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Parenting conflicts between two sets of parents in China’s 4-2-1 family

4-2-1 family in china


Here we go again. It's a cold winter Monday morning in Beijing, and I'm standing quietly watching my young son, Hong Yuan, get dressed by his grandmother. Despite the chill in the air, she is, as always, getting carried away with the number of layers she puts on him. Six pairs of pants at once are too many! But she forces each one around his legs until she is finally satisfied that he will be safe from the elements. Not only does he look ridiculous, but he can barely walk across the room for breakfast.

又来了。这是北京冬天一个寒冷的早晨,我一言不发地看着婆婆给我年幼的儿子宏远(音)穿衣服。尽管寒气袭人,可是她跟往常一样给孩子裹的层数实在太离谱了。一下子穿六条裤子太多了!但她费尽艰辛地一条一条套到他腿上,直到她终于确信他不会受冻。他不仅看起来很可笑,而且连穿过房间去吃早饭都快走不动了。

 

Hong Yuan and I leave the house together shortly afterward, and he waddles beside me with an uncomfortable gait. As we turn the corner from our apartment building, Hong Yuan stops by the side of the road. He knows the drill: Without saying a word, I take three pairs of the pants off of him and stuff them in the deliberately half-empty bag slung over my shoulder. I will have to put them back on before we return home that night, so that Grandma is none the wiser. But for now, Hong Yuan can walk freely.

饭后我和宏远走出家门,他摇摇摆摆地走在我身边。拐过公寓楼的转角,宏远停下脚步。他知道该干什么:我二话不说就给他脱掉三条裤子,塞进肩上刻意没装多少东西的袋子。晚上回家前我得这些裤子再给他穿上,免得让奶奶发现。但现在,宏远可以行走自如了。

 

Every day, it's a battle.

每天都有这样一场战斗。

 

It all started five years ago, when my husband and I decided to have our first child. We thought long and hard about what it would inevitably mean: inviting not just one but threenew people into our home. Like so many other Chinese couples of our generation, starting our own family also meant opening our home to his, or my, parents.

一切始于五年前我和丈夫决定要第一个孩子。我们思想斗争了很久,因为那必然意味着我们家里要增添的不是一个人而是三个人。跟我们这一代人的其他许多中国夫妻一样,生孩子也意味着向他的或者我的父母敞开家门。

 

Soon after I got pregnant, my husband's parents upped sticks from their native Hubei and moved into our cramped maze of a two-bedroom apartment in central Beijing. It was, in truth, a bigger shock than the arrival of our son several months later. As with most young mothers in China, the inclusion of my in-laws in raising my child was not a choice. Had we resisted, my husband and I would've been seen as shirking our responsibilities to our families. All four of us would lose face.

我怀孕后不久,公公婆婆从家乡湖北赶来,住进我们位于北京市中心的小小两居室。说实话,这是比我们的儿子几个月后出生更大的冲击。跟中国大多数年轻妈妈一样,让公婆帮忙带孩子并非一件可选择的事情。如果我们不愿意,我和丈夫就会被认为推卸家庭责任。我们四个人都会没面子。

 

I had hoped their role would be more akin to a babysitter's, but it quickly became clear that they wanted as much say in my son's upbringing as his mother. Rules I put in place would be argued about to death or flat-out ignored. I sought to instill in Hong Yuan a sense of responsibility and accountability. My in-laws' focus was on keeping him happy at almost any cost. As in many households across China, rural or urban, I was left facing the reality that my son would grow up with essentially two sets of parents — who have completely contradictory views on parenting.

我曾希望他们的角色会更类似于保姆,但我很快就明白了,他们想在我儿子的成长过程中拥有跟他的母亲一样大的发言权。我定下的规矩会遭到坚决反驳,或者干脆被忽略。我谋求给宏远灌输一点责任感,公婆强调的是几乎不惜一切代价让他高兴。跟中国无论是农村还是城市的很多家庭一样,我不得不面对一个现实:我的儿子将由两对父母抚养长大,而两对父母的养儿观完全不相容。

 

In the early years, I tried to confront my mother-in-law on trivial matters — clothing, diet, reward and punishment systems. It was a futile exercise. I slowly adopted much more subtle and subversive ways of influencing my own son's upbringing: I'd take snacks out of the house so they wouldn't go behind my back after I'd said no; I'd have long conversations with him about behavior away from the house.

最初,我试图在鸡毛蒜皮的小事上与婆婆理论,比如穿衣吃饭、奖惩制度等。这种做法徒劳无功。渐渐地,我开始采取更加微妙和颠覆性的方式来影响自己儿子的成长。我会把零食从家里拿走,这样他们就不会背着我给孩子吃;我会在带他外出时进行有关行为举止的长谈。

 

Soon after his second birthday, I decided to send Hong Yuan to the school where I work, to limit the amount of time he spends under his grandparents' care. I didn't even discuss it with them.

宏远过完两岁生日后不久,我决定把他送到单位幼儿园,以减少他由爷爷奶奶照看的时间。我根本没跟他们商量这件事。

 

That night, as my mother-in-law tidied up the kitchen and my husband enjoyed the last of their baijiu, I told them the news: I had enrolled Hong Yuan in school. "No, you have not," said my mother-in-law. "Too young," my father-in-law chimed in. Throughout the ensuing argument, my husband sat silently, not wanting to take sides. My in-laws stormed into their bedroom, slamming the flimsy door behind them.

那天晚上,婆婆在收拾厨房,丈夫还在呷着最后一点白酒,我宣布了这个消息:我已经给宏远报名上幼儿园。"不行,不能这样。"婆婆说。"太小了。"公公插话道。在随后的争执中,丈夫坐在那儿一句话都没说,他不想偏袒任何一方。公婆冲进自己的卧室,砰的一声关上门。

 

For the first few months of school, Hong Yuan was ferried back and forth by his grandparents. Often, though, they would refuse to take him and instead keep him home all day. Eventually, they told me they would have nothing to do with getting him to school each day. It was my decision to send him there, so the workload would fall on me. Fine.

上幼儿园的头几个月,宏远由爷爷奶奶接送。不过,他们常常不愿送,而是让他一整天呆在家里。最终,他们对我说,他们没有义务每天送孩子去幼儿园。是我决定送他去的,所以这事儿归我管。好极了。

 

Now, I happily pick up Hong Yuan from school. We walk home together. And, always, we stop at our corner and I pull on his extra pairs of pants. He struggles up the stairs to our apartment, where Grandma and Grandpa await his tales from the day. I hang up my half-empty bag and secretly celebrate my small victories in the battle to be a mother to my own son.

现在,我高高兴兴地从幼儿园接宏远。我们一起走回家。而且,我们总是会在拐角停下来,我给他穿上额外的裤子。他挣扎着爬上楼回家,爷爷奶奶等着听他讲这一天发生的事情。我挂好半空的袋子,暗自庆祝我在儿子争夺战中的小小胜利。

2016-06-24

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