While expats in China make up only a tiny percentage of the population, multicultural families are becoming increasingly common. If you are a part of a multicultural family, or might be one day, the below reflections may offer some points of commonality and insight. The following guide is drawn from my personal experience of raising a multicultural family in China as well as those of my friends.
Source: Guillaume de Germain
I’m not a family or marriage counselor. I am simply an expat living in China with a Chinese partner and our mixed child. But I do have some advice for those on a similar path.
First and foremost, you’ll need to develop and maintain an understanding of, and an ability to, overcome cultural differences with your spouse or partner. In my experience this was easy and obvious in the beginning, but has gotten more complicated over the years. I’ve had to learn when to insist on my point of view and when to accept that, being in China, certain things are going to have to be done a certain way.
It also pays to be mindful of how you talk to your partner about social and political issues. Living in a foreign country, especially if you stay for a while, broadens your perspectives. One of the gifts of travel is learning to see your homeland and worldview from a new and different vantage point.
Never was this more clear than in conversations with my wife. While we don’t agree on all social and political topics, we can both say that we understand the other’s point of view. One of the cornerstones of a lasting marriage is communication. The challenge is learning to communicate with an open mind and a willingness to have your perceptions altered by a partner from a very different background.
Another thing to keep in mind is how to balance the Western partner’s need for recognizable Western culture in the family’s daily life, while at the same time embracing Chinese culture. For us, the compromise was moving to a larger, more international city. It was that simple. Smaller cities, while great if you’re intent on a traditional, China-specific experience, can really make you feel like you’re cut off from Western culture, food, ideas, and perceptions.
Other solutions include making time for return visits to the foreign partner’s home country, or planning family vacations somewhere else entirely. And don’t forget about holidays, even if they aren’t celebrated (or even understood!) in China. Back in December we put up a Christmas tree and had a small family party. And even though I had to work on Christmas Day, having a nice meal and exchanging a few gifts that evening felt a little more like home.
One of the biggest decisions any couple makes is whether and when to have children. Living in China with a Chinese partner complicates this some. Our child was born in the US and spent his early years there, while expat friends of mine have raised their children exclusively in China. The biggest difference seems to be cost. Having a child in the US is enormously expensive, while in China it’s much more affordable.
A major decision you’ll have to make is which passport your child will hold. I have several friends who have had children in China and applied successfully for a US passport. You’ll have to decide which option is best for your family and your future plans.
I dare say the main challenge, or opportunity, is finding a balance between Western and Chinese parenting styles. Academic expectations for children in China are often quite strict, with time for hobbies and free play minimized in favor of academic rigor. So how should a couple foster a balance between Western and Chinese-style education?
Both my wife and I are teachers. I teach at an international school that values Western learning methods, while my wife has taught mostly at traditional Chinese kindergartens and primary schools. Our son’s progress in school is a daily topic of conversation between us and we have come to realize that trust and compromise are key.
Naturally, we both want what’s best for our son, but we have very different ideas of what that is. I think he ought to have more free, imaginative time, while my wife wants to fill his schedule with additional classes and activities. I trust that somewhere in the middle is the best course.
One huge advantage of raising a multicultural family is that, regardless of the educational philosophy you decide to adopt, your child will most likely be fluent in Chinese and the foreign partner’s native tongue. No matter what formal education your child receives, this will be a tremendous advantage, wherever you live.
In China, compared to Western families, grandparents are typically much more involved in the lives of their grandchildren. Be ready to spend a lot of time with your in-laws, or a lot of time coming up with excuses not to!
One thing I was not aware of was that grandparents in China often name their grandchildren. At the very least they are involved in the process. This seemed odd to me coming from the US where families are more fragmented. What’s cool about the Chinese way is that grandparents are often more connected to family history so can suggest a name that has a special meaning. There is also the possibility that they come up with something well-intentioned, but lame and outdated. My wife’s grandfather had a name in mind for her, but, luckily for her, her parents vetoed it in favor of something less likely to be made fun of.
It’s also typical in China, especially if both parents are working, for the grandparents to move in with the family. This, of course, has its benefits and drawbacks. Whether this is your situation or not, however, you can expect your child’s Chinese grandparents to take an active role in their upbringing.
At some point multicultural families will have to decide whether to remain in China or return to the foreign partner's native country. This is, of course, personal for every family, but there are certain things to be aware of during the decision-making process.
My family has both left China and, years later, returned. The key to making both decisions was our old friend “communication” again. The entire time that we lived in the US, the understanding was that we would move back to China when the time was right for us to do so. Likewise, when we left China in the first place, it was something that we had been discussing on an off for over a year.
There’s a growing number of multicultural families in China, even in smaller cities, so never forget there’s no shortage of people in the same boat if you need advice or just a sympathetic ear. Marriage and parenting are hard work, harder still in a multicultural family in a foreign country.
I’m not the only foreigner with a Chinese wife and mixed children at my workplace. It’s not a constant topic of conversation, but when it does come up, it’s an opportunity for understanding, insight, and humor. When raising a multicultural family in China, seek out others who can share in your triumphs, trials, and tribulations.
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Keywords: multicultural family in China
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A lot of these points are just the marriage trying to balance your needs to have western values at all times. Which seems a bad example to use in a multicultural marriage. For you it worked, but for how long? And how many fights and drawbacks are you not mentioning because of your needs to not feel cut of from the western culture? It seems you both rushed into this without talking about the future, something me and my fiancee how talked a lot about already and have found solutions and ideas without being pressed by the hand of marriage already on us. My suggestion to anyone reading this, don't take this article too seriously, or you will most likely fight with your spouse if you talk about these things too late.
Jun 16, 2020 10:35 Report Abuse