Real family success can be found at home, not work

Source:Global Times Published: 2009-8-4 21:18:12

By Michael Knapp

Chinese students often tell me, “Chinese are more family-oriented than Americans.” Those same students, however, tell me their dads are rarely home or their parents don’t get along. So, what do they mean by family-oriented?

I finally figured out that “family-oriented” had more to do with relationships between parents and children, even adult children, than with our traditional nuclear family. It was explained to me that Americans are “not family-oriented because when kids grow up they leave home, rather than caring for their parents.” That’s a slight exaggeration, but compared to Chinese families, Americans do spend less time with parents after becoming adults.

To be fair to Americans, there are also cultural reasons for our apparent lack of care for elderly parents. Americans are generally independent by nature, at any age. If I were to invite my parents to move in with me they’d think I was crazy. They have lived in their own house for a long time, and to remove them from that haven would be a cruel violation of their independence. I’ve even seen elderly Americans refuse help crossing the street.

During my 10 plus years in China, I’ve observed a rapid shift of parent-child responsibilities. In the beginning, I saw a young generation of people who were eager to help mom and dad. Every month they’d set aside a portion of their salaries to send home. Parents could count on their grown kids to care for their needs. Today, I see more young people depending on their parents’ financial help. Some parents even help their kids buy houses and cars.

Core family values are too often sacrificed to work pressures. I’m very interested in understanding the Chinese perspective of success, so I have asked hundreds of students the simple question: “What is success?” A few, less than expected, declared success to be related to salary and status. Some said that success means to reach your goals or attain your dreams. The highest number of respondents, however, concluded that real success is related to family.
Various age and educational levels, from undergrads through PhD candidates, gave similar answers. Younger students seem to be most zealous about the need for family success. Perhaps it’s because so many are still reeling from their own latchkey childhoods.

Today an increasing number of Chinese people are growing tired of seeing families fail for the sake of work. They are fed up with husbands and dads that make their families feel unimportant. Men and women who have climbed the corporate ladder to success, but miserably fail at home, are no longer the heroes of society.

My 40- plus year old business student, almost in tears, lamented her so-called success. She was educated with an excellent job in Beijing, but her 16 year old son literally wanted nothing to do with her anymore. For many years she’d worked hard so she could afford to enroll him in all sorts of classes. This, she thought, would secure his future and build a strong family relationship. But her plan backfired. He’d grown up too busy with study, and his mom too busy to enjoy time together with him. Now, as far as he was concerned, his relationship with her was nonexistent.

I feel sorry for kids like that. My family wasn’t perfect but I have many fond memories of family camping trips, and dad taking us three boys fishing and teaching us to play American football. I see both sides in China. In my neighborhood, there are a few dads who can often be seen playing with their kids.

On the other hand, I’ve seen too many fathers who think they are successful because of career achievements and high social status. They are so proud of themselves, but at home they have failed. I must agree with many of my students: Success is what you have with your family! Hey dads, you want to really be successful? Come home!

Michael Knapp is a MA and experienced English teacher, author of Here They Come! Are You Ready?

Posted in: Viewpoint

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