On being pregnant and living with the Chinese in-laws

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After 11 exhausting weeks of early pregnancy, my in-laws arrive in Shenzhen to stay with us for a few months. I love being independent and I’ve always liked living on my own (and with my husband), but I am also a person who’s reluctant to admit that I might need other people’s help, so when it comes to my in-laws living with us, at the very beginning I’m torn as to whether I like the idea or not.

After a few first differing interpretations on how to do things – like my father in-law smoking in the kitchen with closed doors and the ventilator turned on but still leaving a cloud of smoke wandering through all the rooms in our apartment (the cloud of smoke, not my father in-law) or my mother in-law putting a bowl of fish into a cupboard for clean bowls and plates, making me clean every bowl two times before using them to make sure the smell of fish is gone (the smell of fish made me gag in early pregnancy) –we come to some agreements about how to handle things in our household.

Before my in-laws’ arrival, my husband and I often come back home after 8 pm in the evening, and with cooking taking up more than an hour, it is often past my pregnancy bed-time of around 9 pm. Being pregnant can leave you feeling tired most of the day and sleep is the much-needed antidote to make it through the next day.

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Not only that, with nausea starting whenever I am really hungry, otherwise seemingly easy tasks such as going to the grocery store on our way back home have become a real challenge in those first weeks of pregnancy.

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So when my in-laws arrive in Shenzhen one weekend in December 2013, it’s easy to see the advantages rather than the disadvantages. They help us with grocery shopping and cooking, which takes a lot of work off our shoulders. They also clean the dishes and the apartment.

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But the most surprising thing for me is that although we do have my in-laws’ help with all these tasks and my husband is juggling two jobs, he is still helping out. Often times, he’ll prepare dishes together with my in-laws. On weekends he cooks for all of us. Maybe he wants to take some work off his parents’ shoulders, but maybe these are also his newly developed fatherly instincts shining through?

Have you ever been staying with your in-laws for an extended period of time? I’d love to read about your experiences.

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About

Hi, I'm Ruth, welcome to China Elevator Stories! I have been living in Kunming and Shenzhen in the past and am now staying in Northeast China with my Chinese husband and our baby and toddler son. Join us on our journey bridging worlds!

18 comments

  1. Some men, no matter what their country of origin, are helpful around the house and some are not. It’s a real blessing to have a husband who is the helpful type. Even though my late husband grew up with maids, he was very helpful and also a good cook. After the birth of each of our daughters, he did all the cooking for the first week.

    • I agree. He was doing most of the cooking once I got pregnant, so I thought that after my in-laws came here to help out he’d relax a bit more at the weekends, but he still helped a lot, trying to let his parents relax a bit.

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  3. Sounds like a lot of challenges. That’s good you say more advantages than disadvantages.

    Still, I look forward to hearing more about annoying yet interesting Chinese in-law traits! Should leave you with a lot of blogging material… 🙂

  4. As I am terrible in making food I was not able to help my wife with it during her pregnancy. So all the food stuff was still her responsibility but I took care of all the other household things such as cleaning etc (actually I did the very same thing before but my wife sometimes helped me when I was just too exhausted from work).

    The biggest challenge was the feeling of being tired all the time for her. She worked till her 8 1/2months of pregnancy and was usually home late at around 8pm. THis resulted that with preparing food for the next day, hving some little extra work to do and trying to relax a bit she was not able to get sleep till often 1am.

    However during all the time she was always saying “Thank god that my parents are not here”. Sure they could have helped but also would add alot of stress for her due to our small apartment and other personal challenges 🙂

    • Somehow my husband developed a talent for cooking after I got pregnant. We ate out a lot before I got pregnant, especially during the week. After getting pregnant though, I just couldn’t eat food at restaurants anymore – alone the thought of eating it made my stomach sick. It wouldn’t have been possible for me to cook in the first months of pregnancy because all the different smells made me feel nauseous. Staying up until 1am is crazy, especially in the first trimester, where you just feel tired and exhausted all of the time.

  5. This is really sweet and deep.

    I think it’s wonderful you have in-laws who want to drop everything and help (even if people disagree on what is actually “helping”).
    I know that living with inlaws during pregnancy is fairly common in Asian countries… but it’s something I haven’t quite gotten used to the idea.

    • Thanks!
      It did need some persuasion from my husband – his mother wanted to help out anyways, but his father didn’t really see why we’d need help with cooking (where they are from, you usually just need 15-30 min home from work and have much more time in the evenings). Also, Shenzhen is really far from their hometown (3000 km), so it took them a while to get accustomed to the climate, food and people here.
      It took me a while to get used to the idea too, but in the end I was just really glad when my parents in-law arrived in Shenzhen to help us out with cooking.

  6. Jocelyn - Speaking of China

    Given that I currently live w/ my in-laws, I can relate to this post! It’s funny because I consider myself pretty independent, yet I’ve also just somehow gotten used to being in their house and having their help…and it’s really great, for the most part. I think the only downside is that they don’t have a really strict policy in the house about smoking so when people smoke it always ends up congregating right outside our door (and I really, really hate secondhand smoke…so does my husband). But that doesn’t really happen all that often. For the most part, they really are a blessing.

  7. My mum married my dad primarily because he was a cook. There were other things too of course, but she saw that a guy cooking is the golden ticket! (and mine too)

  8. You are much more relaxed than I – couldn’t imagine having my in-laws around when pregnant. When they are around they want to feed me all the time and nausea and fried food don’t go well together!

    • Fortunately they accepted my wish to eat simple and mostly vegetarian food. My mother-in-law would pay really close attention to which dishes I liked eating and which I didn’t like eating. If she saw that I really liked a dish, that would lead to her making the same dish every day in a week – until I or my husband told her that we can’t see that dish anymore. She’s really open to criticism when it comes to cooking and preparing food, so that’s a good thing. Also, they never made me eat more than I wanted to. I guess it really depends on the in-laws if you can stand having them around or not. For us the decision was like this: Having them around, getting food (haha, that sounds like I’m a pet) and having time to finally sleep and rest a little more or being really exhausted all the time and not getting enough vital nutrition. There were some smaller annoyances, but nothing we couldn’t take for a few months.

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  11. Alana

    Lovely piece. Really interesting experience you had even though you were a bit hesitant in the beginning for your in-laws to temporarily move in with you to help you out. In chinese culture is it expected that you spend a lot of your free time with the in laws and other extended family members visiting and eating together? For me, dating a Filipino man I noticed how much of my independence disappeared because we shared meals together everyday and it was kind of expected to spend a lot of time together. I am really happy getting things done on my own and I dont need anyone to come with me to run a simple errand, even at home as well. I have always been that way and I am worried about adjusting to a new culture. I don’t want to lose ME and who I AM but it will all all take getting use to customs.

    • I’m not going to lie, it’s not always easy to adjust to a different culture and all the cultural expectations. I don’t know about the Philippines, but luckily in China most people don’t expect me to understand everything about China and Chinese culture (and how to behave here), so I can still be “me” a lot of the time. If you live with or close to the in-laws, it is usually expected that you spend a lot of time together. You don’t have to actively do stuff together, just being in the same room can count too (or eating, like you mentioned). Maybe you could talk about it with your SO and try to understand both of your views on this and if possible, work something out that would work for both of you. I don’t think you have to give up all of your independence, but probably some. “The good Shufu” is a book that also deals with this topic, you can try looking into it if you’re interested. Tracy Slater, the author, is an American married to a Japanese, who never planned to move to Japan, but in the end, that’s exactly what they did.

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