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Under Pressure: Chinese Full-Time Mothers Demand Time Off

With the number of stay-at-home mothers on the rise in China, so are the challenges that come with being a full-time mother.

Manya Koetse

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The story of a full-time mother who was slammed by her husband and mother-in-law for asking some ‘time off’ for traveling during the national holiday has gone viral on Chinese social media. Her account strucks a chord with other stay-at-home moms, who face difficulties in being a full-time mother in a society where family responsibilities are shifting.

Chinese netizen ‘@DoubleTrouble’ (@二捣蛋), a Guangzhou stay-at-home mother of two kids, recently posted about her desire to take “an absence of leave” (请假) from her life as a mum and travel by herself during the Chinese National Holiday.

The woman shared her grievances on WeChat about being severely criticized by her husband and mother-in-law for wanting some time for herself during an 8-day vacation after taking on the sole care of her two children non-stop for years.

The unhappy mother’s story, which was posted some days before the start of China’s national holiday, was picked up by Chinese media and went viral. It triggered heated discussions on the role of China’s stay-at-home mothers within the family.

 

A FULL-TIME MOTHER’S DILEMMA

“I raised the subject of wanting to go away for a while. But I couldn’t even finish speaking before my mother-in-law said: How dare you think of things like this as a mother?!”

 

The original text, which was posted by the woman on a WeChat forum for Guangzhou mothers (gzmama.com), is as follows:

“The past two days I’ve had a falling out with my family members. I wanted to use the National Holiday to travel somewhere, but my husband and mother-in-law strongly opposed. Now, there is all this turmoil because of this, with them criticizing me for being selfish. They also say I am irresponsible and that I am an unfit mother. I feel really low.

The situation is that I have two children, a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old, both raised by me. Although my parents-in-law are also in Guangzhou, they’ve never helped me out at all. Even when one child gets sick, it is me who has to take both the children to the hospital.

I’ve been married to my husband for six/seven years now. After we got married, I resigned from my job to become a full-time mother. We did not hire a nanny and I took on the care of the two kids by myself. My husband is very busy, and couldn’t help out either.

The last couple of years have tired me out. All mothers will know what I mean, even if they don’t say it. For this year’s [national] holiday, my husband also got a few days off, which is very rare, so I finally wanted to seize this opportunity to go out for a while, and let my mother-in-law help out for a bit to take care of the children.

A few days ago, we were all having dinner together, when I raised the subject of wanting to go away for a while. But I couldn’t even finish speaking when my mother-in-law said: “How dare you think of things like this as a mother?!” My husband also strongly opposed to me leaving the house. My father-in-law said nothing; he didn’t oppose nor approve.

My husband and my mother-in-law at the dinner table took turns in telling me how selfish I am, and how irresponsible I am, and I could not help but quarrel with them.

Now the family relations have gone sour, and my husband and I have not spoken for few days, I also haven’t gone to see my mother-in-law.

Am I really being selfish? The two children are already older now. The little one does not get breastfed anymore, and the kids get along great, they hardly ever fight.

Sigh, I do not know what to do now. Should I go anyway, regardless if they are against it or not? Or should I just forget about it it and just bitterly stay at home with the kids?”

 

The woman’s post received some 17,000 views and over 200 comments from other mothers on the Guangzhou forum before it was widely shared and discussed in Chinese media, receiving thousands of reactions on Weibo.

 

STAY-AT-HOME MOMS IN CHINA

“Once you have children, your time is no longer your own – your time must be dedicated to them.”

 

More than two-thirds of mothers in China work full-time. According to this report (video) by CGTN, China’s modern-day moms belong to a generation that attaches great importance on having a job – so much so that there is an alleged social stigma to staying at home full-time to raise the children.

“There are a lot of Chinese mothers who work, and this might not necessarily always be their choice,” says Roseann Lake, author of upcoming book Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower.

Lake tells What’s on Weibo that the relatively high percentage of working mothers in China, on the one hand, can be explained through the historical background of the Cultural Revolution, which placed great importance on the full participation of women in the labor force. On the other hand, she notes, it also has a lot to do with today’s China.

“Giving the nature of China’s economy, there is a need for double-working households. And at the same time, there are also many grandparents with free time on their hands who are willing to take care of their grandchildren.”

Lake does not think there necessarily is a social stigma attached to being a full-time mom: “If the financial conditions allow it, women in China can certainly be stay-at-home moms. But then there is the expectation to take on the bulk of looking after the household.”

Nevertheless, Lake stresses, usually – despite expectations that the wife will then take on full care of the household and children – Chinese grandparents will pitch in to help take care of the children, whether the mothers like it or not.

About the case of Chinese netizen ‘@Doubletrouble’, Lake says: “There are plenty of in-laws in China who would pass judgment on something like this, saying that once you have children, your time is no longer your own and your time must be dedicated to them at all times.”

While there is pressure on both working and stay-at-home moms, there is a growing number of Chinese women who choose to fully dedicate themselves to their family life.

According to China Daily, more than 70% of post-90s young mothers are willing to be a full-time mom. By contrast, mothers from the post-80s would rather stay in the workforce; approximately 46% keep on working after becoming a mother.

 

ONLINE REACTIONS

“If women cannot even have this piece of freedom, then why do we get married at all?”

 

With the number of stay-at-home mothers on the rise in China, so are the challenges that come with being a full-time mother. The story of @DoubleTrouble shows that there are many other full-time mothers who have a similar story.

“Women have to think of themselves, they should not completely dedicate all of themselves to the family,” one woman (@潼潼囡妈咪) writes: “We need our own social space in order to have the capability to support ourselves and our children.”

“Just go!”, one person pleads: “If women cannot even have this piece of freedom, then why do we get married at all?”

Other people also point out that it is not the mom who is selfish: “If a woman becomes a mother, it doesn’t mean she has to give up on everything. There are 8 days in the National Holiday – why can’t she leave for 2 days? Can’t she have a break from working hard all year round? It’s not only her children, what’s wrong with the mother-in-law looking after them? They are the ones who are selfish and take her for a free labor force.”

There are also commenters who say that there is a big difference between being a stay-at-home mother and a ‘house slave’: “Just go and apply to be a nanny somewhere else,” one person suggests: “At least then you’ll have wages and get days off.”

“The one who has no sense of responsibility is not this mother, but her husband,” another woman writes.

“It’s not like she’s leaving for two months,” one commenter said: “If women cannot even enjoy this freedom and support after getting married and having babies, then what’s the point?”

“When I get married,” a male netizen writes: “I want my wife to take time for herself and go outside, I will watch the kids. I don’t want to see her depressed or restless.”

Despite all the support for @DoubleTrouble, and all the other mothers demanding that ‘time off’ should be normal for all stay-at-home moms, there are also some who disagree.

“When the child is 2 years old, they are too young. Wait until they go to school,” some say. Or: “Just take the children and go on a trip together with your husband, the four of you together as a family.”

 

THE “GREAT TRANSFORMATION”

“The grandmother does not have the duty to help out her daughter-in-law, but then she also shouldn’t expect her daughter-in-law to take care of her when she is old and sick.”

 

The recent account of ‘@Doubletrouble’ is not the only complaint from full-time mothers who feel the pressure of taking on the full care of their children and not getting any help nor personal time. An important recurring issue is the changing role of the in-laws, who traditionally lived with their son’s family and usually have an active role in raising their grandchildren.

One woman from Fujian (@林小夕的梦) cries out on Weibo: “I am so tired, I am on the verge of collapse. It’s unbearable being a full-time mother. Don’t ask me about my mother-in-law or why she doesn’t help me out – I’d be better off without her, she doesn’t understand.”

The transformations of Chinese traditional family structures in the modern-day era have not necessarily brought about equal gender divisions in the household.

As pointed out by Harriet Evans in The Gender of Communication (2010), the focus in Chinese society has gradually shifted over the past half-century, as there is “[a] shift away from a collectivist and family-oriented ethics of personal responsibilities to an individualistic ethics of rights and self-development” (981).

This “great transformation”1 manifests itself, amongst others, in the clashes between those younger mothers who seek self-fulfillment and personal satisfaction, and those older generations who still expect them to fulfill the traditional women’s role in the domestic sphere, while they, as grandparents, now also play a much less significant role in the upbringing of their grandchildren – not just because they are detached more from the family in social terms, but also often because there is a bigger spatial distance between families.

“The grandmother does not have the duty to help out her daughter-in-law, but then she shouldn’t expect her daughter-in-law to take care of her either when she is old and sick,” a popular comment said.

Since the post has gone viral, @DoubleTrouble has not given an update about whether or not she did go on that trip. If not, at least her story has triggered some relevant discussions online.

“I just hope this post will receive enough attention so that women who want to become a full-time mother will realize the difficulties they might face,” one woman writes.

By Manya Koetse

References

Evans, Harriet. 2010. “The Gender of Communication: Changing Expectations of Mothers and Daughters in Urban China.” The China Quarterly (204): 980-1000.

1 Evans (2010) quotes Yan Yuxiang here, author of The Individualization of Chinese Society (London: Berg, 2009).

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Bruce Humes

    October 7, 2017 at 9:32 am

    It’s quite revealing that — at least in the Weibo comments cited — all the potential “solutions” are limited to family members.

    There is no mention of hiring a baby-sitter, part-time amah or full-time nanny. How come?

    Obviously, many Chinese households couldn’t afford the latter, but in 1st- and 2nd-tier cities, they can. In Hong Kong and Taiwan, many middle-class families hire part- or full-time nannies to do housework and look after children. Hong Kongers in particular do so, and insist on a Filipina or Indonesian female who is both truly caring about children, and can teach them English to boot!

    Among the Chinese mothers I know in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, however, hiring someone from outside the family to look after one’s children is considered very problematic, and most refuse to do so. Why? Because they are afraid their hires will 1) Steal from them, 2) Mistreat their children if a relative is not present, and/or 3) Kidnap their children and sell them to traffickers.

    Tells you a lot about contemporary Chinese society, doesn’t it?

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China Insight

“Chinese Spy Balloon” Versus “Chinese Civilian Airship” – The Chinese Words That Matter in the Balloon Incident

On Chinese social media, the Chinese balloon is seen as a weather device that ended up measuring the temperature of China-US relations.

Manya Koetse

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A day after the U.S. military shot down a Chinese balloon off the Carolina coast, the ‘balloon incident’ is a hot topic on Chinese social media, as official media are publishing about the incident and social media users are discussing it.

At 8:17 in the morning on Feb. 5, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs published its response to the shooting down of the Chinese balloon on Weibo.

They expressed “strong discontent and protest” over the American use of force to attack the “civilian unmanned airship” (民用无人飞艇) after Chinese officials recurringly informed the U.S. side that the balloon – described as a weather device, – had accidentally entered the U.S. and did not pose any threat to the U.S. whatsoever (#外交部就美方宣称击落中国无人飞艇发表声明#).

On Chinese social media, as also described in our earlier article on the incident, the balloon has come to be referred to as the “Wandering Balloon” (流浪气球) in the context of the box-office hit The Wandering Earth II.

At the same time, China celebrated the Lantern Festival (元宵节) which marks the first full moon of the Chinese New Year. It is tradition to eat glutinous rice balls and enjoy lanterns floating in the sky.

The balloon incident set the Chinese social media meme machine in motion, in which the balloon, The Wandering Earth II, and the Lantern Festival all came together in various images that circulated on Weibo and beyond.

The balloon, featured in ‘The Wandering Balloon’ movie produced by ‘US Government’, wishes everyone a happy Lanern Festival.

Another meme titled “Wandering Balloon” drawing comparisons between the ballloon and rice balls traditionally eaten during Lantern Festival.

The Weibo hashtags used to discuss the incident were mainly initiated by Chinese (state) media outlets, such as “The U.S. Side Claims to Have Shot Down Chinese Unmanned Airship” (#美方宣称击落中国无人飞艇#); “America Uses Military Force to Attack Civilian Unmanned Airship” (#美方宣称击落中国无人飞艇#); “The U.S. Side’s Insistence on Using Force Is Clearly an Overreaction” (#美方执意动用武力明显反应过度#).

“Is it a balloon or an airship? The American official and media side all claim it is a spying balloon; the Chinese side claims it is an civilian unmanned airship,” one blogger wrote, showing the different media contexts in which the incident is being discussed and emphasizing the importance of the vocabulary used.

Words matter, and at a time when there is a lot of speculation about the incident, the seemingly humorous way in which Chinese netizens have responded to the international dispute also relates to the language that is being used to describe the event.

On Chinese social media, the majority of commenters see the balloon as a weather device that went wandering and, unexpectedly, ended up measuring the temperature of Sino-American relations – which turned out to be icy cold.

Some examples of the kind of phrasing that matters in the Chinese media context:

Civilian Unmanned Airship
民用无人飞艇 Mínyòng Wúrén Fēitǐng

The balloon in question is described as a “civilian unmanned airship” in Chinese official and state media texts. The word ‘civilian’ (民用) is included in the clarification about the balloon being a civilian meteorological balloon, and thus not serving any military purposes (民用 ‘civilian’ versus 军用 ‘military’).

Attack [on] Civilian Unmanned Airship
袭击民用无人飞艇 Xíjí Mínyòng Wúrén Fēitǐng

The U.S. military shooting down the Chinese balloon is also phrased as an “attack” (袭击) in many Chinese media reports as well as in the official Foreign Ministry post.

Completely by Accident
完全是意外 Wánquán Shì Yìwài

The expressions “completely by accident” (完全是意外), “unexpected circumstances” (意外情况), and “force majeure” (不可抗力) are used in official Chinese media texts describing the balloon incident to underline that the circumstances in which the device floated into American skies was not only unrelated to military / government purposes, but that it was also unintentional.

Stay tuned for more updates.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China Insight

Hot Air: Chinese Social Media Reactions to the Chinese Balloon Incident

The Chinese balloon incident is also referred to as the “Wandering Balloon” on social media at a time when ‘Wandering Earth II’ is trending.

Manya Koetse

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The 2023 “China balloon incident” has gotten so big over the past few days that it already has its very own Wikipedia page now.

On Feb. 2, 2023, it was announced that a Chinese “surveillance balloon” was traveling over the northern United States. Later, it was reported that a second Chinese balloon floated over Latin America.

As a consequence, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called off a scheduled visit to Beijing, calling the presence of the Chinese balloon “an irresponsible act.” The balloon has also been dubbed the “Chinese spy balloon.”

On Sunday morning after 4 AM China local time, news came out that the U.S. military had shot down the Chinese balloon off the Carolina coast after the coastal area of North and South Carolina had been closed for the national security operation.

In an earlier statement on Friday, Chinese officials referred to the balloon as a civilian “airship” (“飞艇”) used for weather monitoring and meteorological research that deviated from its original route due to the wind. The incident, therefore, is also described as the “Chinese Airship Incident” (“中国飞艇事件”) by Chinese media outlets.

On Chinese social media, the issue is referred to as “the balloon incident” (“气球事件”) or the “balloon problem” (“气球问题”), and many netizens think it is all about “making a big issue over nothing” (“小题大做”).

The balloon is also nicknamed “the wandering balloon” (流浪气球) in light of the current Chinese box office hit The Wandering Earth II. One of the hashtags used to discuss the events was “The Wandering Balloon II” (#流浪气球2#).

Chinese political commentator Hu Xijin, who frequently posts on social media, suggested earlier that the U.S. side allegedly is very well aware that the Chinese balloon – which accidentally went “wandering” – actually “poses no threat” and that ongoing reports about the balloon were purposely being used to create an anti-Chinese narrative.

Hu’s reasoning is similar to that of Chinese International Relations Professor Li Haidong (李海东), who claims that the balloon story is framed as a threat in order for the U.S. to gain an advantage in bilateral negotiations (#专家称美炒作气球事件对华施压#).

Following news reports about the Chinese balloon getting shot down, some Weibo commenters jokingly lamented that the “poor baby balloon” had been ruthlessly shot down without even getting the time to float around.

“Such a pity,” some wrote, with others suggesting it’s “just a stray balloon.”

One of the hastags used for online discussions of the balloon getting shot down was “The Wandering Balloon Is Shot Down” (#流浪气球被击落#) and “The ‘Wandering Balloon’ Gets Shot Down by American Military” (#流浪气球被击落#).

There are many online jokes about the incident, such as those saying that the Chinese people thought the sci-fi blockbuster Wandering Earth II was the current film hit and that they had not expected the ‘Wandering Balloon’ to be the actual hit of the moment.

The fact that the current Chinese balloon developments trigger so many online comparisons and memes related to the sci-fi film Wandering Earth II perhaps doesn’t come as a surprise, since the movie has been among the hottest trending topics of the past week, and considering its narrative is all about catastrophic events and the future of international society.

Others comment that since this is the time of the Chinese Lantern Festival (元宵节), celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month of the Chinese New Year, the incident is just another way of wishing everyone a happy new year.

All jokes aside, there are also bloggers who see the incident as a more serious occurrence at a time of worsening Sino-American relations, suggesting the significance of this matter “can’t be underestimated.”

For more updates on this story, see this article.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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