visiting, I would only see them on average every two years. The result, I have discovered, is that despite my generally extrovert nature, I actually really struggle with big family reunions. It was the case with my previous boyfriends and unsurprisingly my noisy, passionate and meddling in-laws in Hohhot are just a step up on the torture ladder compared to my past experience with distant and mostly adequately loud German potential in-laws.

Now Chinese New Year is the time of the year when you are forced *cough cough* I meant honoured to sit through at least three or four days of family lunches and dinners in which each and every aunt and uncle will enquire either about if you have a boy/girlfriend, when the two of you are getting married or when you will pop out babies. The pressure is so bad that an entire industry around renting fake boy/girlfriends for CNY has emerged.

If you are a indeed a new couple or a newly-wed couple, you have completed level 1 and 2 respectively in the game that is World of Chinacraft. As you level up, it will rain hongbaos as a reward (sorry, geeking out a little). Hongbaos or red envelopes full of money are traditionally given instead of gifts to children and in the above mentioned two scenarios. Technically, you are meant to go to each relative’s home – and in China’s “Mao generation” there are a lot of aunties and uncles – to pay a new year’s visit and as a sign of respect you need to bring gifts. In our case these were cakes from Beijing’s most famous bakery, for which we stood in line for close to two hours and almost got in a fight with a “dama” 大妈, one of the most fierce and dangerous species to be encountered in China. I am lucky in so far that my Mother in Law arranged for us to go to her mother’s home just when all the aunts and the uncle were there, so we didn’t have to go round to their home anymore. Cheeky, right? But to my family-phobic self a total lifesaver.

While I didn’t get too much heat in the past from my Chinese family in terms of when we are getting married, it seems the wedding night has somehow flipped the baby-craze switch. I knew this would be the case as it’s what I’ve read about on pretty much any Chinese-Western dating blog and heard from every single of my friends in Chinese marriages. And yet, when faced with it I found it quite a challenge. Every single female relative seemed to only wait the five minutes of polite small talk before pouncing on us like baby ninjas asking about our reproductive plans.

Now I was quite content with the coping strategy that we came up with, which included myself simply sitting there in silence staring at the floor, while poor Mr Li was left trying to explain to horrified looking aunties that we plan to wait until our thirties to have children. “No, no, you can’t do that, that’s too late” was the conclusion most of them probably drew in their minds; but of course one of them had to announce this to us with absolute conviction. Again, dealing mechanism of just sitting there keeping my mouth shut went into action – though I couldn’t help but think they should try telling that to my mum who had me, her first and only child, at 36. The fact of the matter is that a considerable number of people in China are genuinely convinced that having a child in your thirties will cause birth defects. I would like to think I am living proof that that’s not the case; though I couldn’t attest to my mental health…I did after all move from one of the most gender equal cultures in to one of the least.

Do you feel the baby heat as well? And what are your coping strategies?