The coun­try’s clar­ion call to women in the be­gin­ning was for them to “hold up half the sky” in China. More than 60 years later, both the coun­try and its fe­male cit­i­zens have un­der­gone a sea change. Women now have to choose be­tween fam­ily and ca­reer, and s

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI -

It is a hard choice Pan Qis­han has to make: to have another child or to keep her sta­ble job. When she first got mar­ried, she did not even con­sider the op­tion of a sec­ond child, but now, a re­vised fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy has got her think­ing very hard about giv­ing her three-year-old son a younger sis­ter.

“I am an only child so I grew up lonely, with­out a play­mate. I don’t want my child to feel the same way,” said Pan, 30, a pri­mary school teacher.

China’s fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy was in­tro­duced in the late 1970s to rein in a surg­ing pop­u­la­tion by lim­it­ing most ur­ban cou­ples to hav­ing one child.

The re­stric­tion has been slowly re­laxed, first in 2011, when mar­ried cou­ples, both of whom are the only child of their fam­i­lies, were al­lowed to have a sec­ond child.

In Novem­ber 2013, the rule was fur­ther eased, and a cou­ple is per­mit­ted a sec­ond child as long as one part­ner is from a sin­gle-child fam­ily.

The re­vised pol­icy brings both pros and cons to moth­ers like Pan, who feels she would have to give up her job if she de­cides to have another baby.

“I will def­i­nitely have to quit my job and stay at home if I give birth to a sec­ond child. We can­not find any­one else to take care of two chil­dren dur­ing the day,” Pan said.

More and more Chi­nese fe­male pro­fes­sion­als are giv­ing up their am­bi­tions at the work­place so they can bet­ter nur­ture a sec­ond gen­er­a­tion. They just can­not keep up the jug­gling be­tween work and fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

The main mo­ti­va­tion is to give their chil­dren bet­ter at­ten­tion as a mother, and to make sure they have a well-bal­anced child­hood.

At the end of 2010, Ten­cent and Wuhan-based news­pa­per Changjiang Daily sur­veyed over 20,000 women across China about fam­ily and work com­mit­ments.

About 40 per­cent of women polled said they wanted to be full-time housewives, while 38 per­cent are more com­mit­ted to their jobs. The rest of the women polled are still mak­ing up their minds.

Con­trast this with another sur­vey by the Shang­hai Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion con­ducted in 2005, where only 10 per­cent of 1,000 re­spon­dents were ac­tively look­ing to leave their job with­out a back-up.

The change may be the re­sult of more pres­sure at work and heav­ier re­spon­si­bil­i­ties at home, and the dif­fi­culty of strik­ing a work­able bal­ance be­tween the two.

Be­ing a full-time wife and mother is a some­times thank­less job.

The Chi­nese fam­ily ex­erts tremen­dous pres­sure on the mistress of the house, and she is ex­pected to over­see myr­iad du­ties from ba­sic house­keep­ing to the chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion to im­por­tant fam­ily de­ci­sions to car­ing el­derly at home.

“I am on cri­sis man­age­ment mode al­most all the time,

for the han­dling un­ex­pected tasks with­out any breaks, in be­tween clean­ing and cook­ing, tak­ing care of my child and both of our par­ents if they are sick,” said Chen Mi, who gave up her job four years ago when her son was born.

Since then, Chen hasn’t had a chance to have din­ner with her friends as she has to cook for the fam­ily and be with her son un­til he falls asleep ev­ery day.

“I am work­ing like a ro­bot in the role of house­keeper, mother, wife and nurse at home. I get lit­tle chance to in­ter­act with other peo­ple. I feel aban­doned by so­ci­ety,” Chen said.

To add to the frus­tra­tion, full-time housewives like Chen also suf­fer the stigma of be­ing not as ca­pa­ble as those with a ca­reer out­side the home.

For more than half a cen­tury, Chi­nese women have had im­por­tant roles in the work­force and grad­u­ally, the term ji­at­ing funv (the woman at home) has de­vel­oped neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions, sug­gest­ing that those who do stay at home are less able.

“Some of my friends got di­vorced be­cause their hus­bands had af­fairs af­ter they turned housewives. Peo­ple rarely un­der­stand how hard it is to be a full-time wife and mother,” said Hu Xiao­cong, who opted to stay at home three years ago.

She said that many Chi­nese are more or less prej­u­diced against housewives, see­ing them as out-dated and with no place in mod­ern so­ci­ety.

In con­trast, be­ing a full-time wife and mother seems much eas­ier for the Chi­nese abroad.

“I’ve en­joyed be­ing a house­wife here by mak­ing friends with most of my neigh­bors, who are also pas­sion­ate and en­er­getic housewives. It makes me a part of the com­mu­nity very quickly,” said Wang Li­lan, a 37-yearold mother of two girls. She is a for­mer pro­fes­sor who cur­rently lives in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia.

Un­like housewives in China, Wang hires a nanny to take care of her younger daugh­ter. She also has a helper to do housecleaning, and she sends her el­der daugh­ter to a lo­cal pri­mary school so she has more time for her­self.

“I pri­or­i­tize my hap­pi­ness, so I take part in ac­tiv­i­ties in the com­mu­nity in­clud­ing cook­ing classes, sewing lessons and health lec­tures to add color to my life,” Wang said.

It is a trend that is also hap­pen­ing in China, with younger wives and moth­ers tak­ing the lead.

In or­der to re­main ac­tive in so­ci­ety, some young housewives are join­ing leisure ac­tiv­i­ties to make new friends and pre­par­ing for the time they can get back to work­ing.

“I’m tired of stay­ing at home deal­ing with house­work and I will go back to work sooner or later as I don’t want to end up be­ing a so-called use­less house­wife,” said Huang Qian, a 31-year-old who is plan­ning to find a job af­ter her son starts kinder­garten in the com­ing fall.

When she has the time, Huang goes to the gym ev­ery two days and learns to paint ev­ery week­end while hop­ing to meet peo­ple with the same in­ter­ests.

“We re­al­ize we can­not be trapped in a small apart­ment with house­work and chil­dren per­ma­nently, so we are try­ing to bal­ance our own in­ter­ests, so­cial life and a happy fam­ily, ” Huang said.

Con­tact the writ­ers yu­ran@chi­, wang_y­ing@chi­



Cou­ples can have more than one child now if they meet re­quire­ments, but some moth­ers are hes­i­tant to do so be­cause of the in­creased re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

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