The Wuhan Morning Post reported recently that a 63-year-old woman was diagnosed with depression from the stress of caring for her grandchildren. This triggered debate on social media over the ethics of young people foisting their child-raising responsibilities on their aging parents.
According to the report, the woman, surnamed Li, moved to the central city of Wuhan three years ago from her hometown in East China’s Shandong province to help raise her grandson, and then her new granddaughter.
Li also did all the housework while her daughter was at work, and slept with the grandson at night, when she would be frequently awakened by the child.
After her diagnosis, Li told doctors that she “lived in constant fear of accidents” or illnesses that the child could suffer under her watch, for which she could be blamed by her daughter or son-in-law.
In 2013, researchers from Case Western Reserve University, in the United States, who conducted long-term studies on grandmothers in various family situations, from full-time caregivers to those not involved in parenting their grandchildren at all, concluded that grandmothers who are grandchildren’s primary caregivers need help in dealing with depression and family strain.
Still, the Wuhan report claims that 60 to 70 percent of children under 2.5 years in China are cared for by their grandparents, as well as 40 percent of children older than 3 years.
Given the lackluster support for mental illness in China, these figures are indeed alarming. However, netizens — who, it must be noted, tend to be young — found the matter far from clear-cut, with many reluctant to criticize the parents for their entitlement (though there was still plenty of that):
One of the comments online was:
老人带孩子只是分担一些, 很多成年人都把这个当成了老年人的责任. 凭什么带大了你,还要带大你的孩子?
Lǎorén dài háizi zhǐshì fēndān yīxiē, hěnduō chéngnián rén dōu bǎ zhège dàngchéngle lǎonián rén de zérèn. Píng shénme dài dàle nǐ, hái yào dài dà nǐ de háizi?
Elderly people raise children to share the burden, but many adults regard it as the elders’ duty. Why should your parents be obliged to raise your children after having raising you?
However, many empathize with young couples who have no choice because they have to work full-time:
自己的孩子自己带,根本就不现实, 现在的年轻人, 工作压力很大, 不上班, 一个人养家又不行. 买房, 养娃, 连最基本的衣食都保证不了!
Zìjǐ de hái zǐ zìjǐ dài, gēnběn jiù bù xiànshí, xiànzài de niánqīng rén, gōngzuò yālì hěn dà, bù shàngbān, yīgè rén yǎngjiā yòu bùxíng. Mǎifáng, yǎng wá, lián zuì jīběn de yīshí dōu bǎozhèng bùliǎo!
It’s no longer realistic to raise one’s children oneself. Young people today have tremendous pressure at work and can’t afford to live on a single income — it’s not enough to buy a house, raise a child, or even to buy food or clothing.
年轻人不是不想带, 是要上班. 一个人的工资不够开支. 不过老年人带确实累, 都不容易.
Niánqīng rén bùshì bùxiǎng dài, shì yào shàngbān. Yīgè rén de gōngzī bùgòu kāizhī. Bùguò lǎonián rén dài quèshí lěi, dōu bù róngyì.
It’s not that young people don’t want to raise children, they have to work … though it’s true that this is exhausting for the elderly, nobody has it easy.
Some have pointed out that the entitlement goes both ways. There are young adults who were pressured by parents to have children:
父母催生的时候就是你生了我帮你带. 真的生了各种矛盾各种埋怨. 人老了根本就没精力. 生出来还是自己的责任. 所以别因为父母一句话不想生都生了. 还是自己有足够的能力再说.
Fùmǔ cuīshēng de shíhòu jiùshì nǐ shēngle wǒ bāng nǐ dài. Zhēn de shēngle gè zhǒng máodùn gè zhǒng mányuàn. Rén lǎole gēnběn jiù méi jīnglì. Shēng chūlái háishì zìjǐ de zérèn. Suǒyǐ bié yīnwèi fùmǔ yījù huà bùxiǎng shēng dōu shēngle. Háishì zìjǐ yǒu zúgòu de nénglì zàishuō.
When parents pressure you to have children, they promise to help you raise them; then afterwards they complain. It’s true that the older they get the less energy they have to raise children … So don’t have children unless you’re able to raise them, no matter what parents say.
Finally, some point out that without a total overhaul of society’s attitudes on child-rearing, all that this debate accomplishes is to put more pressure on women:
你不生孩子人家骂你自私. 你生了孩子在家照顾说你吃白饭不赚钱. 你生了孩子给父母带说你不孝顺. 所以, 以后不要有女性这种生物了, 给你们添堵了.
Nǐ bù shēng háizi rénjiā mà nǐ zìsī. Nǐ shēngle háizi zàijiā zhàogù shuō nǐ chī báifàn bù zhuànqián. Nǐ shēngle háizi gěi fùmǔ dài shuō nǐ bù xiàoshùn. Suǒyǐ, yǐhòu bùyào yǒu nǚxìng zhè zhǒng shēngwùle, gěi nǐmen tiāndǔle.
You’re selfish if you don’t have a child; you’re lazy if you stay at home to raise your children; if you ask your parents to raise them, you’re unfilial. Why does this organism known as “woman” exist, except to be criticized?
又是自己的孩子自己带, 又要女人独立, 请问女人是超人吗? 全职在家要面临被丈夫抛弃, 被社会抛弃的结局, 出去工作又要被说对孩子不负责. 那哪家公司允许女人带着娃上班?
Yòu shì zìjǐ de hái zǐ zìjǐ dài, yòu yào nǚrén dúlì, qǐngwèn nǚrén shì chāorén ma? Quánzhí zàijiā yào miànlín bèi zhàngfū pāoqì, bèi shèhuì pāoqì de jiéjú, chūqù gōngzuò yòu yào bèi shuō duì háizi bù fùzé. Nà nǎ jiā gōngsī yǔnxǔ nǚrén dàizhe wá shàngbān?
Women are supposed to raise their own children and also be independent. Are they superwomen? Full-time housewives who get cheated on by their husbands get looked down on by society. Work, and people say that’s irresponsible to their children. What company allows women to bring their kids to work?
看了一圈评论, 都在说女人带孩子还是外婆带孩子还是奶奶带, 都是丧偶式家庭吗? 爸爸死了吗?
Kànle yī quān pínglùn, dōu zài shuō nǚrén dài hái zǐ huán shì wàipó dài hái zǐ huán shì nǎinai dài, dōu shì sàng’ǒu shì jiātíng ma? Bàba sǐle ma?
I have looked through the comments, which are all debating whether the children should be raised by the mother or grandmother. Are they all from widowed families? Is the father dead?
These generational and gendered attitude divides are unlikely to find easy bridges.
More applicable in this situation, but less discussed, may be the cost and other stresses of living in China’s cities, the lack of affordable child-care options, the pressure on the current generation of young adults to succeed, and the lack of mental health services for the elderly (or anybody).
Meanwhile, Li in Wuhan recently got some help — of a sort: Now that the grandson has started kindergarten, she’s only responsible for the new baby. The boy is going to live with his other grandparents.
Courtesy of The World of Chinese, www.theworldofchinese.com