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Parents must let kids leave the nest  

2012-06-28 04:58:26|  分类: English |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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American journalist Roseann Lake has investigated into the Chinese phenomenon of the “leftover woman”, referring to a woman who is supposedly “too successful to marry, but disrespected without a man.” ("All the Shengnv Ladies", Salon.com, March 11, 2012).  In her research, she found that many “leftover women” are actually rather young, but sent by their paranoid parents into a frenzy to marry.   Lake wondered what gives the parents such power over their children’s lives.  

In America these parents are called helicopter parents who hover over their children.   China is probably world’s largest producer of helicopter parents, some of whom are actually air hawks hovering all the time and occasionally dropping a few bombs to turn their children’s houses into war zones, of course, allegedly “out of love”.

In many other societies, such parents would be cautioned or taught in earlier years not to interfere.   In China, these parents are too successful in their black art to be kept at bay, and they are respected without a moral basis, except their natural identity as parents.

Such parents fail to produce mature adults in their children.  Obedience in these children towards manipulative parents is also known as “filial piety”, a quality usually lauded as a traditional Chinese virtue, challenged by few until very recently.   Young writer Peng Xiaoyun, for instance, wrote about her concern that the Chinese society teaches “filial piety” without teaching “parental mercies”(教孝不教慈).   Such dissenting voices are soon drowned in the mainstream voices about filial piety, and commercials using “filial piety” as a selling point for products targeting older people, or their filial children,  to be more exact.   Some of these are simply junk healthcare products that have no real value but cause no great harm either.  

While Americans focus a lot on “parenting” skills growing better and better children, we focus on practices of “filial piety” that give more and more power to age.   This is not right, because this is not a good way to prepare people for the future.

As Peng has pointed, traditional Confucian values some reciprocity of duties and good will.  Today, while there are indeed children who avoid their duties towards parents (which may be topic for another article altogether), few people dare criticize those parents who mess up their children’s lives.   

Admittedly, many old people have good intentions to be of some help to their children, but past experience may prove to be more of a hindrance than a help.  Even the most well-intentioned parents can soon become a nightmare if they try to dictate their children's lives.

It may shock people outside China to learn that many parents still make decisions for their married children.   It is true that it takes wisdom to make good decisions, but not all people grow wise as they grow old.   Parents sometimes take their duties a little bit took far to force themselves into the subtle marriage dynamics like a bull in a china shop, often unaware of the havoc such actions are causing.    They may be intending to help, for instance, by taking care of grandchildren.  However, their belief that they have learned all the tricks about parenting sabotages the real parents in their effort to function as parents.   

In complex multi-generational co-existence in China, relationships can easily turn sour, because “filial piety” means it is difficult to confront parents.   This inevitably takes its toll on relationships.   What starts as a little misunderstanding between in-laws can soon escalate,  sometimes ending in a couple's divorce.  Such developments are often tragic, as nobody starts as the bad guy.    Still, good guys may cram into a tight space and become each other’s nightmare. The government should take a greater role in taking care of the senior citizens so that such co-existence isn't always mandatory.

Blind obedience not only creates issues in relationships, they prevent the young from making necessary changes good for their future or that of their children as older generations tend to be more conservative.  I wonder if this kind of reverence towards the older generations has something to do with the lack of creativity in the Chinese society.

Senior citizens in America traditionally value independent living.   We used to laugh at the "cruelty" and "indifference" in such separate living, yet it is reasonable to live under different roofs at a safe distance while still being able to visit once in a while.  That may make the relationship healthier.  This way, the young can have their own lives and the old can have theirs.   Each party preserves their dignity, privacy and the integrity of their nuclear family.   In English, one of the Ten Commandments in the Bible is translated as “Honor your parents”.   I like the word “honor”, an end that can be achieved by various means, such as living apart from each other.   In Chinese, the translation is, when re-translated into English,  “you should practice filial piety to your parents.”   It is a more sacrilegious translation, as “piety” should not have been given to a fellow human being who may be equally flawed as we are.

I have heard that more families are now having three generations living under the same roof due to economic reasons.   I worry about this.  You may save a few bucks here and there, but what is the use of saving such small money if you lose the joys of living due to sour relationships?


(China Daily 06/27/2012 page10)
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