Overwhelmed by in-laws from China



Posted by terryll 7 yrs ago
I'm someone quite cynical and not very social by nature, however I try to be polite and do right by other people. I got married a couple years ago to a lady from Mainland China who somehow tolerates me. Her parents are good, decent people who treat me well. There are huge cultural differences, but it helps that I speak some Mandarin and have spent a lot of time in China. So it will probably seem very nasty of me to say that I can hardly stand to be around them anymore. It used to be that we would visit them for Chinese New Year and maybe once in the summer. Since my wife became pregnant 6 months ago, they have come to visit us every couple months for two weeks at a time, supposedly to help take care of her (as if I am not managing to do so). I fail to see how the Chinese food they buy and cook is any healthier than the mediterranean-style diet that I favor.

But what drives me really nuts is their constant presence and their constant loud talking. Their conversation is always at a very high volume about mundane topics like the price of daily items and the scheduling of things. I work very long hours and come home past 9pm to find them on the sofa watching CCTV and talking loudly about dull things, until they get ready for bed and make loud throat hacking noises in the bathroom. They come over and comment about how hard I work, when basically I am trying hard to tune them out during my two hours of free time to think about work and life matters that are resting entirely on my shoulders. They admire me as a successful high-earner, however I see myself as having zero job security in an office full of back-stabbers. Worst of all, they are talking about spending more time in Hong Kong to help take care of the baby. Something that really irritated me at a recent dinner is that one of their family friends asked whether I would ever consider moving overseas and my father-in-law immediately remarked "that's out of the question!" As a matter fact, between the work stress, air pollution and lack of personal space, I have been thinking a lot about eventually leaving Hong Kong. My wife has said that she would support my decision, but clearly her parents are not on the same wavelength. I feel like I have signed away my life to these people, but how am I to tell my wife that I want less of her parents in our lives? Lately, I find myself craving solitude and wishing that I owned a dog.


Luigi666 7 yrs ago
First of all, cultural difference is the reason why you can't tolerate your wife's parents' loud talking. To foreigners, Chinese people talk loud. You can see how people talk in Chinese tea restaurants!? It's their way of talking and the language and intonation and culture.

Second, apparently they do not appreciate the pressure and real nature of your work environment. Maybe find a moment to tell your wife that you want some personal time when you get home from work? Ask her to hint her parents to resign to their room after 9pm? People need to make compromise. By doing this you will already feel a lot better.

After baby is born, I'm afraid that it would be inevitable for your inlaws to come (want to come) more often or stay for longer period. At first everyone would be stressed but soon you will get used to it. One way you may try is to hire helper plus some lady who company your wife when she is moon sitting. By doing this, then you can tell your wife that she doesn't need your inlaws to come "more often" to take care of baby or your wife. I mean at least won't worsen the situation.

Hope this helps.

cookie09 7 yrs ago
i have a similar situation at home including babies, assumed certainties on their part and behaviors that i find mildly annoying.

my basic solution has always been to sit down with my wife to establish the ground rules and then ask her to implement them. you are the married couple so you should agree on the rules together. it's her parents, so she should implement the rules.

of course one has to be flexible in establishing rules, give and take, etc. however i think you have been a push-over so far, so no harm in having a solid discussion with your wife.

lagrue 7 yrs ago
terryll, I completely sympathise with you! I feel your pain. When marrying across cultures, although there are some wonderful things there are also the negatives and the invasive behaviour of the in-laws is one of them. I would suggest that you lay down the law firmly (as they tend to have very thick skin and are prone to bouts of pretending not to hear something or say yes-yes and then do the opposite) and early BEFORE the baby arrives otherwise you will find it intolerable.

I am married to a local Hong Konger and to get my in laws out of my face -loud talking, visiting all hours of the evening, eating VERY loudly, talking about completely inane things when I was trying to unwind was a unpleasant business as I left it too late and waited for the husband to do the talking -never happened or if it did it was so feeble that it slid off the thick skinned inlaws like water off a duck's back. It ended up being a nasty show down with very cross words from me (not recommended) and of course of me being accused in Chinese of being unfilial (which thank goodness I didn;t understand otherwise I would have had a few choice words about NOT respecting other's space/choices ect)

Don't let the third wheel ruin what sounds like a good relationship for you, because that is what will happen if you don't redress your issues. Chinese parents in general think they are right and have right of way in everything and seem to struggle with boundaries and the rights of their children to CHOOSE to have a highly emeshed in your face relationship versus a normal boundary defined one.

GOOD LUCk and GOD bless, it's going ot be a long slog for you my friend!

terryll 7 yrs ago
Thanks for the sympathy. The reason I've been quite passive so far is that they are basically nice people who have treated me well. They are also Mainland Chinese, so my wife is their only chil. A at retirement age, they really have nothing to focus on in their own lives except for their daughter and expected grandchild. It seems brutal to suggest that they should keep their distance when they only mean well. Coming from a state-owned enterprise "iron rice bowl" culture, they don't seem to understand how much pressure I'm under, how much pain I have to deal with in the office and how two hours of personal time in the evening is all that I'm living for at the moment. If I did not have a wife and baby on the way, I could immediately quit my job and live very comfortably overseas. I wish they could appreciate that I have basically given up my freedom and happiness to provide for their daughter and the least they could do is give me my space.

Xerxes 7 yrs ago
suck it up big boy....they mean no harm. Besides, imagined marrying a western / American woman. She would have your gonads in a vice clamp. Its all about trade off.

nigella 7 yrs ago
let me ask you this: if you weren't a "successful high-earner", as you describe yourself (or as your wife and her family perceive you), do you think she would have "tolerated" you in the first place?

they focus on her because if she doesn't already, she will eventually gain control over your money.

wait till your child arrives.

Amparo Kia 7 yrs ago
terryll, i can see you are weary and tired and your frustration over your life even just from reading your post. Is your wife aware of your stress from work, as your wife, she should share your burden and doesn't need to be told that she should make your life easier at home considering your long working hour and etc… It has nothing to do with cultural difference, it is how the husband and wife’s role in a marriage. I am assuming she doesn’t need to work as you are a high earner… all the more she should focus her attention on you and her household….problem with a lot of marriages is once the ceremony is over, we all think it is settled and forget that the relationship would still be needing attention if not more.

Before the situation gets worse, you really need to sit your wife down and tell her your worries and burden and what you want in your own household, or what you are expecting in this relationship. Do not worry about offending them because they are nice to you, don’t want to be sarcastic, but if my son-in-law is a high earner and provide well for my daughter (her family too maybe), I will treat him real well too, nothing wrong there, it’s human nature… as long as your request is reasonable, I see no reason they will be mad at you.

Loyd Grossman is Miss Venezuela 7 yrs ago
Agree with xerxes, suck it up. You could always start behaving strangely like wearing lip-stick and a bra or walking naked around the flat.

Amparo Kia 7 yrs ago
Loyd, haha, I like the walking naked one...a good way to let the stress out and scare the in-laws away

housed 7 yrs ago
I also have pretty difficult in-laws (well, mother in law now as the father-in-law is now passed away) and I find that it's best to let your spouse handle his/her own parents. He/she should be able to communicate the issues more easily and clearly than you would, and in the process, hopefully not piss them off too much with a carefully worded exchange.

But first, you and your spouse should sit down and talk it out first so that you are both on the same page. Agree between the two of you what you find acceptable vs what you are able to tolerate, and then based on that, she can go back to her parents and work it out somehow.

Personally, I would not attempt to talk to them myself. Given the cultural divide, it would most likely make matters worse.

housed 7 yrs ago
In fact, given the choice between talking it out with them myself vs. walking around the apartment naked, I would choose walking around naked. Seriously.

Loyd Grossman is Miss Venezuela 7 yrs ago
These parents went through the cultural revolution. Confrontation not a good idea. You need guile.

Loyd Grossman is Miss Venezuela 7 yrs ago
You need something that you can innocently introduce. Something that you like but which they probably hate. Something like Stilton or Danish blue cheese. Start by insisting it is on the menu each day. Force them to eat it. Tell them it is a huge insult to turn away food in the UK because of rationing during the war. Tell them that Stilton actually has mites living in it - which is true. Make them eat Marmite on toast for breakfast. Become visibly downcast when they refuse. I give them 2 weeks max.

Loyd Grossman is Miss Venezuela 7 yrs ago
And put some Stilton in the air-con for good measure.

Justin Credible (Part Deux) 7 yrs ago
LOL! Damn...poor OP, I feel for him. But yeah, be a man, put your foot down, tell the wife what bothers you and then have her implement. You need to look like you have some rules and a pair to back them up!

bbrave 7 yrs ago
sorry OP but sounds like you got suckered into marriage by the oldest trick in the book- knocked-up. you're the gravy train and the baby is insurance. haven't u noticed most mainland wives get pregnant the 1st year of marriage if they aren't already before marriage. IT's insurance baby! stop working and they'll all leave. no need for any passive aggressive sh*t.

TheNewMrsWong 7 yrs ago
OMG, I am in the same situation!! I love my MIL and all my inlaws, I think they are fantastic people but I can't spend all day every day with them. I can't spend all day every day with my own parents, in fact they've only been invited to Hong Kong once since I moved here.

But now I'm pregnant my darling MIL has offered to move in with us when the baby is born to help us with child care costs. I earn the most and will have to go to back work when the baby is 3 or 4 months old, but I don't want her to move in!!

We did live with his family, the inlaws, for 18 months when I first moved over to Hong Kong. When I had saved enough money I told my hubby that we had to move out. I explained that while I do respect his culture, my culture has children moving out when they can afford it.

Now he's seriously considering having his mum moving in to help us out. He understands that I need my space from family members and while I would really appreciate any help, having someone move in with us while we're trying to find our feet with a new baby is not what I want.

I know this is difficult advice for a man but you could try talking to your wife about how you feel. It worked for me and my husband. He still wants his mum to live with us but he understands and values my feelings. And he knows his mum will still be involved in our baby's life.

Good luck though. I know the culture differences between east and west is difficult. It took me a long time to accept that he gave his money away to his parents even though they are fairly well off.

Best of luck.

Loyd Grossman is Miss Venezuela 7 yrs ago
Don't do anything rash. In-laws are pretty useful to have around especially when you have been married a while.

woods99 7 yrs ago

Have a nice long talk with your wife, and explain that you, a mere westerner, need to have some boundaries. Agree on what those boundaries should be, and allow your wife some time and space to communicate this to her parents.

I agree that one major factor is the possibility that these interruptions to your daily life might impact on your job performance.

Be calm, be consistent, but be assertive. You might have to agree on some trade-offs.

At the end of the day, you are the bread-winner, so your wife and her family do have a responsibility to help you to win enough bread.

lagrue 7 yrs ago
I would also give her a deadline for dealing with the problem, as too often I see men and women alike from the Chinese culture pussy foot around when disucssing tough issues of boundaries/money/other tricky topics with their parents. Either the oldies don't hear, don't care or it wasn't said explicitly enough.

No matter if the in laws have been good to you up to now, the key to a successful relationship on both sides is to sort it out EARLY especially when you feel so uncomfortable in your own home. Don't let it get too late and ugly as my case did.

On a brighter note, 2 years on things are pretty good actually. I have the space I need and they see their son and grandchildren very regularly and we each respect each others boundaries BUT I wished that we had set down the ground rules earlier so it didn't need ot result in a showdown and a HUGE loss of face for his parents (when I could take the intrusion no longer).

TheNewMrsWong 7 yrs ago
I would suggest treading carefully though. As a pregnant woman myself, I wouldn't really fancy arguing with my husband about his family in my condition. Feeling sick CONSTANTLY and tired all the time really brings you down and an argument would just hit the bottom.

Softly softly is my suggestion. Gentle but firm.

unattendedbag 7 yrs ago
terryll, I truly feel sorry for you. I can only imagine what it would be like to have a 'loud talking' mainlander in my house for an extended period of time. I can't stand the loud talking on the train for 20 minutes, let alone a weekend or more.

Someone eluded to it above. Remove all extra beds, couches etc. One advantage to living in Hong Kong's tiny flats, is that there isn't much room for guests. Use that to your advantage. Get the loud talking mainlanders in a hotel!!!

Lunatic 7 yrs ago
talk to your wife and share your concern, let her handle the communication with her parents. after all she is your wife.

otherwise, you will tolerate, tolerate, until at some point you explode, and it will be very ugly.

terryll 7 yrs ago
Thanks everyone. I will definitely have a talk with my wife after the in-laws go home in a couple days' time. This visit, the second in 3 months has really driven me to the edge, and what's worse is that they seem to think they will spend even more time here once the baby is born. What amazes me is how people can make themselves so at home in someone else's home. Whenever I happen to stay with friends or family, I always try to be quiet and courteous. I would never think to sit around in my underwear, have the TV constantly on the Chinese channel, talk loudly at people from different rooms in the house, make throat hacking noises, etc. The most ridiculous thing is that they say they need to take care of their pregnant daughter, but the stuff they cook is much less healthy than what we normally eat. The thing is that retired mainland Chinese parents have absolutely nothing to focus on but the lives of their 1 child. They do no work, no volunteer activities, have no hobbies and are so thrifty that they never do anything that costs money. There is a serious problem with the cultural legacy.

Justin Credible (Part Deux) 7 yrs ago
Well, I think this works as a two way street though. When your wife married a gwailo, she probably didn't think too long and hard about the fact that she was not marrying his family, she was just marrying him...and so maybe, oh, you know, just maybe...it wasn't his deal-a-yo to have to marry her family as well as her.

Man has to sit the woman down and tell her how it is. She will get it. If she isn't happy its purely because most Asian kids don't have the balls to tell their parents to f-off, but lucky for her, she can blame it on the man.

I am with you terryll - you need your space, you need your sanity, and the thought of these wonderful old foggies encroaching on your personal space, hacking up a storm and talking loudly into the quiet night...it could scare you all the way into some dodgy wanchai bar just to get away from it all! But really, fear not, tell the wife and then have her implement.

Lose absolutely no sleep on how she will implement it, just know that you have made it crystal clear that this is affecting your level of stress and work life would come crumbling down like a house of cards if it continues. Tell her that you like them and all, but I am sure she would not appreciate your parents coming over and camping in her living room for weeks on end either.

(That said, there is a strong possibility that you would be able to stand your parents company for a lot shorter time than the wife...but hey...its all about perspective. Us Asians have a problem with this whole "your space/my space" thing, but once its spelled out, its pretty easy to grasp!) Good luck!

TheNewMrsWong 7 yrs ago
Could you offer to put her parents up in a hotel? Not sure what your finances are like, but they would gain a lot of face staying at one of the more pricier ones... Penninsular anyone?

mike204 7 yrs ago
I wouldn't recomment a 5 star hotel...start with 3 or 4 star hotels. Special occasions do the pricier ones.

Once they get used to the pricier hotels, they will sulk when booked at 3/4 star hotels

unattendedbag 7 yrs ago
"The thing is that retired mainland Chinese parents have absolutely nothing to focus on but the lives of their 1 child. They do no work, no volunteer activities, have no hobbies and are so thrifty that they never do anything that costs money. There is a serious problem with the cultural legacy."

Very insightful and well said. If you go to the nicer, more upscale shopping malls in Hong Kong, you will notice very few of them have benches. The reason is that they don't want their mall to turn into a retirement home. Walk into any McDonalds and its usually hard to find a seat....yet few people are currently eating. It would drive me mad if I owned a restaurant with the amount of elderly loitering that I see around here. But I don't blame the elderly, they simply don't have anything else to do.