I was recently asked to write a column for this site. I’m guessing it’s the 15 years of living in Beijing that qualifies me; that, and I’m married to a local, and I’m 6 months pregnant. Over the years, I’ve absorbed some Chinese culture. In my mind, all the good stuff (I admit, I do openly belch without thinking about it).
Now that I am about to have a child in China, I thought I’d share some of the many interesting subjects are presenting themselves.
Honestly, I’m not nervous about becoming a parent. But I’m already realizing that I sometimes feel challenged about surrendering to the Chinese culture, family and beliefs.
No matter what the culture, a parent already believes that they know best. In my case, this is very true. 🙂 I also want to consider what my in-laws are suggesting (as well as everyone else) so I listen to their suggestions and sometimes forget that my husband and I are the parents of the often discussed “孙子” (sun zi) grandchild.
In Chinese society, everyone has their role. My PIL are the grandparents. In their minds, this means that they will raise their grandchild while my husband and I go to work. However, neither of us have office/day jobs. Yes, they will take and pick up the child to school, even though we are doubtful about Chinese schooling methods. They’ve also got plans to take our child on trips to other places, to relieve us of any stress. Unfortunately, there is a 矛盾 (mao dun) contradiction in this, because of the nature of our work (musicians). But, because this is how my husband was raised, by his grandparents, I assume that his parents feel it’s finally their turn to raise ours. My PIL are retired and very laidback; they don’t insist on living with us as many parents do, but they are very, very excited about raising their grandchild.
The most recent discussion is the 月嫂 (yue sao) – the monthly caretaker that my PIL have hired for the month that I’ll be staying in the house after the birth of their grandchild. For them, it’s a beautiful and suitable gift to the mother of their grandchild. I value the medicinal skills this “month-lady” will provide as I 补充 (bu chong) replenish my body after birthing. Yuesao is usually the role of the MIL, but they can also be hired. MIL tells us that this woman that we’ve never met will stay in our house for a whole month to take care of me and the baby. “Wait, what?” screeching halt in the conversation.
“She’s going to stay with us?” we both asked in unison.
“Yes, that way you can sleep well while she takes care of the baby,” MIL replies.
My head is filled with images of yue sao sneaking into our room late-night, stealthily grabbing my breast to insert into infant’s mouth while I sleep.
“Uh,” my husband and I look at each other.
“It’s because you won’t know what you’re doing with a new infant. This is our way of helping.” MIL says to ease our minds. I am stubborn and want to prove to my PIL that my upbringing prepared me. But, if I tell her I have child rearing experience, it won’t advocate her role as the Chinese grandmother. I remain silent, knowing it’ll work itself out naturally when the time comes. Everyone is coming to the table with loving intentions.
The common belief amongst all Chinese parents: our child doesn’t know what he/she is doing. In my mind, this seems to insult their child-raising techniques, as it sounds like their child is a complete idiot even as an adult. But this empowers their roles as parents. Often, the child (in adulthood) acquiesces without protest. I’m always floored by the amount a parent does for a child. In a restaurant, I’ll see a 5-6 year old sitting with hands at sides while parent holds cup for them to drink. But these are the common roles of the family, and must be played out for harmony to prevail in this society.
Only now have I begun to realize that I have to share my child with my Chinese and American family members. They will indeed want to influence their new family member in their own way. Despite my fears, I am sure that we will find the balance of 和谐 (hexie) harmony in our roles.
The first harmonization: The yue sao will stay at PIL’s house in the evenings.
Jess Meider is a professional musician who has been living and performing in Beijing since 1997. She is also a yoga teacher and a private vocal ‘gongfu’ coach. She’ll be performing this Thursday, August 9th at Jianghu Bar. For more info check out www.jessmeider.com