“Your parents raised you up to such a big age, and they still haven’t enjoyed the benefits of having you.” That’s what the mother of one of my husband John’s best friends said to him a few years back. By then, John was already over 30 by then (30 is an age where, according to the saying that comes from Confucian ideals, a man should stand on his own feet and earn a living) and still a graduate student — meaning, no job, no owned apartment and not much money — with no children.
“Didn’t you feel invalidated when she said that?” I asked John the other day.
He giggled, but even still I sensed the anxiety hidden within his laughter. “Of course! But I also understand her. Her view in fact is very traditional.”
After all, the Confucian value of filial piety — which includes the idea that son a should respect and care for his parents — still runs strong in modern China. The “how” of respecting and caring for parents has changed over the centuries. But clearly, any young man who cannot earn enough to support his elderly parents financially, who still hasn’t had a child (considered the most unfilial thing a son could do to his parents, who anxiously await to “embrace a grandson”) might not fit with traditional ideals.
Of course, unlike this friend of his, John isn’t the oldest son or even an only son. Oldest sons/only sons have all of the responsibility in their family to care for their parents, since traditionally any daughters would “marry out”, leaving the family so to speak. Since John’s two older brothers already support his parents and have their own kids, in way John was “off the hook.”
It’s easy to see this as yet another example of Chinese parents who say the darndest things, and have unreasonable expectations. Then again, I can’t help but think of the fact that, in some ways, American culture has some strange ideas about parenting. I’ve heard of parents who refuse to help pay for their children’s college education, or those who expect the kids to leave home when they turn 18. And while the default in China is that grandparents provide nearly full-time care for the grandchildren, that’s not so in the US.
Maybe it’s not so bad that a mother wants the benefit of her children — as this mother said — if she gives so much back in return? Perhaps. But in the meantime, all I can say is I’m grateful we’ve never heard this from John’s parents. 😉