Grandparenting, not Parenting


One of my oldest friends Judy just delivered a baby boy a couple of months ago. As a Shanghainese woman, she followed her life path arranged by her parents: no boy in high school, went to college, found a boyfriend after graduation, got married after dating for two years and then had a son when she reached 26 years old.

Everything seems perfect. But when I visited her two months after the labor, I couldn’t help noticing that she didn’t even touch the baby the whole time I was there. And when I was at her son’s 100-day celebration feast last week, she still didn’t know how to carry a baby!

Apparently, like millions of young couples inShanghai, her parents look after the baby, 24×7. She moved to her parents’ with the baby and her newly married husband lives alone in their apartment in suburb Shanghai and he only visits her and the baby at the weekends.

Judy’s job is to breast feed the baby, do exercise to lose weight as soon as possible and hang out with girl friends. She even quit her job to enjoy the best time of her life as she posted on Weibo the other day. Her poor parents, aged 55, have to get up at midnight to feed and coax their beloved grandson.

As her close friend, I just pointed out directly, “shame on you! It’s your baby. You should be more responsible.” In her defense, as a young parent, she desperately needs help from her parents who have experience of raising children; what’s more, her parents LOVE to look after their grandson.

It’s true. According to Shanghai Municipal Population and Family Planning Commission, around 90 percent of kids under three years old are being looked after by grandparents.

“I love to help my daughter take care of the baby so that she could release some pressure. Plus, I’m retired. I feel like it’s my job to look after my grandson. I enjoy doing it!” her mom said with a sense of proud.

In Shanghai, women get retired at age 50 and men at 60. That’s probably why they always urge their kids to get married and have kids so that they could help them raise the babies. The “four-two-one” family system, namely families with four grandparents, two parents and just one kid makes it easy for grandparents to get involved to support their kids by looking after their grandchildren.

However, in my parent’s generation, most of them had to raise the kid by themselves. I was raised by my parents, though both of them had to work full time. My dad didn’t go home until 11 or 12pm when I was little but he insisted holding me and feeding me at least an hour a day even though I was asleep.

Back then, they didn’t have their parents to depend on because they both have siblings who also have kids and it’s impossible for grandparents to take care of each of their grandchild. I turned out to the leftover one. They asked a neighbor to look after me before I went to preschool when I was three. But now the supply and demand has been switched. Grandparents often fight about who should take care of the grandchild. Often times, the ones with more stable financial situation and live closer to a good school win the case.

Chinese grandparents are always controlling their children, even when their children become parents. They tend to spend most of the time focusing on how to support their children. You might think they have paid their dues after the kids have their own family but as soon as a grandchild is born, they are sucked into the old parenting cycle over again.

My friend Judy’s father told me when I was visiting the baby, “I have to teach him how to play an instrument and I have to make sure that he goes to a great school…”

Sigh. What are the parents doing then? Grandparents need to give up power. They are no longer the parents. It’s time for single kids to learn how to be more responsible.

My parents were a bit upset when I told them I wouldn’t want them to take care of my babies in the future. They explained,

“We understand how hard it is to raise a kid without parents’ help. We’ve been there, so we want to help you in whatever way we can do to make your life easy.”

I just said one thing that changed their attitude.

“Look how awesome I turn out to be! You taught me to be independent and responsible. I don’t think I could be as good as I am now if I was raised by my grandparents.”

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One thought on “Grandparenting, not Parenting

  1. Cultural differences are very interesting, but I agree with you. Grandparents should not take over the parenting role unless the parents are unable to carry out their responsibilities for some reason. I can’t imagine preferring hanging out with my girlfriends to being with my baby, although everyone needs some time away from the baby, too. Just be sure to let your parents have plenty of time with your babies when the time comes–not to parent the babies, just to enjoy grandparenting.

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