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Who takes care of kids in China?

Grandmother's Love

"Grandmother's Love" by Luo Zhongli

The married couples in China have a big pressure from the nuclear family to quickly give birth to a baby. Because the childless spouses are nothing more but “lovers in law”. Sometimes it seems that young Chinese families produce offspring just to fulfill their social duty and make everyone around happy.

I decided to gather a bit of statistics from my social circle. So, I wrote out the names of all my married friends and counted how much time after marriage passed before they had addition in family. To say the truth, I myself was quite surprised by the results.

Out of 24 girls: 6 were actually pregnant at the wedding ( :oops: ) , other 15 gave birth in less than 15 months after getting married and 1 more girl in less than two years.

Zeng had some problems, but luckily the treatment helped, and she is pregnant now. Only Margaret is still childless and – as far as I know – doesn’t have plans for a baby yet. She is a teacher in school and currently has good perspectives to be promoted.

In most cases, however, babies don’t pose a problem for mother’s career. One reason is based on the paradox that though the first child comes very early in the marriage, he/she will also probably be the last. For example, the only friend of mine who expressed desire to have a second baby is Yang: currently she and her husband are trying to carry out some sophisticated plan to exploit a loophole in one-child policy (that will help them to get away with minimal fine).

The second reason is grandparents who are more than willing to give a helping hand. It is very widespread practice when a young Chinese mother almost immediately after giving birth to a kid transfers all childrearing responsibilities to grandparents. And soon after “doing a ritual month” she can return to work and help supporting the financial household.

“You wanted grandchild? You got one. Now take care of him/her!” :smile:

Actually, the grandparents who take care of the kid are usually the husband’s parents.

In this sense the woman’s parents are kind of outsiders. This tradition is even reflected in Chinese language itself: the words for grandfather and grandmother are different depending on which side they are coming from, and maternal grandparents are called 外公 “wai gong” and 外婆 “wai po” which is literally translated as “outside grandfather” and “outside grandmother”.

Sometimes the lack of parental involvement goes to extremes. Here I’ll quote one blogger’s experience when she was taking a long flight from Europe to China:

… when I stepped on the plane I was walking next to a typical Shanghai family: “mom and dad” (a young, trendy looking couple) and their mom and dad (grandpa and grandma) carrying their (at least) 3 year old “baby” boy. <…> The load and heaviness of that (not so little!) boy was totally on the grandparents, meanwhile the young, trendy parents went to sit at another section of the plane. The grandma and the child was seated in the middle section next to mine, and as soon as the plane took off the boy started whining.
It didn’t take long before the grandmother got up, and gave up her seat to him so that he could lie down and sleep across the seat section. But what was she supposed to do then? An old woman, standing on a full plane? Well, she simply sat down on the floor! Year, on that tiny little floor that also acts leg space between two seat rows on an economy class flight. She sat there, half leaning forward, hoping for the little boy to get his beauty sleep. They were like that for maybe 45 min, until the boy sat up, bawling like an animal. Grandma did all she could, but this time the boy wanted his trendy mom, who then had to get up from her comfortable position, and rush over to hold him for a short while, before handing him back to his grandmother.

Hmm… do you know the saying: “Children are last dolls, and grandchildren are first kids”? First, I didn’t fully understand it, but now I begin to think that it rather adequately describes the childrearing culture in modern China.

There is just one thing I wonder about. What kind of grandparents will the post-80’s generation be when the time comes to take care about their kids’ kids?

Yet not grandmother, Crystal Tao

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23 comments to Who takes care of kids in China?
  • ziccawei

    This is interesting stuff, Crys. In fact I think a lot of 80′s generation that have kids have no consideration in taking care of the child at all. Many 80′s (in fact most) kids were looked after/raised by their grandparents. I think most of the time the 80′s parents don’t want the burden of being a ‘baby slave’.

    I love this line:
    “You wanted grandchild? You got one. Now take care of him/her!”
    Haha…. So true.

    • Bored in Melbourne

      I have quite a few Chinese friends who are from the 70s generation that grew up with their grandparents often in a different city to the parents who both had to work due the dire poverty of China in that era

  • Bored in Melbourne

    Crystal this issue is very close to my thoughts. As a parent who had been quite absent from my young daughter (we divorced when she was very young and her mother has been remarried with extended family for several years). My extended family are a large part of my daughter’s life, and she is happy that Dad has returned from living in another city so that she can have a real connection again, rather than just the monthly fly-in.
    However the other happy side effect for her is that she also now has regular time with my ex girlfriend, a Chinese woman in her early 30s who has been a favourite of my daughter for years, they both love each other a lot.
    So this highlights the reason that this lady is no longer my partner, we had and have a fantastic connection, and I respect her hugely as a person. However as your stats highlight basically every Chinese lady is going to become a Mum, and the evidence of how this woman works with my own daughter shows me that she will be nothing like the modern distant parent. In discussion on the subject she expressed that her parents in China would be a small part of her child’s life due to her intention to be living outside China.

    So what’s the problem? Well I am no considering another child, although I love my daughter completely, but with the expectation that she has a child as well as her own growing desire there appeared no future, so with the benefit of being cities apart she suggested we call an end.

    So given the overwhelming picture that having a Chinese partner equals having a baby with her, I need to seriously reconsider.

    Coincidently I looked up the Australian numbers and here by age 40 90% of women have had a child. Taking out infertile couples, and lebians who choose not to take other steps, that leaves very few childless by choice. No wonder the issue of men not wanting to have kids is such a huge relationship issue in your 30s over here. Of course the benefit of Chinese grandparents does have a large bonus on sharing the load of young babies. So Crystal I presume that you also plan to become a mother? When that time comes I presume it would be in China for family support?

    • You say that you might reconsider looking for Chinese woman because she would want a common baby with you (but you have daughter and don’t want another child).

      Then why not relationship/marriage with a Chinese woman who already has a child?

      • Bored in Melbourne

        Crystal yes I have had a relationship with a single Mum, with the right person this is no problem. Actually I am not thinking to reconsider being with a Chinese girl, rather reconsider not having a child, for this particular Chinese lady.

  • Horror

    So this pretty much sums up the next big industry in China for foreigners to work on. 24 Hour Daycare Centers. They also want to make sure its white people running the daycare and taking care of their kids.

    What’s better than grandparents to take care of their kids through their minds? Must be white people at daycare centers!

    Next will be white people as maids. Get those french maid uniforms and line them white people up for hire. This is going to be the next status symbol too. Hiring ayis look cheap compare to a nice hot white female in a french maid uniform. Cleaning the home and cooking western fine dining everyday!

    And let’s not forget foriegn bodyguard drivers, butlers, hobby/sports player (no time to play hobby/sports? hire one to play on your behalf to win that 1st prize!) etc. ANd yes about the hobby/sports player it has happened before. Old ladies from Hong Kong/Taiwan paying dancing coaches millions to be their partner to make them look good on the dance floor to win the competition.

    ESL teachers were just the beginning.

  • Im assuming that most of your friends are in China, you say most of them had their first child within 2 years of marriage, but do you think that statistic is different for intercultural couples? Especially if they settle outside of China or away from the Chinese grandparents?

    By what age do you plan to have kids Crystal?
    Just take some time enjoy life with your bf/husband before settling down :smile:

  • Meng

    Ah, the creation of the legendary “小皇帝” (little emperor). Why should a child pay attention to what their parents say if their parents don’t pay attention to them? It’s not just a Chinese phenomenon, it occurs around the world when parents shuffle their children off on somebody else. Here, of course, it’s so common that nobody bats an eyelash.

    I have a friend in Xi’an, a British lad, who is married to a Chinese woman, and together they have a 5-year-old son. Very often, the grandparents take care of the child, as the mother prefers. His reaction is such “Chinese grandmothers are a nightmare.” The grandmother, apparently, spoils the kid rotten, and bends completely to his will. Usually, his son is a good boy and listens to him. However, when Grandma is around, he becomes petulant and when his parents ask him to do anything, he stomps his feet and says “我不!!(NO”

    My girlfriend and I have for a long time been in complete agreement that, when we have a child/children, we will raise them completely ourselves. Maybe there will be an 阿姨 around the house sometimes, but only to help out so that we can both continue our careers, and grandma is welcome whenever she wants, but we will always be the primary caretakers. I feel that people who do otherwise just want a cute toy that will eventually grow up and take care of them when they’re old.

  • PL

    My wife must be extremely unusual in that she is in no hurry to have children. It’s one of the reasons (just one) that she is happy living in the UK. The familial pressure to have children is far away.

    I also could not agree more with Meng regarding the ‘Little Emperors/Empresses’. Grandparents have a tendency (in all cultures) to be far more lenient with children. I am sure that the current generation of youngsters in China have all sorts of psychological problems being stored up for them. Which is a pity.

    That being said, there are plenty of kids in the UK who have psychological issues caused by lack of any familial care whatsoever.

  • Peter Phelps

    I saw this phenomenon at work when I was with the lady from Nanning. Her eldest brother and his wife lived in another city while their boy stayed with the rest of the family. The boy would act out every so often and she’d complain that she didn’t know what to do about him. By act out, I mean he got into fights at school. This made her upset and she wasn’t happy because she felt that her inability to parent him may also make her a bad mom to her own kids. I tried to explain to her that his issue probably had less to do with her and the possible feelings of abandonment from his parents. (The father might visit once a quarter.)

    The sad part is that it is not just in China that parents do this type of thing. With the way Dr. Spock started this whole, “do not use corporal punishment” drive we’ve moved to entirely spare the rod so our children are spoiled. (My dad almost was thrown in jail just for yelling at my niece and the officer said “This is a kinder, more gentle society.” My dad’s reaction was to ask if he should do nothing if she was about to run into the street and about to get ran over.) This also places all the power in the hands of the children rather than with the parents. If the parents are selfish there’s a huge “what can you do for me” kind of attitude and if the child is not feeding their egos then they may ignore them, I know it is not right, but that does not make it any less true. I have seen it where parents will come to the grandparent’s home and just go into their room. The grandchild usually is fine up until that point and then will act out just to get their attention. (If the only attention you get is negative, even that is something and children want to know they matter.)NOTE: In no regard am I suggesting going back to where we beat our kids, just that there needs to be boundaries and encouragement.

  • Bill

    My wife’s younger cousin (he’s 34) from Beijing just paid us a visit in California. He and his wife (age 32) are childless, but trying to become pregnant. They are about to become pretty rich via an IPO of his company.

    First, where I’m coming from:
    My wife and I have two young daughters. We are in complete agreement about rearing our daughters – it’s ours to do, and we embrace it 100%. Somehow we both totally agree that the joys and trials of rearing our children is for us to do, and no one else. And we feel the consistency for the children is good for them. Also, it’s a time for learning and growing for us as parents, too. It’s been the best thing that’s happened to both of us.

    My wife’s cousin wants a child, but in no way do this couple see themselves rearing the child. It will be their parents job. We pushed him on this issue. Why not embrace the joys of parenting yourself? The question, quite simply, just flew right over his head. Really, no other way is seriously considered. He and his wife are busy beijingren, making good money, eating out all the time, nice clothes (which he bought a bunch here), and cannot fathom the changes in lifestyle that a child would bring. And indeed he doesn’t plan any changes. He’ll continue to go to work and stay late and meet his wife (or buddies or clients) and come home at 8:30.

    They are all are in agreement that this is best for them. Grandma is waiting. He’s the breadwinner. She’ll have the baby and then get back to work as soon as she can.

    I see nothing wrong with this except that they miss many of the joys of watching and taking a constructive part in rearing their child. Well, not until they are themselves grandparents, anyways, when maybe they will rear their grandchild.

    For a Westerner, it does bring up something that has always interested me. In Asia, adult children see no difference between their own and their parents values and so hand off their child without a thought. I, OTOH, want my values, not my Mom’s values, and my child rearing style for my own children.

    So, to each his/her own!

  • Caseyorourke

    Right now neither Ying or I are considering children, but in our case age in the factor for both of us. But, if we were to find ourselves in the family way, I would raise my children the same way I was, with love, discipline, definate limits on behavior, but still instill the independence to decide what they want to do and not what I think they should do.

    • Caseyorourke

      Of course I should also note that Ying’s brothers and sisters raised their children on their own without being totally dependent on the grandparents. All of her nieces and nephews are outstanding kids, all of whom are doing what they want in life and not what others think they should do.

  • Caseyorourke


    Just out of curiosity, what model(Chinese or western)will you and Eugene follow when you have children of your own?

  • that doesn’t sound like amy chua’s chinese parenting at all!

  • Garylong

    having a baby is one thing but getting married is another thing, I have been in china over 6 years and still can not find the right girl yet, and now I just looking for the one that don’t want me for my money but to love me for me.
    do you know any free web pages to find the girls I have only been on one in china and I am not going to pay to meet girls I have seen men do that before and end up with a lemon any way, why pay to get love when you need to pay a lot more to keep it, I need to save to have a baby when it comes, some one told me if you love a girl in china and get on so well just give her a baby and marry her, I don’t know if that’s true I know a guy that did and they are very happy.

  • I married my Chinese wife after living together for over 4 years in China. Now our first baby will be delivered before the first anniversary of our marriage, but definitely not because of outside pressure in our case :lol:

    What’s the loophole you refer to? I cannot find any, except to deliver the 2nd child in HongKong.

  • Guy

    Being an Asian expat raise in U.S., I still have many difficulties dealing what some of the traditions and customs of mainland Chinese.

    On one hand, marriage and family is central to Chinese culture. But on the other hand, many here are pressured to marry at spit a child out asap. Now, this child has become the burden of the grandparents. I for one doubt many of these post 80 generation will have long lasting marriage. If anything, I would not be surprise to see a 50% or higher divorce rate.

    The so call nuclear family in China is not what it is all
    cracked up to be. Many marry and have children here for the sake of show and tell. It has more to do with social pressure than for love.

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