Worry is an ever-present feel­ing for empty nest par­ents with chil­dren study­ing or liv­ing abroad

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE -

Spring Fes­ti­val is a time for fam­ily reunions, and many peo­ple work­ing and study­ing over­seas miss their fam­ily and home­town even more at this time of the year. The same goes for their fam­i­lies and friends in China. Par­ents whose

chil­dren have left home for big­ger cities or abroad are called empty nesters in China, and many go through vary­ing de­grees of long­ing and worry, es­pe­cially around the time of Spring Fes­ti­val.

Li, a woman in Bei­jing whose only daugh­ter stud­ies nurs­ing in Aus­tralia, re­called how shocked her rel­a­tives and fam­ily friends were when her daugh­ter Nan­nan de­cided that she wanted to go abroad to study. She said both par­ents and child were lec­tured on how un­rea­son­able they were be­ing, “let­ting the only child of the fam­ily leave.”

“It was her de­ci­sion to go to Aus­tralia to study. Nat­u­rally, as par­ents, we want our chil­dren to have a bet­ter life and not regret things they didn’t do, so we had to let her go,” Li said.

Al­though she was re­luc­tant and wor­ried about her daugh­ter, she and her hus­band joined the empty nest com­mu­nity.

Ac­cord­ing to the Study­ing Abroad magazine, a Chi­nese magazine that fo­cuses on the over­seas study mar­ket, the mar­ket for over­seas ed­u­ca­tion is boom­ing with more than 540,000 Chi­nese over­seas stu­dents in 2016 alone, re­sult­ing in an in­creas­ing num­ber of empty nesters.

At the same time, with the av­er­age age of stu­dents study­ing abroad get­ting younger and younger, the new empty nest par­ents are also much younger. They tend to have their own ca­reers, be mid­dle class or above, and are usu­ally more open-mind- ed and op­ti­mistic about their chil­dren leav­ing the “nest.”

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and worry

Chen, a full-time mother who has a good re­la­tion­ship with her daugh­ter, rented a small plot of land in the sub­urbs af­ter her daugh­ter went abroad to study i 2016. Now, in­stead of talk­ing about go­ing shop­ping to­gether, Chen takes pic­tures o the veg­eta­bles and fruits she grows and shares them with her daugh­ter. She said their re­la­tion­ship re­mains close de­spite the long dis­tance. How­ever, she of­ten wor­ries.

“It’s my baby girl out there, and of­ten there is news about cam­pus safety in­ci­dents hap­pen­ing abroad. If she doesn’t re­ply to my mes­sages, I would be­come wor­ried and won­der about all kinds of things. But mostly it’s proved later that she was just busy,” Chen said.

Like Chen, some empty nest par­ents are overly con­cerned about the well-be­ing their chil­dren. There have been re­ports of par­ents send­ing their chil­dren many WeChat mes­sages a day ask­ing about their where­abouts, which puts a lot of pres­sure on the chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to Study­ing Abroad.

Be­sides man­ag­ing the fre­quency of their com­mu­ni­ca­tion, choos­ing what to talk about is also tricky. Many par­ents and chil­dren tend to tell each other only good things.

What over­seas stu­dents like Nan­nan worry about the most is the health of thei par­ents. Her fa­ther had a heart at­tack and un­der­went a heart by­pass surgery in

her sec­ond year abroad, but her par­ents de­cided not to tell her.

Nan­nan felt bad af­ter learn­ing about the surgery, es­pe­cially be­cause she was on va­ca­tion around that time, trav­el­ing and post­ing a lot of photos on so­cial me­dia.

“Al­though I wasn’t able to take care of him af­ter the surgery, I could at least have sup­ported and com­forted him,” she said.

Some­times the chil­dren also hide the hard­ships and dif­fi­cul­ties in their lives, such as the school pres­sure or tak­ing part­time jobs to earn ex­tra money from their par­ents.

Deal­ing with the empti­ness

Liu En, 68, who lives in Bei­jing, tries his best to fill his life with ex­cit­ing things. His daugh­ter lives in New York. She went to the US for post­grad­u­ate ed­u­ca­tion and found a job there.

“My daugh­ter left the com­puter with me af­ter she went abroad, and I be­gan to learn about stocks. It has been 10 years,” Liu said.

Liu spends four or five hours a day Mon­day to Fri­day watch­ing the stock mar­ket and uses the rest of the time to watch movies and TV shows. On week­ends, he vis­its friends and fam­i­lies for a chat over tea. “Time goes by eas­ily and fast,” he said. Daily com­mu­ni­ca­tion was also Wang Shaom­ing’s way of deal­ing with miss­ing his child. A pro­fes­sor from Jiangsu Prov­ince, Wang has a son who lives in Mu­nich, Ger­many, and in the be­gin­ning, he needed to talk to his son ev­ery day via text mes- sages and email.

Later, Wang started trav­el­ing to other cities and joined lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties of free­lancers, am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­phers and chess en­thu­si­asts, which has proven to be im­mensely help­ful.

Ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, empty nest syn­drome, which is caused by chil­dren go­ing over­seas to study or work, is a grow­ing phe­nom­e­non that re­quires at­ten­tion and sup­port from the so­ci­ety.

“When their chil­dren first went abroad, par­ents were very happy. They were still in a pe­riod of ex­cite­ment, but af­ter that, they might feel bad,” Xing Cai, a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Ren­min Univer­sity of China, told the Peo­ple’s Daily Over­seas Edi­tion.

Xing said that the so­ci­ety should take some re­spon­si­bil­ity and ar­range for fam­ily doc­tors and psy­chol­o­gists to of­fer coun­sel­ing and sup­port for empty nest par­ents on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

The younger gen­er­a­tion of empty nesters is in less of a cri­sis than the more el­derly ones, he said. He sug­gested that the empty nesters ad­just their men­tal­ity, go out more of­ten, not worry too much about their chil­dren, and not make too many com­par­isons with fam­i­lies whose chil­dren are around them.

“I am already used to Nan­nan not be­ing around dur­ing the hol­i­days,” said Li.

The new gen­er­a­tion of empty nesters are mostly mid­dle-class par­ents with their own ca­reers who tend to be more open-minded and op­ti­mistic about their chil­dren leav­ing the “nest.” Send your tips, in­sights or photos to or call our Ad­dress: The Global Times English Edi­tion, 2 Jin­tai Xilu, Chaoyang Dis­trict, Bei­jing 100026.

Par­ents with chil­dren study­ing or work­ing abroad deal with the lone­li­ness by hav­ing hob­bies and at­tend­ing all sorts of ac­tiv­i­ties.

Photo: VCG

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