Friday, May 30, 2008


Most of the time, posts on the Shanghai Mamas e-mail list don't really apply to me: looking for imported baby products, questions about pregnancy, doctor advice at the expensive foreign clinics, play groups for Spanish-speaking kids... But I stay subscribed because every once in a while there is a very interesting conversation, like the one started by the following e-mail:

I always wanted to ask this but kept forgeting. Anne's post now reminded me of it and I would really love to know your experience when you are living in your home country, raising kids without ayi(s)' help.

I was born in Shanghai and never lived overseas for longer than one month continously. I met my Australian husband in Shanghai. We had an Ayi coming once a week to clean our apartment. Then we had our first kid, we hired an Ayi who came three times a week, 4 hours each time, to do the house cleaning and I took care of the kid, did shopping and sometimes cooking (my parents also came and help me twice a week). Now we had our second baby who is one week old and I hired a full time Ayi who comes everyday, 8am to 6pm, who does cleaning, cooking, shopping and takes my 2-year-old son downstairs to play when I am occupied with the little one. My parents come 3 times a week to play with the kids so I can have some rest and the Ayi can do some real cleaning. I am not like sitting around doing nothing all day. I am still so busy and when my parents are not here, I cannot even have an afternoon sleep.

My husband kept telling me that when we move back to Australia, sooner or later, there is not going to be any Ayi to help. I have to wonder how western mamas are handling it. My mother-in-law raised three kids without any help and she did all the house work and shopping. Hard to imagine. Do I have to tie my son to his high chair or just let him run around and leave my little daughter crying in bed if she is not sleeping so I can do some housework and cook for the family? How did you do it? I would really appreciate it if you can share your life experience with me.

Meeting some of the moms that Jodi has made friends with in the last year, I've heard of mothers similar to the above who not only have parents helping out but still hire an ayi to come and do housework. I think there's a huge disconnect, not only between what these women think they can do and what they are actually capable of doing, but between segments of Chinese society where raising your own child is normal (they've gotta exist) and the ones composed of these hyper-dependent mothers. I mean, come on, you can forgive an expat mother whose husband is making good money, has difficulty navigating a foreign culture, and disconnected from her (American) home culture, but to be in your own country and not being able to formulate the concept in your mind of taking care of your own child? Geez.

Not that we'd go back to the US anytime soon, but we will soon have more than one kid and both Jodi and I have strong feelings about raising our own children. A lot of the time Jodi's mom acts more like an ayi than a mother-in-law, so this is an issue for us.


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