When fa­thers do the moth­er­ing

How Shang­hai’s stay-at-home dadds cope

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Yang Lan

Are­cent re­port in the New Weekly mag­a­zine re­vealed that more than 50 per­cent of Chi­nese fa­thers spent less than five hours a week with their chil­dren. The av­er­age time per day they spent ac­tu­ally talk­ing to them was less than six min­utes.

Some ex­cused them­selves by say­ing they were too busy at work, oth­ers said they didn’t know how to com­mu­ni­cate with their chil­dren. Some were never closely in­volved with the rais­ing of their chil­dren.

This is a pic­ture of fam­ily life in China in 2015 and though the chil­dren might want to have more time with their fa­thers, this is ap­par­ently, a rare thing.

How­ever, some Shang­hai fa­thers have bucked tra­di­tion and be­come stay-at-home fa­thers, look­ing af­ter their chil­dren while their moth­ers go to work. It’s not at all com­mon yet but th­ese dads are help­ing change at­ti­tudes and shap­ing a dif­fer­ent fam­ily model for China.

Ev­ery­thing changed

Zhu Mingqi stayed at home tak­ing care of his daugh­ter for more than seven years. He was work­ing as an ar­chi­tect but when his daugh­ter was born in 2007, he quit his job.

“I was very busy at work. Some­times I had to work for weeks with­out go­ing home. But when my daugh­ter was born, ev­ery­thing changed. I could have left my daugh­ter to be cared for by my par­ents, but their way of rais­ing the baby didn’t feel right. So I de­cided to look af­ter her my­self,” Zhu told the Global Times.

Over the past six years, Zhu’s daily rou­tine was get­ting up to make break­fast, driv­ing his wife to work, then re­turn­ing home to play with his daugh­ter out­side, shop­ping, mak­ing lunch for his girl, clean­ing the house, read­ing (when the child had her af­ter­noon nap) and mak­ing din­ner for the fam­ily.

In­stead of go­ing out for drinks with his friends, Zhu would more of­ten go out with

other moms. They called him “panda” – he was a very rare species. “I felt lonely some­times,” Zhu ad­mit­ted. He couldn’t be both­ered with a lot of the small talk the moms en­gaged in.

While Zhu looked af­ter the child and the home, his wife was out earn­ing money, sup­port­ing the fam­ily and pay­ing the rent on their apart­ment in Shang­hai. She works in sales.

Zhu did not un­der­take his par­ent­ing with­out a great deal of re­search and, with his prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, now is some­thing of an ex­pert with firm views on child rais­ing. If the time is up when he and his daugh­ter are play­ing he never lets her ex­tend the game or the ac­tiv­ity.

“For ex­am­ple, if we agree that we will play over there for 20 min­utes I set my timer and when the alarm rings we leave there. She never wants to linger or hang around,” Zhu said proudly. “She has good dis­ci­pline.”

When his daugh­ter turned 7, Zhu went back to work but his seven years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in child­care led him to a ca­reer change. He is now one of only two male teach­ers at a Shang­hai early child­hood devel­op­ment in­sti­tu­tion.

“She is al­ready at pri­mary school, so I can have some time to my­self. And it’s re­ally bor­ing stay­ing at home ev­ery day by my­self. I want to be a good model to my girl, so I needed to get back into so­ci­ety,” Zhu said. It was not easy, ini­tially, fit­ting in with his new ca­reer and en­vi­ron­ment but he is now very set­tled in his work.

At first, Zhu’s par­ents and in-laws did not want Zhu to be an at-home fa­ther. They wanted to help him take care of the baby, and they felt they would lose face if he was a stay-at-home dad. But his wife backed him ev­ery inch of the way and earned enough money to keep the house­hold run­ning smoothly. Even to­day she is earn­ing a lot more than he does.

Chance of a life­time

Hu Jingx­ian’s son is 13 months old. Hu used to stay at home look­ing af­ter the baby and her hus­band, Yang Jun­fei, went to work. But when Hu was of­fered a chance of a life­time with a new po­si­tion, they de­cided to swap roles – she went to work and he stayed at home.

“Peo­ple of­ten say that men are in charge of the out­side and women are in charge of the home. In our fam­ily, we divide the du­ties ac­cord­ing to our strengths. I like go­ing to work. I hope to work and ad­vance my­self when there are good op­por­tu­ni­ties, so I have gone to work,” Hu said. “My hus­band likes com­mu­ni­cat­ing and play­ing with our boy so he stays at home.”

There was a dif­fi­culty dur­ing the birth and Hu in­jured her back which meant that from the ear­li­est days Yang was look­ing af­ter the baby, chang­ing him, show­er­ing him and feed­ing him. The lit­tle boy’s first word was “Dad” not “Mom” and he wouldn’t go to sleep un­less his fa­ther tucked him in.

“I get a lit­tle jeal­ous see­ing my son so at­tached to his fa­ther, and a bit wor­ried at the same time think­ing about how I will look af­ter him when my hus­band even­tu­ally goes to work,” Hu said. But at present the ar­range­ment suits her and she is happy with a car­ing hus­band and a promis­ing ca­reer.

Fa­ther Yang plans to stay at home till their son turns 2 and then he will re­turn to work. Hu be­lieves that par­ents can make a choice and it is their re­spon­si­bil­ity as par­ents to choose whether the mother or the fa­ther takes care of child rais­ing.

“Even though Yang doesn’t com­plain, he’s not re­ally happy. He has pres­sure from his par­ents, the in-laws and so­ci­ety. Ev­ery­one ex­pects him to sup­port the fam­ily fi­nan­cially. Per­son­ally, I think that Chi­nese stay-at-home fa­thers are great. They do a lot of work at home. They con­trib­ute a lot. I re­ally re­spect th­ese stay-at-home dads,” Hu said.

Dis­cov­er­ing short­com­ings

When Li Cheng lost his job in 2012 his small daugh­ter got a new home carer. “It was an im­por­tant ex­pe­ri­ence for me to be with her for over a year, even though I didn’t plan to do this. I also dis­cov­ered my short­com­ings when I was look­ing af­ter her. I still re­mem­ber the times I lost my tem­per with her. Nowa­days when I think about that I’m re­ally sad and prom­ise my­self that I will never be harsh with her again. She has made me re­think the way I ap­proach life. It was an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence,” Li said.

Li is now back at work. He was, like most of the Chi­nese stay-at-home dads, forced into the role. Th­ese men stay at home af­ter los­ing a job or go­ing through a ma­jor ca­reer change. But usu­ally they don’t stay at home for any real length of time – be­cause of so­cial pres­sures and fi­nan­cial stress they get back to work as soon as their chil­dren have a lit­tle in­de­pen­dence.

“Men face more pres­sure than women when they lose their jobs. There can be a lot of psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems like de­pres­sion from stay­ing at home for long pe­ri­ods. How­ever, tak­ing care of chil­dren can have a good ef­fect on them, and it can re­duce the stress,” Ji Long­mei, chief psy­chol­o­gist at the Soul­gar­den Psy­chol­ogy Con­sult­ing Cen­ter in Shang­hai, told the Global Times. Ji be­lieves that the fa­thers’ pres­ence can help chil­dren learn to re­spect author­ity.

Re­search has showed that chil­dren are equally at­tached to moth­ers and fa­thers. “Fa­thers help chil­dren un­der 3 build their gen­der iden­ti­ties. If they are ab­sent dur­ing that pe­riod, chil­dren may have trou­ble de­vel­op­ing cor­rectly. And as a child grows older, the fa­ther’s in­flu­ence grows stronger. A fa­ther’s work, so­cial sta­tus and vi­sion can in­flu­ence a child’s choice of ca­reer and their role in so­ci­ety,” ex­plained Pro­fes­sor Huang He­qing from the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion Science of East China Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity.

In the past, most Chi­nese fam­i­lies had to have both the fa­ther and the moth er work­ing to sup­port the house­hold. Now that so­ci­ety has de­vel­oped and di­ver­si­fied par­ents have more op­tions.

How­ever, Huang does not rec­om­mend ei­ther mother or fa­ther re­main at home af­ter a child turns 3. “Ev­ery­one has his or her life. Chil­dren should get in­volved in so­ci­ety by at­tend­ing kinder­garten and play­ing with other kids. It is bet­ter for them. Par­ents should pre­pare their chil­dren to in­te­grate into so­ci­ety and not be shel­tered by the fam­ily,” she said.

She also ad­vised par­ents against sac­ri­fic­ing too much for their chil­dren. “Tak­ing care of the chil­dren should just be an im­por­tant task in one pe­riod of a par­ent’s life, not the one and only task for the whole life.”

Huang said that if par­ents gave too much at­ten­tion and care for the chil­dren, they could then have un­rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tions for them.

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