Parenting Crisis Sends China’s Moms and Dads Back to School


SHANDONG, East China — Huang Wenjuan never thought there was anything wrong with her approach to parenting until her teenage daughter stormed out of their house after a big fight. Huang and her husband searched all over the city that snowy February night, and eventually found her in the stairwell of their apartment building. “She could see us, and said she just wanted us to suffer,” the 40-year-old mother tells Sixth Tone.

The fight was the lowest point of a monthslong conflict that started when Huang demanded her daughter attend afterschool classes. Huang argued that it was what all the other students did, but her daughter said she didn’t need extra lessons to keep up in class. “I knew she was right, but her refusal challenged my authority as a parent, which made me so anxious that I cracked,” Huang recalls.

Raising a child in China comes with its own set of concerns. Parents tend to spoil their child — often their only child — while simultaneously putting them under immense pressure to do well in China’s competitive education system. Another worry is the amount of time children spend with indulgent grandparents, who are sometimes blamed for China’s burgeoning population of “bear kids” — a term for screaming children prone to tantrums. All in all, 95 percent of nearly 7,500 respondents in a 2016 survey said they felt anxious about their parenting.

The government shares these misgivings. To cope with increasing numbers of “overly indulgent and demanding” parents who valued grades more than “morals and abilities,” the Ministry of Education issued a guideline on education reform in 2015. It suggested establishing more services to guide family education — namely, in the form of parenting schools — to help parents cultivate a “rational educational philosophy.” A five-year plan released in 2016 required most kindergartens, primary schools, and middle schools nationwide to organize classes for parents by 2020.

Local governments have heeded the call to educate moms and dads. In June, Beijing began sending regular text messages containing parental-guidance tips to 500,000 of the city’s families with school-age children. The southwestern megacity of Chongqing implemented the country’s first ordinance to promote family education in September of 2016, and last year admonished over 1,300 parents or guardians whose parenting the police deemed inadequate. Last year, Chengdu, Sichuan’s provincial capital, said it would force parents of juvenile delinquents to join parenting classes.

A parent takes notes during a child-rearing class in Zoucheng, Shandong province, Sept. 5, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

A parent takes notes during a child-rearing class in Zoucheng, Shandong province, Sept. 5, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

While Huang was looking for a solution to improve her relationship with her daughter, a friend told her about a parenting school in her city of Zoucheng. Every Wednesday evening, Huang and dozens of other parents — mostly mothers — show up at a garage-turned-studio to discuss books on parenting, under the guidance of a family-education instructor. People arrive with all sorts of problems, says Zhang Yuanyuan, the school’s organizer. When it had just started in 2016, the free classes only had a few attendees. “But now, the small classroom is jammed with over 30 parents, and some have to stand outside,” Zhang says.

After a few sessions, Huang says she realized that parents should respect children instead of imposing their will on them. “I really regret not giving my daughter enough space to display her own personality and be who she really wanted to be,” Huang confesses. “She couldn’t bear us anymore, and finally, at 14, exploded, which I now think is a good thing.”

Liang Xueqin, 44, has been taking the classes for the past nine months. “I come here with a heavy heart, and go home more relaxed,” she tells Sixth Tone after a session in which they discussed “Positive Discipline for Teenagers,” a book by scholars Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott that teaches parents to respect their children as individuals. “Actually, I’m aware of most of the book’s parenting theories, but just need an observer to remind me, to push me.”

Having grown up with three sisters and a father who would beat them for any perceived wrongdoing, Liang wants to raise her 16-year-old son in a healthier way. She dotes on her child, but she also pressures him to excel academically — something her parents never expected of her. “That’s why every time he had a dip in his grades, I’d be very anxious,” She says. “But now I’ve learned to accept his imperfections, his acts of rebellion, and his fluctuating grades.”

Elsewhere in Zoucheng, schools have drawn on the city’s history as the birthplace of ancient Chinese thinker and influential Confucian figure Mencius. His philosophy still heavily influences contemporary Chinese parent-child relationships.

An engraved monument that reads ‘the greatest mother of all,’ in reference to the mother of ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius, stands on the grounds of the Mencius Temple in Zoucheng, Shandong province, Sept. 5, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

An engraved monument that reads ‘the greatest mother of all,’ in reference to the mother of ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius, stands on the grounds of the Mencius Temple in Zoucheng, Shandong province, Sept. 5, 2018. Fan Yiying

Zhao Yonghe — the Party secretary of Mencius Research Institute, a governmental organ in Zoucheng that promotes the study of Mencius — established a parenting school in February 2017. Before he became an official, Zhao was a teacher at a rural school. He always wondered why teachers needed years of training, whereas people could become parents without any education. “It’s terrible to think that many parents don’t even realize there are problems in their parenting,” he tells Sixth Tone in his office.

Xu Shuang is one of Mencius Research Institute’s full-time lecturers with over a decade of experience researching how ancient Chinese educated their children. She talks about a set of traditions and rules that were once passed down and improved upon in wealthy, extended families throughout generations. “The family itself is an educational institute,” Xu says. “I think that [this concept] is a great tradition that modern families need to inherit.”

Most Chinese are familiar with the legend of Mencius’ mother, who changed houses three times before finding a location she felt best suited her son’s upbringing needs. The story lives on in the form of an idiom, “Mencius’ Mother Moved Thrice,” used to describe Chinese parents expending limitless resources to provide their children with a good education. Zhao’s school draws on such classics of Chinese philosophy to develop parenting skills. “I think that the study of traditional culture should be used to improve people’s morality,” he says. “Here in Zoucheng, Mencius’ mother is a great example of a qualified parent. There’s no place better-suited for parenting schools than [our city].”

According to Zhao, parents in Zoucheng are proud of the city’s culture and attach great importance to their childen’s education, but they still mainly focus on grades. When asked about his own experience raising kids, Zhao says without hesitation that he has regrets. “I spoiled them and guilt-tripped them,” Zhao says. “I regret treating them like little kids when they were mature enough to make their own decisions, and also pressuring them to do things my way out of love.” Though Zhao says his twin daughters have become happy, well-adjusted young women, he hopes that he can help young parents avoid his mistakes. So far, more than 10,000 people have attended his lectures.

Zhao Yonghe, the Party secretary of Mencius Research Institute, gives a lecture on parenting in Zoucheng, Shandong province, Sept. 5, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Zhao Yonghe, the Party secretary of Mencius Research Institute, gives a lecture on parenting in Zoucheng, Shandong province, Sept. 5, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Zhou Li has been to Zhao’s lectures twice. He’s been struggling with how to discipline his 10-year-old son. He figured out what he was doing wrong when Zhao explained that children are “the shadow of their parents.” “Then, I started reading books instead of playing on my phone next to my son while he did his homework, and soon after, I noticed he was becoming much more focused,” says the 38-year-old. “It is possible that I am still not a qualified parent, but I am better than I was before.”


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

 

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Jiangsu Drafts Law for Fairer Parenting, More Paternity Leave


In a national first, the eastern province of Jiangsu has drafted a law for “joint parenting leave” for fathers to promote equal employment and collaborative child-rearing, local media reported Wednesday.

Fathers in China already have seven to 30 days of paid paternity leave, depending on local regulations, though this is termed “birth companion leave.” In June, the provincial law office of Jiangsu — which currently provides 15 days of paternity leave — published a consultation paper that proposed at least 15 days of additional joint parenting leave for fathers.

But the draft submitted to the legislature on Tuesday watered down the proposal from a mandatory minimum of 15 days to a recommendation of at least five days. The provision was reduced, an official told the local news outlet, because of concerns about increased costs to employers.

If the draft passes, Jiangsu will be the first in the country to institute such measures, but other provinces may soon follow suit. Shandong province, also in eastern China, is exploring similar legislation, and the state-endorsed All-China Women’s Federation has repeatedly called for joint parenting leave to encourage more active parenting from fathers.

“In China, women take on a lot more responsibilities, while men fail to do their jobs when it comes to bringing up a child,” said Xia Xuemin, a researcher at Zhejiang University’s Public Policy Research Institute. Xia believes joint parenting leave is crucial for pushing Chinese men to do their fair share, especially as the government continues to promote the two-child policy. “Five days seems too short,” he added.

The two-child policy came into effect nationwide in January 2016. However, many women, especially working mothers, say it is too hard to have two children, given inadequate public child care services and the uneven division of child-rearing labor between husband and wife. In addition, though employees are legally entitled to maternity leave, many women are still scared that having children could ruin their careers.

While Jiangsu’s proposed policy has earned the approval of many users on microblog platform Weibo, some wonder whether it will be implemented effectively. “If it’s just ‘an encouragement,’ few companies will actually make it happen,” commented one user.

How I Got Out and Saw the World


During my college years, my biggest goal in life was to see the world. I wanted to backpack Europe, hike all the national parks in the United States, and eat from local food vendors in Southeast Asia. After I graduated in 2009, I managed to land well-paid jobs and began traveling solo in China, before forging amazing and unforgettable experience in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Europe.

In October 2013 I quit my job and traveled full-time for two years. Many of my friends were jealous — pursuing my dreams and traveling the world seemed a desirable lifestyle. However, few of them understood the hardships a Chinese female traveler has to face and how hard I had fought to get where I was. Independence and the spirit of adventure are not qualities that everyone in China appreciates.

I was born and raised in an ordinary Shanghai household. My dad works as a bus driver, and my mom was a drug inspector before her retirement eight years ago. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment where I had to sleep on the couch without my own space or privacy.

My parents always thought that I would be a typical Shanghainese girl: attend college, get a good job, find a boyfriend, get married, and deliver a grandchild before the age of 27 — after which time single women are considered “leftover” in China. Chinese men face similar pressure from their parents, but it is particularly bad for girls.

Since my parents don’t particularly like traveling and didn’t have the money to fund family vacations anyway, I didn’t even get out of Shanghai to see China for the first 20 years of my life.

It wasn’t until university that I suddenly got the itch. I became friends with many international students who shared with me their life experiences and travel stories, and I couldn’t help but wonder how we could be the same age and yet so different. I met my first boyfriend — a Londoner — when I was 20. That’s when I began having lots of arguments with my parents. Most people in their generation married their first boyfriend or girlfriend, often arranged by their elders. It took me almost a year to make them accept the idea that a person doesn’t necessarily have to marry their first partner.

However, although that particular argument was resolved, other fights surfaced. I remember at one point I suggested moving out when I reached my senior year of university. I expected them to be supportive and proud of me for taking charge of my own life.

But this desire to move out confounded them even more than the boyfriend issue. They questioned what my boyfriend had said to me, and expressed their reservations about the toxic ideas my Western friends were poisoning me with. They asked me to stop dating foreigners.

As opposed to parents in the West who expect their children to learn to fly the coop after high school, Chinese parents value community and social cohesion. Many parents in China demand obedience from their children and don’t know how to communicate with them as individuals. It is generally understood that a son or daughter won’t leave home until marriage. It took me a full year to persuade my parents to let me move out — I wanted to be happy, but I also wanted to make them happy. We finally compromised that I would live somewhere nearby them and have dinner together several times a week.

They were nervous when I first moved out in 2009. None of their friends’ kids lived alone and my parents felt constantly judged by their peers. To my relief, after about three months they calmed down and all of us began enjoying our newfound privacy and space.

I began getting good jobs and I could suddenly afford to travel. First I worked at the Shanghai office of American Public Media for a couple of years as a news researcher, before moving to work as a research specialist at a consulting company. My two former bosses, both American, supported my travel desires and appreciated my sense of adventure.

Western culture is adventurous and exploration-based. It values discovery, invention, and rational thinking. When I stayed with a local family in Australia, the parents often encouraged their young children to be adventurous by taking them hiking in the snow, canoeing in the river, and sliding down sand dunes. I remembered how when I was 24 and told my parents that I wanted to travel to Beijing on my own, my father simply responded,

“Beijing is such a dangerous city for a girl.”

I first told my parents that I wanted to leave and travel the world in 2013 and they weren’t against it. I guess they had become used to my dramas. To help them through my absence, I bought them each a smartphone and taught them how to use the messaging app WeChat. I wanted to share my moments on the road, to show them how happy I am, and how wonderful traveling really is.

After spending the past several years hopping around the world, I’ve noticed the attitudes of those around me beginning to change. My parents and friends actually prize my independence now. They are happy that I have followed my dreams and admire my spirit of adventure. Many of my friends have even confided that they can’t wait to hit the road themselves.


This article was originally published on Sixth Tone.

The Battle between Tiger Mom and Cat Dad


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China’s latest TV hit ‘Tiger Mom, Cat Dad’ has sparked online debates over the best parenting style. Is it better to be an iron-fisted tiger mom, or a relaxed cat dad?

The Chinese-American author Amy Chua and her best-selling book ” The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” (虎妈战歌, 2011), brought up the image of a strict Mom who pushed kids extremely hard to be the best at school. Although her iron-first parenting methods sparked controversy in the West, her book was well-received in China, as it made Chinese parents more assertive in their parenting.

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But now the term “Cat Dad” (猫爸) has become trending on Sina Weibo due to the popular Chinese TV drama “Tiger Mom, Cat Dad” (虎妈猫爸, 2015). The topic “The Battle between Tiger Mom and Cat Dad”(#虎妈猫爸大作战#) has been viewed over 25 million times and commented on more than 16 thousand times since the TV show was released in May.

“The right school is the ticket to success.”

In the TV hit ‘Tiger Mom, Cat Dad’, 7-year-old Qianqian (茜茜) is the daughter of strong-willed mother Bi Shengnan (毕胜男) and easy-going father Luo Su (罗素). She’s the little princess of the family. She is raised by her grandparents until Bi Shengnan realizes they have spoiled their daughter – other kids her age seem to have learned so many more things before officially entering school. She then becomes a typical hyper-disciplining ‘tiger mom’, aiming to help Qianqian catch up with her peers. However, her husband (the ‘cat dad’) does not seem to care too much about his daughter’s school scores, as long as she is happy.

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Chinese parents like Bi Shengnan are well known for putting extreme pressure on their kids to do good in school. They make every effort to offer their kids the best education. To the majority of Chinese parents, the right school is the ticket to their kids’ promising future. Many of them have moved in order to get their children admitted to good schools. The term “School District Houses” (学区房) refers to those houses located within the range of primary or secondary schools. Children are ensured to be admitted to these schools after living there for a certain period of time. In the TV show “Tiger Mom, Cat Dad”, Bi Shengnan and the rest of the family pay more than double the price for an apartment in Beijing, so that Qianqian is eligible to enroll in a “key primary school” (重点小学) to get better education.

“I push my daughter now so she has more freedom in the future.”

Not satisfied with the level of education in their own district, Chinese parents are willing to pay high fees on an apartment so that they can send their children to the best schools possible. On Sina Weibo, a user named “Yoyo looks like Daddy” believes this is necessary, since a good school offers the right study environment and resources. “After all, the chances of kids becoming talented and successful without being pushed are very slim,” she says: “Parents don’t dare to take such a risk because we all only have one child in the family.” Stating that she is the mother of a four-year-old girl, ‘Yoyo’ stresses that it’s the parents’ responsibility to help children decide what is the best for them while they are young: “I push my daughter hard so that she can go to a good university in the future, and then gain more freedom to choose what she wants to do in the future. I want her to be able to choose meaningful jobs rather than being forced to do work she doesn’t enjoy at all. It’s all about the sense of achievement.”

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Her statement also well explains the importance of academic achievements in Chinese society. Chinese students spend their entire youth working hard and preparing for the gaokao (高考), the college entrance exam, which is the only way to guarantee a bright future for most Chinese students. Therefore, Chinese parents push their child to achieve high scores. According to many parents, they are not trying to put excessive pressure on their children, but instead, are doing what is necessary to set their children up for a successful future.

User “Hanzi V” regrets that her parents were not hard enough on her when she was younger. She recalls: “My parents believed in happiness, and they thought it was my own responsibility to study hard. My mom used to ask me to learn a lot of things, but she gave up quickly after I lost interest. I’m not satisfied with my current state of life. Happy education only works for those kids who study consciously. I realized I was so naive and ignorant when I was a kid. How I wish my parent pushed me harder.”

“All my decisions are based on my mom’s wishes.”

However, a large number of users are inclined to “Cat Dad”, who prefer to give kids the right to choose whatever they think is the best for them. User “Spring” says: “I understand the parents’ cares and thoughts, but I do feel lost, as all the decisions I’ve made in my life so far are based on my mom’s wishes. I feel like I have lost the ability to know what I really want. Isn’t it a better idea to let the children obtain such an ability earlier? We all live once and life cannot be designed. Why do parents always expect their kids to realize the dreams they failed to fulfill?”

At the end of the TV show, daughter Qianqian gets depressed because the pressure and stress associated with school becomes too much to handle. It finally hits mother Bi Shengnan that a happy childhood is crucial to a child. “I’m not a tiger mom at all and my son is now doing his postdoctoral research on high polymer materials”, Weibo user “Fish is Flying” says: “I raised my son on my own, and he considers me as his friend. I don’t understand the intentions of these parents who put great pressure on their kids and themselves. The key is to teach the next generation how to behave and improve their learning methods. That’s all that really matters.”

By Yiying Fan

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

Should China’s Singles Pay Their Parents?


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Giving money to the parents is a common practice in China, especially for singles who still live at home, as a way for children to ‘give back’ for their parents raising them. But as times are changing, not all children are willing to share their finances with their parents anymore.

A popular Dragon TV interview program, “Meeting Room of Two Generations” (两代会议厅), recently talked about whether unmarried children who live with their parents should hand over their salary bank card to their parents after they begin working full time. The topic sparked a debate on Sina Weibo.

For the post 1950s and 1960s generations, it was a tradition that kids financially supported their parents by handing in their wages. This was before the one child policy(独生子女政策)came into effect. Typically there were 2 to 4 unmarried adult children living with the parents. They put money in together, letting the parents (mothers in particular) take control of the finances. In those days, the majority of Chinese people earned approximately US$5-20 a month; the whole family would give their share to make sure there was enough food and clothing.

“My income belongs to me exclusively”

Times have changed. China has become a well-off society in an all-round way. The Post-80s and 90s generations generally want to be financially independent now; a symbol of individual independency.

One Sina Weibo user called ‘A Cat’ says: “My income belongs to me exclusively. I get to spend my money in whatever way I want. I believe that economic independence is a sign of a person’s general independence. Financial independence not only means I can support myself without asking money from my parents, but more importantly, it means I am able to control and manage my own income.”

User ‘Xiongmiao’ emphasizes the importance of being independent as a girl: “It’s so weird to have to hand over the pay card to the parents, and then wait for them to give me allowance. I’m not a kid anymore. Personally I think it’s a good thing to form a concept of money as soon as we start working and learn how to manage our income. It is especially important for girls.”

“I give my mom half of my salary every month to show filial obedience”

But some netizens also support the idea of handing in their income to the parents, as supporting the elderly is a traditional virtue in China. Chinese parents lavish children with love and money when they are young, and they expect to get a return when the kids start to make money.

“I don’t hand over my pay card, but I give my mom half of my salary every month just to show filial obedience. I’m a grow-up man who is supposed to support the family and shoulder some of the responsibilities”, confesses a netizen called ‘Super’ on Sina Weibo.

User ‘Dodo’ comments that supporting parents is the right thing to do especially if you are not from a wealthy family. “I’m from a poor family and I always wanted to financially help my parents. I send them one-third of my salary every month. It’s a relief to see that they are having a better life now.”

One thing to note is that usually is the mother that demands the child to hand in the salary. As the user ‘Small Bun’ shared: “I’m single and not making a lot of money, but my mom insisted that I should let her manage all of my income. However, my dad said I don’t need to do that because I need money as an adult.”

“Chinese women have a big say in how the money is spent”

Compared with women in other countries, Chinese women seem to have a bigger say in how the family money is spent. It’s very common that the wife control the finances of the family after getting married in China. The financial management ranges from small household items to buying a house.

In China, money is often a way to women to secure their future. Many married women worry that their husbands will cheat on them (take on a ‘second wife‘) or lose interest in them after having kids. Though holding the money doesn’t necessarily mean holding the man’s heart, many Chinese wives see financial commitment as a promise from their husbands. In a similar way, mothers also often think they can control their kids by controlling how much they spend, even when they are grown-up.

One advantage of this system, is that Chinese wives control of the family finance is likely to increase the household savings, as the savings in the bank will also give them a feeling of security. “I don’t think my mom ever spends the money I give her,” says Tianya (online forum) user ‘Rain’: “She just saves them into our bank account every month as my wedding fund. It’s a brilliant idea.”

Conclusively, on social media, most netizens seem to agree that it is necessary for Chinese kids to make a contribution to the household while they still live with their parents. However, parents should not expect their adult children to hand in their pay cards with the excuse that it is ‘to help them manage their money’. All in all, it is considered beneficial for the kids to learn how to control and spend their own money before they starting a family themselves.

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Image source: scrb.com

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.