Should grandmothers be taking care of the kids to help women stay in the workforce while raising families? The answer may vary depending on your culture. In the Washington Post, a Chinese American woman, Kelly Yang, who is now living in Hong Kong urges young mothers to Lean in, and lean on Grandma. In her piece, Yang argues that the percent of women in upper management in China is over twice as high as it is in the U.S. because Chinese women have a reliable source of childcare: grandmothers.
But when you read the comments in this section, there’s a lot of vitriol against both Yang and the idea that women who ought to be in their golden years should be primary caregivers to their grandchildren. Why should grandma give up her retirement years to chase after toddlers? What about grandma’s career? And where is grandpa? Too bad there’s no way to find out about the racial or ethnic background of these Washington Post commenters, but I’ll wager a bet that they are mostly white Americans.
I spent all last week in New York City for a journalism conference. My boys were picked up after school each day by either my mother or father. They watched the kids every afternoon — supervising homework and driving them to martial arts classes — until my husband returned home from work. He then takes over all the household duties that I normally do: cooking dinner, doing laundry, signing permission slips, and packing the next day’s lunches. It’s an arrangement that my husband and parents say they are happy to oblige — after all, it helps me to get my career back after spending years out of the office. But I know they are collectively exhausted at the end of the day. I know, because I feel that way, too!
While the concept of the rugged individualist is often idealized in America, traditional Asian cultures see families as permanent bonds, not severed or strictly boundaried once children become adults. Sons and daughters aren’t kicked out of the house once they turn 18, and parents don’t demand rent from adult children flocking back to the nest. Those are common ideas in America, and in reading the comments on the Washington Post article, I can practically hear the tsk-tsking of people who think Mrs. Yang is enabling her daughter to live in a sort of extended adolescence.
I’m very grateful that my parents are able to pitch in to watch the kids when I travel, as we would not be able to afford a nanny to come do all the picking up and dropping off and general wrangling into the evenings. But I also know this is a great system for occasional babysitting, but would not work out for day in and day out childcare. While Asian grandparents don’t expect (and probably wouldn’t accept) monetary payment for helping to raise their own grandchildren, there are other expectations. Like Kelly Yang, I’ve been through my share of tug of wars over child-rearing philosophies. It sounds like the Yang women have been able to resolve their differences, but many Asian American parents and grandparents are not able to, causing a lot of tension and rifts in families.
Some commenters question whether Yang is paying her mother for hours of work, but they are missing the point. I suspect that Mrs. Yang is financially able to retire, and that when the day comes that she is not physically able to take care of herself, her daughter will return the favor.
A couple more interesting links about grandparents caring for kids:
Also, I’d like to do some research into how to work through cultural differences and childrearing philosophies between parents and grandparents.
What are your concerns? Leave me a comment or send me an email to let me know!