Editor’s note: This content was excerpted from a panel at a marriage retreat for Chinese pastors and their wives. Many Chinese families live in multigenerational homes, with the grandparents actively involved in raising their grandchildren. Chinese culture also places a premium on filial piety and giving elders the proper dignity and respect which they have by virtue of their position. Managing all this can be difficult. Here, three families discuss the challenges and opportunities they have faced as they live together with their parents or in-laws.
Moderator: Since we worship God, we also need to honor our parents. Our panelists have all experienced living with parents and children under the same roof.
Li Yujing, you have mentioned that there are conflicts living in a family with older and younger people. You are often the peacemaker. You try to be considerate and compromise for others, but your husband tends to not. Are arguments being resolved? Do differences and conflicts present opportunities to change? When you interact with your parents and children, do you notice anything which could help improve your relationships with them?
Li Yujing: Before Zeng Shu started seminary, it was very difficult to communicate with my husband when our family got into conflicts. I would try to talk to him privately, but he wouldn’t listen. In these cases, I would then talk to his parents and try to help them understand each other. During seminary, he matured a lot. However, one significant conflict happened six months prior to his graduation. My mom was staying at our house, so Zeng Shu held back from arguing with his parents for a long time. However, suddenly he couldn’t hold back his anger anymore, and he started to argue with them one night.
It was not totally his fault. His parents thought I didn’t like them, but that wasn’t true. I never told him anything bad about them. His dad became very angry, and Zeng Shu and his dad started to fight. It became more and more intense.
I tried my best to keep my mom calm while my husband and my in-laws were arguing furiously. At that time, we had just finished building our house. Zeng Shu ended up throwing a stool. There is still a mark on our door to this day. It was an intense fight, but after this, I witnessed God’s grace work deeply within him. He realized it, too. After some time, he went back to seminary [in another province]. He used to call on the landline, but after the fight, he only called me on my cell phone. But, as Spring Festival drew near, my in-laws and my husband finally confronted their issues. They all apologized and since then, have gotten along well.
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Later, they had another small conflict. I teased my husband and said, “Hey, Brother Zeng Shu, you are much better now. Why don’t you throw chairs anymore?” No matter what happened or how bad their arguments were, I would stand to the side and laugh about it. I ask him, “How does this happen?” He knows his own problems now. He can see himself clearly, as if he was looking into a mirror.
He tries to make people in our house conform to his habits, but God has greatly changed him. Now, when he is about to lose his temper, he realizes it and tries to communicate better.
Pastor Zeng Shu: In one of his sermons, Dr. Paul Tripp used an illustration of a bottle filled with water. Corruption exists within me, and life circumstances create opportunities for me to act upon my sin. I am grateful that the Holy Spirit sanctifies me. In Dr. Tripp’s illustration, the water within the bottle is our sinful nature. The water in the bottle doesn’t disappear immediately, but the Holy Spirit gives us a cap to seal the bottle. When we undergo life’s circumstances, the renewing work of the Holy Spirit prevents our inner corruption from spilling out. In addition, the Holy Spirit is cleansing our hearts from the inside out and removing corruption from within us.
Moderator: How do you teach your children to resolve conflict? You two bring different ways of parenting into your marriage because you grew up differently.
Pastor Fan Xi: There is a lot of tension between my parents and us because they aren’t believers. I don’t meet their expectations in a lot of different ways. In addition, we experience a lot of conflicts since my parents’ lifestyle choices and our lifestyle choices affect each other.
For example, my parents realized they couldn’t schedule family events on Sundays when I started attending church, since I wouldn’t be able to join them. I always attended church, regardless of my parents’ complaints. They complained that our family wasn’t able to travel or go out together since we always needed to attend church. They finally accepted this change when they realized my wife and I were in complete agreement on the importance of attending church, and they couldn’t change either of our minds. My dad had originally asked my wife to stop attending church. However, she stood firmly by my side. Since my wife and I were on the same page, my parents didn’t have an opportunity to change our decision and accepted this schedule.
When we got married, my wife and I had a Christian ceremony. My parents attended our wedding and many of their Communist colleagues also attended. They were all shocked when they saw our marriage covenant. They had never seen such a solemn covenant formed between two people. My parents often hear about divorces or bad things which happen within their colleagues’ families and our relatives’ circles, so they were initially worried about my wife and me. In fact, they secretly asked me if my wife would be unfaithful, and I reassured them that she wouldn’t. Now my parents know us better, and don’t worry about our marriage. Although they recognize that we have struggles, they also understand we have a different kind of hope. Although we argue, we are ultimately bound together and inseparable. They feel a lot of reassurance. Nowadays, they even praise us in front of other people and tell them that a Christian marriage is truly different. I think our marriage has had a positive influence on them.
Pastor Yang Xu: My in-laws moved in with us when my wife was pregnant. A very important principle in our relationship is that my wife and I are one flesh. For us, this is a clear boundary.
My father-in-law is a very nice person, and makes a lot of sacrifices to help others. He lets us mind our own business. My wife and I also maintain a clear boundary with my in-laws, so we rarely experience difficulties. In all the time we’ve lived together, I don’t think we’ve had any significant problems.
We have a similar understanding with my children. Our two daughters know that mom and dad are in agreement, and we always stand together. When we parent, we intentionally try to be consistent. It helps that my wife has a strong personality, and no one tries to talk over her while she is speaking. In most situations, my wife and I have set clear boundaries with our parents and children, and are in agreement with each other.
All names are pseudonyms. Pastor Zeng Shu and his wife Li Yujing are in a large city in eastern China; Pastor Yang Xu and his family are in Beijing; and Pastor Fan Xi and his family live in Shanghai.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for young families who are living with their parents or in-laws while raising children. Pray that, if their extended families are not believers, they will be able to shine the light of Christ. Pray for patience, wisdom, and mutual grace as they strive to raise their children and honor their parents.