My family and I moved to Beijing for two years.
Leaving the US put in perspective how we want to live moving forward.
Unlike parents in the US, Chinese parents are not expected to do everything on their own.
In 2019, I, my husband, and our two kids moved to Beijing for my husband’s job, and we stayed for two years. I devoured everything I could read about family life in China, but some things I had to experience for myself.
For one, seniors have no problem telling you their parenting opinion. Part of this may stem from the great respect for elders in China and how involved many older family members are in their grandchildren’s day-to-day upbringing. When you’re at a park, no matter the weather or what your kids are wearing, they’ll tell you it isn’t the appropriate clothing for the temperature. Never mind our language barrier – the point gets across.
Compare this to the US, where strangers are more likely to give a weird look than to say what they mean. But they might also trust you more to know when your kid needs a hoodie and when they don’t.
In China, parents keep their kids at home if they have lice
When my youngest came home with lice, there was no treatment to be found. Pharmacists and doctors could offer no help. Chinese parents told me they just shave their kids’ heads or keep them at home until it’s gone.
We isolated for weeks while I worked in between shampoos and comb-throughs. After multiple pleas on parent WeChat groups, a friend from the Australian Embassy gave me an extra bottle of the much-needed shampoo. I would have paid her in gold pieces for it by that point.
I learned later from a local hospital that treatment is available, but you have to know what to ask, and the main treatments offered are manual removal (what I did), treatment shampoo (what I eventually did), shaving the head, or using an electrical comb.
Children are expected to be at least bilingual
English is mandatory in Chinese schools, with some kids starting to study as early as preschool. Kids we didn’t know loved talking to us at playgrounds so they could practice. Our son’s teachers in China were shocked to learn he didn’t have a weekly Mandarin tutor. We thought that attending a bilingual school with a dedicated Mandarin class would be enough.
The downside was that he often fell behind his classmates in his studies. However, he became motivated to learn on his own, instead of us forcing it.
Parents aren’t expected to do it all on their own
My Chinese American friend at first resisted the fairly modern practice of hiring a yuesao (月嫂), a postpartum nanny and cook. It seemed extravagant to me, too, especially with four months of paid maternity leave.
After seeing how much my friend’s yuesao helped after birth, I realized I was jaded. I had fallen for the American concept that you should do it all.
After a yuesao, families enter the world of ayis (阿姨). “Ayi” translates to “auntie” but can mean housekeeper, nanny, cook, pet sitter, bill payer, shopper – whatever the family needs.
I didn’t think I needed one. My kids were in school, and I worked from home. Then I realized how much more effort it takes to navigate a new, foreign city and learn the language. I understood why even a part-time ayi was a good idea, and a huge privilege; our ayi knew better grocery stores that didn’t charge expat prices and helped us with our daily Mandarin while taking some mental load off my plate.
Putting our US parenting in perspective clarified our values and how we want to live moving forward. We want our kids to understand that the American experience isn’t the only or even the best one. We want to keep their minds open to embrace new ideas, respect others, and be adventurous.
Living in China cemented these parenting principles in our family, and we’d do it again.
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