Double happiness

By Du Qiongfang Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/29 19:58:39

Many Chinese parents are reluctant to have a second child, but are their concerns warranted?

Expectant mother with her first child Photo: VCG

An expectant mother Photo: VCG


It has been two years since China put an end to its one-child policy, allowing all couples to have two children for the first time since 1980. But a recent survey shows that the proportion of women in Shanghai who are willing to have a second child is not as high as expected. A survey of 1,000 women in Shanghai, jointly released by Shanghai Women's Federation and Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences earlier this month, revealed that 56 percent of women said they have no plans to have a second child and 35 percent said they have not yet decided whether to have a second child or not. It is noteworthy that only 4 percent already have two children.

Thus far, most media reports have been focused on women's concerns about the physical or financial difficulties they might encounter if they have a second child. The Global Times recently interviewed some young Chinese mothers in Shanghai to reveal the real situation among two-child families and the sweetness and bitterness they are experiencing.

According to the survey, the top three reasons given by women for not desiring a second child are financial burdens (35 percent), unsuitable age or physical conditions (21 percent) and inadequate living space (13 percent). Other concerns include anxiety toward their children's future education and a lack of household help or childcare.

Among the women who already have two children, however, many of these concerns are nullified or dismissed. "I don't think financial status is an issue that can dominate and control one's choice of having one or more children. As long as a couple wants to have a second child, it doesn't matter how much they earn," said 33-year-old Zhang Cao, who has two boys, one in the first grade and the other soon entering kindergarten.

Zhang planned to have a second child even before the new policy was implemented. "We thought our son was too lonely, so we decided to have a second child as his companion," she said, adding that limited living space has been the biggest issue in their household.

Likewise, 31-year-old mother Li Mao was also determined to have a second child before the new policy rolled out. In 2017, she gave birth to her second daughter. "Even if I was not allowed to have a second child, my husband and I would have tried to think of methods [to dodge the old policy]," she told the Global Times.

Although Li quit her job to stay at home with her second daughter, her husband's sole income is adequate to hire an ayi (domestic helper) to take care of their housework and children so that Li can find a new job.

Instead of a public school, Li pays extra to send her 4-year-old first daughter to a bilingual private kindergarten, the annual tuition of which is over 100,000 ($ 15,651) yuan. She hopes to send her younger daughter to the same kindergarten, as it offers discounts for siblings.

No financial burden

Zhang openly encourages other mothers of only children to consider having a second child regardless of their financial situation.

"With two children in a family, they won't be spoiled and the relationship between family members can be balanced. For the sake of your first child, have a second child!"

Thirty-three-year-old Ge Liang, a mother of two mixed-race daughters (one is six and the other four), believes that the financial burdens and psychological pressures often mentioned by single-child families depend entirely on what kind of education they want their children to receive.

"In today's society, the upbringing of children does not only mean feeding them," Ge said. "In Shanghai, the cost of education varies greatly between public and private education institutions, between whether attending cram school or not, all of which means money, time and energy."

Thirty-three-year-old Zhou Ping also has two sons, with a 4.5 years age-difference. The elder, 6, attends a public kindergarten and the younger, 2, will soon enter the same kindergarten.

"Although I had planned to someday have a second child, he just came a bit earlier than I had expected," said Zhou, whose husband has a younger sister and strongly desired a second sibling for his son.

Zhou's family lives in a three-bedroom apartment with a mortgage. She will consider letting her two sons share a bedroom. As both are boys, Zhou doesn't have to worry about buying new clothes or toys for her second son. The only large expense has been preschool education.

"For most two-child families, I think financial burden is not the major issue; the psychological toll of coordinating a warm relationship between the boys is the major issue I am now facing," Zhou said.

Sibling rivalry

Reflecting on her own experiences, Li believes she should have given more forethought to the potentially volatile relationship between her two children.

"When my second daughter was still in my belly, my elder daughter did not express any opinion toward her. But as soon as my second daughter was born, my elder daughter started fighting for her mother's affection. Every day during the first month, she spanked her younger sister whenever she saw her," Li said.

But Li refused to send her elder daughter to her hometown in East China's Shandong Province to become a "left-behind child" with her grandparents. Instead, she hired an ayi for help during her postpartum confinement. "I think taking care of both of them at the same time can help my elder daughter eventually accept her younger sister. I don't want my elder daughter thinking that I don't care about her anymore," Li told the Global Times.

Li's opinion was echoed by Zhou. "I don't need to be a housewife, since I have my parents to help take care of our kids. But I still gave up my job because I found I could not spare enough time with both of them after work," Zhou said.

Now that Zhou's elder son is attending kindergarten, she can spend daytimes alone with her younger son, which she feels is very important to his emotional development. Afternoons are for her elder son when he gets out of school. "He won't talk much with me when his younger brother stays at my side," said Zhou.

"The two boys always fight for toys, snacks, and their mother's affection every day, which brings me both trouble and fun," Zhou said, "And yet, whenever they are apart for a few days, my younger son never misses his mother or father; he only misses his big brother who constantly bullies him," Zhou laughed.

Support network

Ge and her husband, a New Zealand national, moved into a three-bedroom apartment after their second daughter was born, as they wanted the older sister to sleep alone in a separate room in order to cultivate her ability to sleep independently at night as well as assure the adequate rest of both parents.

When their second daughter turned 2, both girls started sharing a bedroom. They go to sleep by themselves at around 8 pm, which allows the exhausted parents some quiet leisure time. In the morning, the two well-disciplined kids play quietly in their own room so that their parents can sleep until 9 am.

"Since they have each other's companionship, they don't need us very often. Only when they are hungry," Ge said, adding that even though the girls get along great, she has also set up a competitive mechanism between the sisters to make them more manageable; for example, whoever behaves best during the day can choose their bedtime story at night.

After staying at home as a housewife for the past two years, Li is now planning to return to the workforce. "My elder child goes to kindergarten and the younger one is taken care of by an ayi, so there is no need for me to stay at home all day long," Li said.

"Everyone has to consider the specific situation in their own family, so I don't have any advice. Just consider your family's financial status and consider your husband's and even your parents' and in-law's attitudes. Two children will not assure you double happiness, as they won't necessarily get along well or make your family more harmonious," Li said.

"I don't regret having my second child. But I regret not sparing enough time and energy with my elder son after the second one was born. I felt so sorry for him. I have determined that I will not reduce my affection for my elder son," said Zhou, who added that she would appreciate more emotional support from her husband when the going gets rough between the two siblings.

"If two children can grow up closely together and support each other in the future, then having siblings is a good thing," Zhou said.

"When I first decided to be a housewife, my husband supported me unconditionally, but my parents opposed it strongly," Zhou said, adding that she also plans to find a new job after her younger son enters kindergarten, but mostly just to appease her own parents.

"From the perspective of traditional Chinese parents, a woman's financial status decides her family status. Especially my strong-willed mother, who thinks her daughter, with such a good education background, is a waste of a resource if she is not working," Zhou said.

Foreign families

The Global Times also interviewed some foreigners in Shanghai about their opinions toward raising two children in China.

French engineer Matthias Ancelin, 40, has an 11-year-old daughter and a 7-month-old son. He used to live in China for four years and now lives in Switzerland with his Chinese wife and children. Nonetheless, they have a neutral attitude about the topic.

"They [Chinese families] can do whatever they want. Some people want one child, and some people want more. That's their own decision," Ancelin said.

Russian national Pismennaia Maria, 28, has a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, both born in Shanghai, where they have lived for the past five years. When her children were younger, she hired an ayi to help take care of her children.

Maria thinks the education in Shanghai is much more expensive compared with Russia,  but in the end she feels it is worth it to have two children.

"Two kids in a family is the best and most ideal situation, so that way each parent will have their favorite kid," Maria laughed.

American citizen Tommy, who is married to a Chinese woman and has two young children who were both born in China, is strongly against the idea of hiring an ayi to help with housework or child rearing.

"What's the point of having children if you are just going to let a complete stranger raise them? Not to mention that kids raised by nannies often have a lot of emotional issues later on in life," Tommy told the Global Times.

"To expats and Chinese couples, I say if you can't do the heavy lifting yourself, then maybe you shouldn't be a parent, and certainly don't have two children!" he said.

Ge Liang Photo: Lu Ting/GT


Li Mao Photo: Lu Ting/GT


Matthias Ancelin Photo: Lu Ting/GT


Pismennaia Maria Photo: Lu Ting/GT

Zhang Cao Photo: Lu Ting/GT


Zhou Ping Photo: Lu Ting/GT



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