Chinese men also come with involved mothers. Their mothers are full of opinions and criticisms. The Chinese fathers I have known, on the other hand, are not involved and extremely difficult to have a relationship with. The best way to deal with the introduction of a new mother-figure into your life is to demonstrate to her that you are an adult who is open to and cares about her opinions, but is not obligated to follow them (I learned this the hard way from my step-mother). You don’t yet have water under the bridge with this woman, so there’s no need to get worked up when she does not agree with you. I am very pleased with my husband’s mother because she genuinely likes me, is generally not unreasonable, and is very caring (read: sacrificial). However, I will never have the close relationship with her I had hoped for in a mother-in-law. Her Nanjing accent is too strong for us to communicate fluidly, she is too serious and never jokes, she is very strong-willed and argumentative while I am relaxed and easy-going (she thinks I will change when I get older…), and apart from her son we have almost nothing in common to discuss.
Chinese mainland men born in the 1980’s are generally quite serious toward romantic relationships (unless you enjoy sticky situations and ripping apart hearts, don’t date him unless you would consider marrying him!). Most of them will only have 1-3 girlfriends before one of them turns into the Mrs. I personally think this is a huge plus over the average American male. I feel the same way and don’t want to be faced with 10 years of baggage from a string of past girlfriends. On the other hand, since Chinese fathers generally leave child rising and decision-making up to wives, he probably lacks a strong sense of what an ideal father means to an American woman.
Another thing I love about Chinese men is that their definition of “masculine” differs from the limiting American perspective. Most Chinese men have no problem riding a pink motor-bike, carrying their girlfriends’ sparkly purse (or their own leather one), wearing capris (not that I’m happy about that…), singing cheesy love songs, or sleeping on flower-covered sheets. I think the American male’s fear of being thought of as gay as gotten out of control. So I think a new outlook is refreshing. On the other hand, most Chinese guys have zero sense of style. Fortunately, my husband is not one of them.
Lastly, the biggest hurdle I have found in my inter-cultural marriage is a differing outlook caused by huge differences in China and America’s educational approach. Americans are taught to be idealistic and hope for the best. Even if we do nothing concrete to change the world, we still feel outraged at the injustice around us. Today’s Chinese people tend to focus on out-maneuvering the outrageous system. Since changing the system seems impossible, they frequently focus narrowly on finding ways to be personally successful despite it. My husband sees my outrage at corruption and highly unethical practices to be naïve. He cannot understand my criticisms of America’s neo-imperialist practices. As far as he’s concerned, any country with the advantages the U.S.A. has would naturally abuse them. Where I see America as hypocritical, he appears to think the country is a saint for upholding any moral standards at all. If the rest of China shares this “realist” position, I fear for this world’s future.
Do you plan to have children? I think that every marriage encounters difficulties over bringing up kids. After all, we all grow up in a family and imbibe our family ways with our mother’s milk. Naturally, we feel most comfortable with our ways. Your mother in law will certainly be a problem over the rearing and socialising of HER grandchildren!
Sure we plan to have children – he wouldn’t mind starting right away but I’d prefer to have some more adventures and get a career going first. When the time comes, I’m sure raising children in a multi-cultural home will present a whole new set of challenges! His mother definitely expects us to have her come to the US to help with children. It seems most Chinese people don’t obsess about the rearing, socializing of their children (at least, my husband’s mother definitely didn’t). It’s all about going to the best schools, period. So I doubt my mother-in-law would try to interfere in that stuff. I think the biggest hurdle would be to adjust to someone with their own set ideas about cleaning, cooking, organizing and running a house living with you. Though I don’t think she’d insist on having the baby poop on the floor like a lot of kids do… haha. Oh, now that I think about it, I might get upset if I notice her using extreme criticism and shaming techniques to get the kid to “behave”… Seems to be the way she raised her own child.
Of course she’ll love the kids – what’s not to love about grandchildren! But she only knows one way – her way! Smart move to locate to the States – then she joins your society and has to adjust to it. I had a multicultural marriage too – Scottish/English – not so different you’d think but years ago my Scottish mother in law was not happy that her son had married an English girl from the other end of Britain. Before she died, aged 95, we’d come to love each other but in the early days of marriage, my husband had to speak plainly to her. He told her in no uncertain terms that he expected her to support my ways of bringing up the baby and he would not listen to her criticisms.
So, when you voice your criticisms of corruption or unethical practices in China (I’m assuming that was your reference point), what is his reaction? Just curious as I have occasionally found such criticisms only engender a very nationalistic response. It’s ok for Chinese to criticize their nation – not always the same for foreigners to do so.
I wonder how much of your relationship with your mother-in-law is tied to the fact that she is your mother-in-law (regardless of your obvious cultural differences) and how much is tied to the fact that she is Chinese? Further, where does your husband come in as it relates to his mother? In my own experience, I have a similar relationship with both of my in-laws in that communication is sometimes difficult (their accents are very heavy with regional intonation) and we otherwise have very little in common other than my better half. My better half and I have also worked very hard to ensure that we live our own lives without allowing either of our respective families to unduly influence our relationship (somewhat easier since her family is far away and mine, while closer, is not necessarily always so close). And, in reality, when I no longer want to deal with my in-laws (for whatever reason), I simply say “I don’t understand” and walk away – and no one is offended.
For Meryl, as per children, (again, from my own experience) my in-laws will do almost anything with and for him and rarely interfere in our raising of him. Perhaps because my spouse and I tend to agree on much of his upbringing (which is often more Chinese than not in some ways), there is little disagreement and reason for them to become overly involved. It may also have to do with the fact that there are communication boundaries since he is not linguistically gifted and has difficulties with Chinese (not to mention his abhorrence of most Chinese foods – tofu and dumplings excepted). – but at the end of the day, he knows that his grandparents are always there for him and will help him in whatever way he needs.
And now, I’ll stop rambling… *sorry*
The first time I went to China as a 19 year-old, I was confused as to why people there kept saying Taiwan was a part of China. In my utter ignorance of Chinese history, I did not know about that tumultuous relationship. Well, that didn’t go over well with the hubby-to-be! He responded defensively with a fairly standard party-line responses to my silly questions (“why is inner Mongolia part of China and outer Mongolia is separate? Shouldn’t they be together?”). Later, he gained other perspectives and was exposed to all the information generally unavailable online in China while studying abroad elsewhere in Asia. I also became less of an outsider and more of a close friend, meaning he wasn’t so worried about protecting China’s reputation and could share his real opinions. Nowadays, I think he feels mostly jaded about China’s trajectory while I’m idealistic and want to think of ways to change negative practices and occurrences.
He’s keenly aware of his status as an un-represented, voiceless member of the masses who can’t possibly battle the big dogs – so he might as well just play the game. At the same time, he and his whole generation are REALLY active in online news breaks and debates. So in a way, these netizens are stretching their political wings and Beijing is starting to take notice of them and their sway over the people.
It’s great that you’ve come to an understanding with your in-laws. I’m not sure what will happen when we have children. My mother-in-law frequently gives me unwarranted health advice. She’s 100% certain of whatever she’s saying and needs me to agree otherwise she’ll be upset. But we have some different thoughts about what’s “good” for your health or not in the US. But I don’t like to listen because I don’t agree with her advice. She once proudly told me that she never let my husband have more than one apple a day because they’re too sweet and that she herself rarely eats fruit (she was right at least in saying she never bought him processed food). And once I found a stick in my husband’s pocket… she had put it there to ward off evil spirits. Anyway, I guess I’m most worried about this type of advice…
I think Chinese men are actually more concerned about appearing masculine than Western men. It’s just that the Chinese culture’s definition of masculinity is very different from West’s conception. They seem to be equally limiting, but just in different ways.
(As a weird historical aside, pink was a masculine color in the U.S. up until the 1920s.)
And now many US convicts wear pink prison clothes in order to humiliate them!
Just curious, in what ways have you noticed that the Chinese notion of masculine is limiting? Awhile ago I was teasing my husband saying if he wants kids, he’ll have to stay home and take care of them. His reason for saying he’d never do it? Because others would lose respect for him and the children’s friends would all make fun of them. So here we have gender notions in play, but it’s hardly a China-specific view.
Interesting fact: most Chinese think eating ice cream is girly. Especially mint chocolate chip ice cream. At least American men don’t have to worry about their masculinity coming into play when they want ice cream haha.
Just a thought from an old laowai. Chinese gender issues remind me of my mother’s generation (she’s now 87). When I was a kid in the 1950’s Britain, Mum was all “girly”, wanting to be the “little woman” who looked up to the “big man”. She expected men to open doors for her and generally “baby” her. Dad on the other hand, was “the big man” who never looked after his kids, would not know how to care for a baby and never pushed a baby buggy. They were typical of their generation and it seems to me that many Chinese couples operate like this nowadays in China. These gender notions may not be China specific, as you point out, Heather, but they sure as hell changed in Britain in the 1960’s. Men look after kids here, sometimes full time and do a darned good job. As for women, equal rights were hard won in the 1970’s and I’d swap the “baby” treatment any day of the week in order to be treated like a full adult. Which I am glad to say I am!!! Good luck with the MIL.