To pay or not to pay is that the ques­tion?

China Daily (Canada) - - TORONTO -

Babysit­ting has be­come a di­vi­sive is­sue for some fam­i­lies in China, with a grow­ing num­ber of re­ports on fam­ily dis­putes when young cou­ples refuse to pay their par­ents for look­ing af­ter their chil­dren. Re­cently, a court in South China’s Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion ruled in fa­vor of a 56-year-old woman who had filed a case against her son and ex-daugh­ter-in­lawac­cus­ing them of fail­ing to as­sume their parental re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and ask­ing for com­pen­sa­tion for tak­ing care of their child.

Al­though it may seem un­rea­son­able for her to ask to be paid for tak­ing care of her own grand­child, the woman said she had brought the case to teach the par­ents a les­son about shoul­der­ing their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

But be­fore jump­ing to any con­clu­sion, whether grand­par­ents should be paid to look af­ter their grand­par­ents it should be borne in mind that this is not a sim­ple black and white is­sue in many cases.

Of­ten such dis­putes stem from a gen­er­a­tional gap, whereby the grand­par­ents feel their chil­dren, who are liv­ing lives they could only dream of, don’t ap­pre­ci­ate the ef­forts and sac­ri­fices they made to al­low them to live those lives.

Sur­veys show that about half of all young Chi­nese cou­ples ask their re­tired par­ents to help them take care of their chil­dren. And many par­ents take it for granted that their grand­par­ents will babysit their grand­chil­dren if they are re­tired and healthy enough.

Also young cou­ples who rely on their grand­par­ents to look af­ter their chil­dren will ar­gue they can’t af­ford to hire a pro­fes­sional babysit­ter and both of them need to work.

Those who crit­i­cize such cou­ples say they are putting money be­fore the well-be­ing of their chil­dren. They ar­gue that one of the par­ents can quit his or her job so that the grand­par­ents can be “freed” from the re­spon­si­bil­ity of car­ing for the grand­chil­dren. They agree with the court that if nei­ther par­ent wants to quit their job, the cou­ple should pay their par­ents for babysit­ting.

In­deed, babysit­ting has a price tag. In China, it costs about 5,000 yuan ($787) a month to hire a pro­fes­sional babysit­ter in a mid-sized city.

That means the cost of hir­ing a pro­fes­sional babysit­ter in such ci­ties is roughly equal to the monthly salary level of many young peo­ple, mean­ing it is sim­ply not an op­tion for many cou­ples.

On the other hand, while there is a long tra­di­tion of the grand­par­ents tak­ing care of their grand­chil­dren, this was when there were three or more gen­er­a­tions liv­ing un­der the same roof, with the old and young gen­er­a­tions each con­tribut­ing to the fam­ily in their own way. Nowa­days, this prac­tice is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly less preva­lent.

And while the Guangxi court has judged cou­ples do have a le­gal obli­ga­tion to pay their grand­par­ents, many old peo­ple would feel they had no role in life if they were not able to fol­low tra­di­tion and care for their grand­chil­dren. They will will­ingly babysit their grand­chil­dren for free, and feel it is their obli­ga­tion as a grand­par­ent to do so.

In some cases, even if a young cou­ple try to pay their par­ents for look­ing af­ter their child, their par­ents may feel of­fended be­cause for them look­ing af­ter their grand­child is done out of love, and it comes with no price tag.

There­fore, whether the grand­par­ents are paid for babysit­ting should be up to each fam­ily to de­cide. How­ever, that does not mean young cou­ples should take ad­van­tage of their grand­par­ents; they should talk to them about whether they should be paid for look­ing af­ter their chil­dren. And it is wrong for oth­ers to crit­i­cize the Chi­nese way of babysit­ting, as who will look af­ter the chil­dren is a fraught ques­tion for fam­i­lies in many coun­tries, un­less they can af­ford to look af­ter their chil­dren them­selves or pay some­one else to do so.

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