HAPPY Mother’s Day to a new generation of mums in China. They were born after 1990 into a generation defined by the Internet, spoiled “little emperors and princesses,” video game addiction, eating out and free-wheeling spirits. Now they are taking on duties as parents and redefining that role in China.
Cindy Chen, 27, was raised a “princess” in a home with no siblings. In her first two years of marriage, she hardly did any housework because she never had to do any growing up. But since the birth of a son last year, Chen has had to change her way of thinking.
“It had never occurred to me that I would have to manage cooking and taking care of a child at the same time,” Chen says. “But that’s how my life has evolved.”
Where she once went online to follow the latest fashion trends, Chen now downloads child-rearing apps and participates in WeChat forums about motherhood.
Access to a glut of outside information on child-rearing is a big departure from traditional motherhood. In the past, young women with new babies simply followed the advice of mothers, mothers-in-law and grandmothers on how to raise children. What one generation did was passed down to the next without any questioning.
Those were the days when families had multiple children to raise, instead of the single-child generation now moving into motherhood. Those were the days when many women stayed home or, if they worked, toted their babies with them because they couldn’t afford nannies. Most of today’s young mothers are determined to meld career and home, often with outside helpers.
According to a Baidu online survey, 37 percent of post-1990s mothers are rearing their children on advice they get online, from friends, in books and magazines and from doctors. About 35 percent said they place the most trust in professional advice, while only 7 percent said they rely on the experience of the older generation.
Carol Xiao resumed her fitness regime at a gym one month after giving birth, ignoring her mother-in-law’s admonition that exercise could affect breast milk production.
“There is no conflict between the gym and breast-feeding,” says Xiao. “I believe that a healthy mother can better breast feed a baby.”
Sociologist Gu Xiaoming says he is confident that post-1990s mothers will be good parents.
“Nobody is born mature,” says Gu. “The post-1990s generation needs time to grow, just as we all did. Given sufficient trust and space, they may even do better than we did, thanks to the abundant information and sharing of experiences online.”
27, with a 13-month-old son
Self-employed as a small business owner, Cherry Gu figures the lessons she learned raising her pet dog would help her raise a child.
“How hard could it be?” she asks herself. “And even if it did turn out to be hard, I could hire a nanny and leave the baby to a professional. But that was all a pipe dream. Once you hold your baby in your arms, you don’t want to part with it.”
Gu frequently listens to child-rearing lectures from professionals, both online and offline. Like most new mothers, she is bombarded with kindly advice from parents and friends.
“It is not that I don’t trust what other people say,” says Gu. “But when it comes to the health and safety of my baby, I cannot be too cautious. There are things you can learn only after you have become a parent yourself.”
Gu has not given up her love of travel. She first took her son on day trips when he was 8 months old. His first overseas trip was to Japan just before his first birthday. Travel, she says, broadens the experience, and it’s never too young to start.
“As the Chinese saying goes, ‘The man who travels far knows more’,” says Gu. “I want to teach my son to learn about the world we live.”
24, with an 8-month-old son
Freshly out of university and only seven months into her first job, Zeng was taken aback when she found she was pregnant early last year.
She was overwhelmed with worries about caring for a child out of a family income of only 10,000 yuan (US$1,449). Zeng says she read media reports about the high expenses of raising children.
“Would I be able to take good care of a child while I still felt a bit like a child myself?” she asked herself. “I was far from confident.”
Her own mother assured her that she wasn’t facing an insurmountable situation.
“My mother always said where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Zeng says. “It’s not a matter of money. Nobody is born a skilled mother, but she said I could learn if I put my heart into it. And she promised me that she would always be there if I needed help.”
Zeng resigned from her job with an advertising company because she was often required to work overtime until midnight. Instead, she found work as a public servant with regular hours. She reduced “unnecessary” spending, like frequent trips to the spa and dining out. She began extensive reading on child-rearing.
“Frankly speaking, I was still unsure about whether I could cope even as I was wheeled into the maternity ward,” she says. “But I was resolved to try my very best.”
Her first challenge came only weeks after delivery. Her newborn cried for hours on end, regardless of long cuddling. He bent his legs upward and clenched his fists. Once she identified the actions as common among newborns at night, Zeng learned to massage her son’s belly gently before laying him down to asleep, a technique she learned online.
“Mothers online are all willing to share experiences and information,” she says. “It’s like entering a whole new world since I became a mother.”
She has learned to make some time for herself. While her mother babysits, Zeng sometimes has a night out with friends.
“I enjoyed those relaxing outings,” she says, “but I am always happy to return to my baby.”
25, with a 13-month-old girl
Zhao says she felt a terrible letdown after giving birth.
“I realized that the focus of my family shifted from me to the baby,” she says. “I was treated like royalty when I was pregnant, but I lost my crown the minute the baby was born. Worse, I knew it was wrong for me to feel that way.”
However, taking care of a newborn left her little time to dwell on such thoughts. She was disappointed to find that she could not produce enough breast milk to feed her daughter, no matter how many traditional remedies she tried.
“I am lucky to have a very considerate husband,” Zhao says. “He told me not to worry and said baby milk powder would provide our daughter with all the nutrition she needed. He eased my depression.”
Zhao returned to her job at a local aeronautical institution five months after her baby was born.
Between work and baby care, she finds all her time occupied.
Her parents-in-law take care of the baby while she’s at work. On weekends, she makes time to take her daughter on small outings.
“I sometimes wonder if I had a child too early?” she says. “But my daughter has become part of my life and I can’t imagine life without her. I guess that’s what makes a mother.”
When Zhao noticed her baby’s tendency to howl and throw toys around in anger, she worried that maybe her own bad temper was influencing the behavior of her daughter.
“I realized that I needed to change,” says Zhao, who now stops and takes deep breaths whenever she feels her temper rising.
“Good habits are important role models,” Zhao says. “I don’t want to exert any negative influence over the way my daughter grows up.”
61, with a 3-year-old grandson
A retired teacher, Wang was determined to give her daughter-in-law wide berth in how she raised her baby.
She says she did give some advice now and then, but didn’t take offense when it was rebuffed.
“My daughter-in-law was doing what she learned online,” says Wang. “So I just shut up lest I make an outdated nuisance of myself.”
57, with a baby granddaughter
Ke moved to her daughter’s home nine months ago to help take care of her granddaughter while her own daughter goes to work.
She was somewhat upset when her post-1990s daughter would sneak out to do a bit of partying after putting the baby to sleep.
“I can understand that she needs a break,” Ke says. “But I worry about her health. She often doesn’t get home until after midnight, and the baby usually wakes her as early as 5am. But she won’t listen to anything I say.”
62, mother of a 30-something son
When Lu had her baby more than 30 years ago, she relied on her mother-in-law and a few close friends for advice on how to care for an infant.
“It had never occurred to me that my mother-in-law’s suggestion might be wrong since she was a nurse and had successfully raised three children,” says Lu.
Though her mother-in-law did help look after Lu’s son sometimes, Lu still had to take him everywhere with her — even to work — until he was old enough for nursery school.
“My mother couldn’t help often because she lived far away,” Lu says. “And I couldn’t rely completely on my mother-in-law because she had three grandchildren living under her same roof. I was on my own, which was common for most Chinese families at that time.”
Lu says she had to sacrifice a lot in those days. She didn’t buy any new clothes for herself for two years, even though she had previously enjoyed dressing up.
“I had no time for shopping,” she says.
“The baby was always the top priority.”