On Chinese Parents “Enjoying the Benefits” of Their Children

(photo by Jason via Flickr.com)

“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. 😉

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8 Replies to “On Chinese Parents “Enjoying the Benefits” of Their Children”

  1. My boyfriend’s parents haven got to enjoy the benefits either. We’re not married yet and even though his little sister got married, they don’t have a child yet. So they are eagerly waiting for us to get married and us both couples to have kids!

    As we right now live with his parents, and later might renovate the old house almost next door, we just might be people to take care of his parents when they get old.

  2. In someways my family is traditional in other ways its not. I guess I agree a lot with my mom in terms of family. I’m grateful they don’t have this “you have to be married to have kids” mentality.

  3. “value of filial piety ” I used to respect such value a lot. Now I think it is such selfish concept for any parents to have.

    Indeed, in a amish like rural society, able body is only way to work in the field and feed aging parents since there is no retirement money or income. Every parents raising youngs in order to cover themself in old age. Your children is your 401K or social security. To have a son even more important since girls would marry and leave home.
    Now I much appreciate western (or more modern, or animal like) independent value. As any animals, parenting is about giving, not taking. You give a lot to raise young. You take nothing back from your children. Some Americans even consider dependence on your children as a shame or failure of your own life. Natural parenting is about giving not taking, which is much more noble.
    In modern society, it is much easier to accumulate wealth for your old age.
    Dependency is sign of poverty. Only wealthy can afford autonomy.

  4. I don’t blame there, I still think that is normal for parents to want their kids to have a career, and 30 is for some reasons the age most parents choose for it. My father would not push me to do so..but I can tell that if I do not have a job and study for so long he would think I am somehow behind schedule, same with kids, he would be worried that I am missing something.
    In fact, when I decided to do my Master degree he was concerned that I would enter the job market later than my colleagues…I think he was very realistic, not pushing me but letting me know what I could face. And I knew it.
    Actually I would not do a Phd unless that was possible to combine with a job, because we all need to pay our bills, is hard to enter this job market with little experience. Is a big investment of money, time and efforts that in this current situation might not see a return on that investment. So I leave for the brave ones! 🙂
    My father wants to be a grandpa, some day, and I don’t blame him for that, my grandpa wants a grand-grand son, can’t blame him either, I think is sweet and it shows how much they care about it.
    But they are not thinking about how much I will give them in monetary terms, just in experience and life terms. I do consider is kind of my responsibility, and desire, since some of the steps / phases in their lives kind of depend on mine ( become grandpa for example, is not something he can do without me).

    My father is only 21 years older than me and he has been working since he was 14 in the same company, he has always supported me and I am free to decide what I do and where I do it. He just takes every decision I make as a good one, and if someone disagrees he will just say ” let the girl learn about life by herself, if she is right is wonderful if she is not she will learn from it”.

    I think is quite of sweet when he gets excited with Tony, with me..or with any little step in my life. My steps are more important than his own steps for him. Parents are great, even when they push 😉

  5. i have to say this saying of ” we raised you, therefor, you own us” is the most troublesome of tradition from Confucius to me. My mom used to say that a lot (she still uses it sparsely nowadays but much less frequently) to incur some kind of gilt feeling from me, and I fell for that a lot and hated it.

    I don’t think children “own” their parents anything, because it is not children’s choice to come to this world — it is their parents’ biological needs or societal pressure that make the decision to have off-springs. I never thought about the idea that mentioned here earlier, which is animals are purely “giving” not “taking” when comes to rearing off-springs, i think it is a very interesting concept and seems make sense.

    That being said, if we raise our children “right”, and they become kind human beings, I don’t see the reason why they don’t want to take care parents, I think it is in our genes to help clan members. Telling your children that they own you a big debt for raising them is selfish and totally unfair, parents have no rights but giving their children the best care they can if they chose to have children, because having children, even with all the hardships, also give parents so much joy and happiness, do children ask anything in return for that?

    Chen Gang

  6. @Chen Gang,
    So true! They don’t own the kids, we don’t own them either. Though we do “own” them lots of nice moments together and lots of thanks for their patient and education. Lately I have read that there is a new “law / policy ” in China that tries to push “children” to visit their parents more often.
    If aged, lonely parents can complain to the police that they were left behind. When I read this it makes me sad and lots of questions pop up in my head:
    – What kind of son /daughter does that?
    – Wouldn’t that be bad for their relationship? Forcing each other?
    – Is this policy considering other factors? (Economic situation of the children, economic situation of the parents, family disputes, illness, do those children go somewhere else on holidays?, what about the one child policy impact on this…?..etc)
    – What kind of parents go to the Authorities to complain about their grown up children knowing that there is a punishment?
    – What about those parents who “left” their kids behind?
    – What about if those aged parents do not want to move from the place they are living but still complain their children do not take care of them? Should the “children” move their own families back to the village where they come from?
    – And if those “children” already have their own kids and the grandparents are just not visiting them?

    I just wonder if this new law is taking all that into account because is very sad to see aged people alone, and children should take care of them, a good education would not lead to this need of a law. On the other hand, I know some parents who don’t care about their children…

    If someone has more info on this law…!

  7. @Laura,

    yes, it is sad they have this kind of law to force grown-up children to see their parents — so unnatural! I see this as two-sided issue: one is that parents themselves didn’t raise their children “right”, many “one-child” families treat their children as kings/queens, and spoil their children rot. You harvest what you sow, the end result is we have 2/3 generations of people who are very self-centered, no regarding to other people even their parents; two is that Chinese society (mainland) has lost the moral compass (or may be we never had one since 1949, cause the one we had was more based on force-fed concepts) and the society itself is “decaying”, and lacks the environment that allows younger generations to reflect their on their behaviors/believes to enable them to become a better person.

    I believe Taiwan is a very different society even it shares the same cultural roots, thanks to the facts that the moral compass is well preserved, although it does have similar pitfalls of Chinese culture (rigid hierarchy, suppressive seniority, etc.) but, at least, it also inherited most “good” parts of the Chinese culture.

  8. @Laura: You’re definitely right. There are many different reasons why people can’t or won’t visit their parents more often and a law is not going to solve problems between family members.

    Now that we’re married, we hear all different people talk about grandkids. Not just my husband’s parents though. I’ve grown a bit tired of it lately, because after all, this is still our decision (he’s an only child so unfortunately all the pressure rests on our shoulders).

    I don’t think that any child who loves their parents will abandon them in old age if they need them. The systems just work different. China doesn’t have a working pension system yet and homes for the elderly are a rarity, so many parents naturally have to count on their kids.

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