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How to best help my new Chinese sister-in-law?


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Hi all! I would really appreciate any input you might have regarding this matter.


My brother has met a lovely Chinese woman and she is now applying for a visa to live permanently here in Australia. She is now pregnant with my nephew (so excited, he is going to be sooo cute!) Anyway, she only speaks passable conversational English and I am scared that she is going to be iscolated and not have any support when the baby comes.


So I guess what I want to know are:

1) Would it help her feel accepted if I learn Mandarin? Even if I am the only one in the family to bother?

2) What would she likely be expecting with visiting after the baby's birth? Is it usual for a Chinese new mother to do nothing much for a month? Should I go over and help during this time? If she were in China, how would her family behave?

3) Is it seen as offensive to buy the baby second-hand clothes?

4) Is there anything I can do to help her feel welcome and more a part of our family?

5) Probably far more important- is there anything I should AVOID doing or saying (I have a handle on the usual cultural respect thing, just if there is anything not stupidly obvious that your average Aussie might do unwittingly.)


Thanks...this is quite confusing. She is a lovely person and she makes my big bro happier than I have ever seen him. I want her to feel as much a part of our family as she does her own but alas, our eldest brother and sister are quite racist, so I have my work cut out for me lol


River :P

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My thoughts, being neither a woman, Chinese, or pregnant...


1) Yes it would, but probably more important is her improving her English. If you can spend plenty of time talking to her in English, making gentle corrections where appropriate, offer assistance if she's struggling, and help her get out and about to use and further develop those skills, that'll really help.

2) this might be interesting. The usual help and support, and if you can find somewhere she can talk to other new Chinese mums (unless you're in the back of beyond there's got to be some around) that would probably be great. 

3) I don't know about offensive, but China really doesn't do second-hand clothes, so it could easily be odd. Maybe offer a few, with a caveat that you know it might be odd, but it's common in Australia and you won't mind if she doesn't use them. If you see the baby wearing them, go ahead and give more. 

4) I would suggest that rather than making her feel part of the family, you might want to look at helping her feel part of the community. Local Chinese associations, new mothers groups, an English class, whatever. A real danger is that she gets so welcomed by your family that she ends up isolated from everyone else, which isn't healthy long term.

5) Don't take her to the kangaroo wrestling too soon. 

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If you speak some Chinese that's great of course, but you won't get very far in the few months before your nephew arrives. Perhaps more productive is to make time and effort to interact with her in English, so speak English with her at a level that she understands, and do your best to understand her English even if it takes some time. If your other brother and sister are not very keen on foreigners, they might be eager to dismiss any attempts at her English that is not immediately understandable.

You can also ask her to teach you a few words of Chinese if you like, so you can tell her how 可爱 (cute) little nephew is and how 好吃 (tasty) something she has cooked.

If you're going to give her a gift, new clothes are probably better, and wrap them up nicely and all. I don't know about Australia, but in Holland it's common that people give an expecting mom clothes their own babies have grown out of - there's not much of a point in buying new baby clothes all the time because they grow out of it so fast anyway. Not sure whether this is done in China, but if you present it as a gift (as opposed to 'oh here's something we still had from an earlier nephew, perhaps it's useful for you'), better make it something new.

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I'm going to wager that for the next few years her Australian friends (you did make sure she made some, didn't you?) will be offering her their kids' cast-offs. Won't do any harm for her to get used to the idea, and it's hardly the toughest cultural adjustment she's going to make. Don't wrap 'em up and put a bow on it, just hand them over as 'I saw these, they're cheap and cute and useful for you, I hope you don't mind,' then see what happens. 

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new mothers groups,

Definitely look in to what your local council provides.  I don't know where you are in Australia, but for example, most Melbourne councils organise mother's groups for new parents.

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hmmm also please keep in mind all Eurasian kids are not necessarily "cute". I personally knew a boy whose bushy eyebrows were a little surprising the first few times you saw him.

Just in case the kid ends up average looking it might not be a good idea to set your (or your acquaintances') expectations too high so that the kid doesn't grow up hearing "oh we/they thought s/he was going to be so cute but well..."

(but then I might be a little over-sensitive on this right now because I just read a so-called "mixed-race" woman's account of the prejudiced ideas she grew up hearing, so feel free to disregard this post.)

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Normally for any new baby I buy a nice new baby outfit for a six month size for a newborn or a 12 month size for a baby approaching 6 months of age. Doesn't have to be totally expensive or fancy. I traditionally give a one piece outfit with little ducks all over from Carter's. 

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Learning some mandarin is probably not a bad idea, but you want to be mindful not to encourage her to avoid English at least until she has basic language skills. I think that's probably like a B1  or something like that. I had a coworker years back who spoke OK English when she got to the US in June, but by November I couldn't communicate with her at all because so many of our coworkers had been coddling her.


Finding a place where she can gripe in Mandarin about whatever her annoyances with Australia are from time to time is probably not a bad idea, I know I did something similar in China, but hopefully she won't spend so much time there that she's avoiding learning the English that she really needs in order to make friends and acquaintances in English.


As a native-non-native of the US, one of the things I've found over the years is that it's important to spend some time with people that get what it's like to not fit in, it helps a bit with dealing with the strangeness of the local customs and maintaining perspective.

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