Pub’d in The Wall Street Journal: “Married Without Children in China: Dealing with the Pressure in a Baby-Centric Country”

WSJ_JEikenburg_Married without kids in China

I can’t believe I’m writing this — my article was just published in The Wall Street Journal!

It’s titled “Married Without Children in China: Dealing With the Pressure in a Baby-Centric Country” and is featured in the WSJ Expat blog. Here’s an excerpt:

When I stepped into our muggy kitchen the other night to start dinner, I never guessed my husband, Jun, a native of the Hangzhou, China, region where we live, would turn up the unbearable summer heat with one simple statement.

“The other day, my aunt asked me when we’re going to have a baby.”

Suddenly, I felt my blood pressure rising like steam from the sizzling wok before me. “Why are you telling me this?” I snapped back.

“I just want to prepare you, so you’ll have a thicker skin. My relatives are all waiting for us to have a child.”

I let out an exasperated sigh. “As if I needed another reminder.”

In China, “Are you married?” and “Do you have children?” can be the equivalent of asking, “How are you?” An American who met my husband while working at an Internet company in China, I never cared what his family said about us when we lived in the U.S. – oceans and time zones away. But since we moved back to China in 2013, I have gradually collected all these “reminders” until they accumulated painfully in my mind.

Read the full piece at The Wall Street Journal. And as always, if you love it, share it!

24 Replies to “Pub’d in The Wall Street Journal: “Married Without Children in China: Dealing with the Pressure in a Baby-Centric Country””

  1. My congrats on being published in the WSJ, it a great article!

    And of course all the best in having to continue to cope with this…. it probably never ends. 🙁

  2. Congratulations!! A great article… and a very necessary one. Unfortunately I don’t think this baby centric mentality will change any time soon 🙁

  3. Congrats Jocelyn. I love (to hate) this topic. I think it’s relevant even in the US. People put a lot of pressure on others to get married and have kids. I guess others just expect others to do as they have done. I honestly believe that the only chance at happiness comes when we try our best to pursue what we really want out of life.

  4. Why don’t you just tell relatives you’re not having children?

    I’m asking because my wife is Chinese, I’m American and want to know when and how to not share things with relatives if necessary.

    1. Hi, Michael! I’m an American, too, and that’s the same question I had. My Chinese-American husband’s parents were born in southern China and lived mostly in Hong Kong before emigrating.

      Every set of parents is different, and so I can only tell you my experience, which was probably a little more extreme than the experience of some other women. My husband is the firstborn son. His mother’s generation had four daughters and no sons. He was the first male to get married in his generation, as well. And while Andy is completely Americanized in his views, his parents are not. They wanted a grandson (not a grandchild) and they wanted it yesterday. They had no problems with me being white, thanks to my childbearing hips and Master’s Degree, but in their minds, the whole purpose behind Andy getting married was to produce the requisite grandson. And while they didn’t say this quite so much before the wedding, after the wedding, there was no conversation in which the missing grandson did not figure prominently.

      I figured if I just had a rational conversation with Andy’s parents like I have with my various parental units, they would get it and leave us alone.

      So I sat down Andy’s mother and his father and carefully outlined our reasons for not having children right away. In fact, I did this more than once. Andy’s parents understand English quite well.

      And every time they smiled and nodded, and immediately asked again when we were going to have a baby. It was SURREAL!!

      Because of the strong cultural emphasis on filial obedience, it was unfathomable to my in-laws that we wouldn’t do exactly what they wanted.

      Or, as Andy triumphantly said, “See, honey? Do you get NOW why I never try and explain anything to them? THEY JUST DON’T LISTEN!”

      Jocelyn has a funny and excellent post (that of course I can’t find right now) on how she copes with the grandchild-hounding. It’s one that I wish I had read a long time ago. In it, she merely deflects her mother-in-law’s inevitable question, “When are you going to have a baby?” with “Soon. Soon.” I wish I had done that.

      But I encourage you to try talking to your in-laws, by all means. And I would love to hear their response. It might be completely different, because you are male. In Andy’s family, there’s also the unspoken expectation that the daughter-in-law is lowest on the familial totem pole. But that’s a whole other topic. 🙂

    2. @Michael, I have to agree with Autumn. Sorry, it’s not what anyone wants to hear! You can tell them anything you want. They are going to ask and keep asking until there is a grandson.

  5. I thought it was an amazing article and worth the read. I’m coming to a point in my life that I don’t want children right now unless the time is right. I’m in my fourth year of university, I’m in debt…I can’t have kids for another 10+ years.

    Jocelyn, have you considered getting tubal ligation? I think that would’ve been a thing to do in the states before heading to China.

    Children are a blessing, they come along unexpected. But your happiness is important. 🙂 hang in there, you’ll be able to get through this. :))

    1. Hi Holly, just noted to comment about getting a tubal ligation. This is a whole other issue and one women also have to fight for. Ive heard lots of stories of doctors talking women out of them or even refusing to do the procedure (in the US). This usually happens to women in their 20’s.

      I gave birth in China last year and knowing that my husband and I didn’t want anymore children, I asked for my doctor to perform a ligation during surgery, as i was having a c-section. On an already emotional day (I was giving birth!) she talked me out of it. A part of me is still upset. I am in my 30’s and my husband is nearly 40. It was truly the right choice for us but I found a lot of opposition at the hospital.

      That being said, it’s a procedure that shouldn’t be taken lightly. I get that. It is often unreversable. Its wont fully solve problems like Jocelyn’s either, unfortunately, because Chinese in-laws can’t wrap their heads around the fact that some people don’t want to have children (and some physically can’t).

  6. In USA, people who raise productive tax-paying offsprings are fair to the society. Our social security money is really tax money from our future productive offspring. When you have decent children to be productive citizens, you are helping yourself and people without children.

    We all owe our retired life to these parents who give us future tax-payers. Just remind every one that we should honor these people. Certainly people raising criminals or welfare recipients are worse than childless parents. We either contribute or not our future world.

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