To pay or not to pay is that the question?
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.