Tuesday, April 10, 2012

When the House Is Not Big Enough: The Survival Guides

Ever since we got married and moved to Malaysia, my husband and I have been living in my parents-in-law’s house because we were unable to buy a house when we relocated here. That means the two of us currently have to share dwelling with my husband's parents and his younger brother (plus his married elder brother, wife and kids on weekend basis). Furthermore, as of last November, we have a new permanent addition in the house, our latest baby niece as well. A little crammed? You tell me!

In the beginning, I had objections with the idea of living with my husband’s whole family under the same roof as I feel that a newly married couple would find lots of difficulties in building their own household and having their privacy this way. Living with in-laws was definitely never my dream nor written in my plan. I mean, in a marriage, adjusting our lifestyle and habits with our spouse already involves a lot of work, let alone, adjusting with our spouse and his/her whole family’s ordeals.

However, due to many circumstances and our mutual understanding that the current living arrangement is temporary until we are able to buy our own house, I finally agreed to do the current arrangement. I also did this because I love my husband and didn’t want to live far away from this man when he decided to leave Singapore. (Now, with no pun intended, I must honestly confess that I am so glad when we finally managed to buy our own house end of last year although it is not ready yet!)

Moving on, in my personal opinion, although it is not the end of the world, living together with husband’s family and extended family ain't a walk in the park either - particularly for someone like me who had lived on my own (re: away from my own parents and siblings) for more than ten years. I got to skip participating or listening direct arguments in the house with my parents or siblings for God knows how long.

With the fact that now I have to live with my husband’s family members who are not of same national as me, in order to survive, I have to master a lot of tactics so I can successfully get along with everyone. I have to put extra efforts to permanently endure the new life in my in-law’s house as we have different cultures, religions and languages to consider too. In short, the newest family member by law (that’s me!) who recently moved in to the house has to compromise, accept, adapt and understand a great deal of things when living with the big families under the same roof. For me, all this was not a smooth road for the past one and a half year or so. There are often times that I feel I have sacrificed too much and ended up, troubling and hurting my husband when I am personally too overwhelmed with the whole situation.

On the bright side, I am actually blessed to have parents-in-law who are quite caring, not fussy and patient to me. In this sense, living with in laws has advantages for us because my husband and I could save money by sharing expenses with his parents in the house, have someone to talk to or chit-chat with at home, don’t have to do all the things needed to maintain the house as we also share some of the daily house chores, have someone who saves our laundry from rain outside and most of the time, have home-made cooked already served in the dining table.

That's me: Out and about, once upon a time.

Things just get really inundating for me when there are too many people and kids visiting for few days in the house at the same time. Suddenly, I feel like the four-bedroom house becomes too much to handle with too many households in it. When this happens, privacy is merely a fairy tale, noises are all around at all times and occasionally I just wish to put my sport shoes on and run away from the house as fast and far as possible. Having said this, I could not ask my husband to do anything with this situation internally because obviously we are the ones who stay in his family house and he is sandwiched between his family and me should I raise the issue too blatantly. However, I do ask him to take me out of the house (like going to a mall, cinema, restaurant, friend’s house, karaoke, etc.) for few good hours to escape from the crowd in the house when my heart already cannot take it.

Aside from this 'escape' strategy when things turn sour in the house, here are some tips that I practice almost on daily basis since day one to make my life easier when staying and coping with the in-laws in the family house:
  • Accept the situation and try to fit in. Remember that, to begin with, it was our personal well-thought choice to finally agree to stay with our spouse’s whole family. We are definitely outnumbered in the house in many ways. It’s like 1 versus 5 (or more) other people. For instance, if we can’t speak Mandarin well (like myself) while the rests of the family in the house use Mandarin at home then try to learn the language so we can communicate with or at least understand them. Our foreign language skill may not be perfect after a year of constant on-site learning and we’d still need our spouse to help us translate here and there but the learning is worth trying as a mean of fitting in with the other family members and they usually will appreciate our efforts on this. Another example, if we are Christian and the other family members in the house are Taoists then be an open minded Christian when witnessing their Taoist traditional practices and rituals during festivals, etc.. Live in harmony!
  • Be considerate and follow the house rules that already existed long before we moved in the house. This means if the house rules say not to wash our dirty underwear together with other dirty laundry in the washing machine then hand wash them; take our clean laundry from the drying clothes rack once they are dry, then don’t forget to pick them our clean and dry laundry ASAP so other people can use the rack; remember where the kitchen utensils belong in the kitchen then try our best to return them back to their original places after use; clean our own dirty dishes after meal since there is no maid then don’t stack up our dirty dishes in the kitchen sink for other people to wash (although this sometimes may be inevitable); share our private cars with other family members in need, then don’t keep our car key in your room but keep it in the place where other family members keep their car keys together; etc..
  • Close one eye and ignore. Living together with other people means we have to deal with their good and bad habits at home too. In this case, since we are not authorized to change their bad habits (that, again, had already been in the house before we lived with them), then we might as well pretend not to see and ignore those bad habits in the house half of the time. For one thing, when we see dirty socks that are not our husband’s lying around in the house instead of inside the dirty laundry basket, then just act like we don’t see anything and walk away. Someone who is in-charge for those dirty socks would eventually come and collect them when the time comes. Also, when someone in the house throws fruit peels everywhere in the kitchen sink instead of putting them directly in the trash bin when peeling the fruit; then just clean the scattered fruit peels when we can’t stand the sight of dirty sink. A fight with a family member in the house over fruit peels is not worth the consequences.
  • Pick your battles. Living with big families usually leads to arguments between our spouse and his/her parents or siblings. If our spouse starts fighting, exchanging expletives or arguing with his/her other family members, for our own good sake, stay completely out of it and let them settle the issues on their own. It is highly recommended to avoid getting into arguments with the in-laws in their house.
  • Find a sanctuary in the house. A sanctuary here would usually define our very own bedroom, no other place actually. Whenever I find the house is too crowded and I don’t feel like joining the crowd, I just go to my room and chill there. I don’t hesitate to lock my room from the inside too to maintain my privacy. There are times when the visiting kids (re: nephews and nieces) loudly bang on my bed room door day and night but when I don’t feel like entertaining them or have something I need to do in my room, I would not open my room’s door for them.

In conclusion, living with the in-laws needs hard work, 'bigger heart' and continuous efforts. If our in-laws are nice to us then it is a huge bonus as our daily living together with them should be easier in many ways. However, apart from accepting the situation and trying to be considerate in everything to survive in our spouse’s family house, we should be aware that our marriage and personal happiness remain our utmost priorities. When we feel too overwhelmed and frustrated with the whole thing, we should be able to address the issues (nicely) to our partner to work things out and make the living situation less stressful. In addition, trust my words, let's also have low expectation that our partner would be able to help us much with the situation that involves his/her direct family as it is as good as impossible for him/her to make a choice between his/her family and partner. Thus, nothing else we can do but hang in there and wait for that one fine day when we finally live in our own house - where it’d be just us and our partner (and our own kids). 


  1. This was a very good read. With the economy these days as well as a trend of children moving back in with their parents-I am sure this information is very helpful. While the situation can be trying at times, one thing it will teach you is patience as well as tolerance. Those are things that a person living alone does not have to master.
    I am glad that you and the hubby are moving into a house of your own soon-congrats.

  2. Hi Tina,

    Thank you for the compliments. Yes, you are absolutely right. One will not master patience and tolerance when he/she lives alone.



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