Living in Shanghai for most people is not easy – the continuous inflation, and increase of cost of almost everything (housing among the big part). For a family, it is also not easy. Let me share the real problems a couple with a kid (like Yifan) will face.
Both Wife and Husband Work
In Shanghai, very few family can be really independent. In Shanghai (and in China), for most families, both the husband and wife work. Maybe as a good sign of equity between women and men, Shanghai demands exactly the same thing for women and men. That means, it is really rare for wife to stay at home to take care of their kids. Me, for example, I only have one friend who arranged his wife in home – they came back from the States and get used to have one person stay in home. Except him, I don’t know any of my friend who have the “wife-at-home” arrangement so far. Not to mention an arrangement to have husband at home while wife works.
The recent 50 years transformed China so greatly that in the last few hundred years, women never work, and was not encouraged or allowed to have access to education. In the recent 50 years, the society treat women exactly as men, and there is no such a thing to have wife stay at home.
And a Kid? Quite a Challenge
Everything is fine before the kid. After the baby was born, the real challenge is, who should take care of the baby.
This important, have-to-face problem ties bigger family with small family. For most of my friends, grandparents play an irreplaceable role. Many family has to involve their parents to take care of their grandchildren. It is almost take for granted that infant to baby period of childcare is the responsibility of the parents.
Even with parents, (or without parents), couples need help from outside. That is the nanny business. People, like us, hire 24 hour nanny to stay with the family to take care of the baby, while parents or at least one person the couple can trust must be with the nanny to make sure the safety of the baby. Although people need nanny so much, the trust level is still low. From time to time, newspaper report nanny kidnap or just bring the baby away. It is pretty rare in the whole city, but considering how big the risk is, parents need to be very careful.
The current allowance for vacation after having the baby for wife is 4 months. After that, although the baby and the mother is still in the breeding period, many have to cut it off when the mother gets back to work. Many kinder gardens start to accept children as young as 18 months, and many even have full time plan, in which kid get to the kinder garden on Monday mornings, and leave on Friday afternoons, and stay with the school in between.
Most of the other kinder garden start to get children from the age of 3. This does not solve the problem well, since they are often dismissed as early as 4 PM, while most of the working time in Shanghai ends at 5PM or 6PM. Again, a nanny or grandparents are needed.
How to Handle That?
I know it is tough for the young couple – Wendy and I was experiencing it and will experience more. We are pretty OK on the financial side, but how about people who really don’t have too much to spend on nanny? No wonder some of my friends send their kid back to their home town for one year or two so they can be raised by their relatives outside Shanghai, or some even quit, and went back to their hometown just because of the kid. It is not easy to raise a child in Shanghai, really not easy. It has more to do with money, and time…
Just a side note – competition starts from kindergarden. Recently, I even started to worry whether Yifan can pass the entrance exam of a good kinder garden. It sounds ridiculous, but really good kinder garden receives 3000 applications while only can get less than 300. They have strict interview process to ask the 3 year old many questions, that have to be answered correctly before they are admitted. They have to be the top 10% in all the other 3-year old kids. OMG! I started to get advertisement newsletter in my inbox promoting their course to help my kid on how to perform well in the “kinder garden entrance exam”! It is really outrageous. But…. can I just ignore and take it easy and send my son to a “so-so” kinder-garden? I don’t think it is a big deal, but I realized the competition adds up from 3 year old – many primary school choose candidates according to which kinder garden the kid is from…
If you say China is a very competitive market, you may learn the reason. With so many people and so rare resources, it is really hard to handle, and the only thing to do is to compete hard, from 3 year old… BTW, this is another evidence about how little the resources on education and health care the government is putting tax dollar into – I didn’t feel the pain only after I have my own child.