In our World of Mothers series, we are exploring what motherhood means around the globe from North America, to Europe, Africa and now, Asia.
Childcare in China is truly a family affair.
Historically, multi-generational living has been seen as the cultural ideal in China, with several generations living under one roof. Today, grandparents share almost half of the childcare duties with mothers of two- and three-year-olds. It's a big part of why China has one of the highest rates of women in the workforce in the world.
Shortly after Colin Gu was born, Li Ping and Gu Zhengzhao moved into their son and daughter-in-law's small, two-bedroom apartment to help raise their new grandson. Colin's mom, Abigail Zhang, has long and unpredictable hours as an executive assistant at an automobile company, while her husband, Gu Lin, is an engineer. So for most of the workweek, the grandparents are in charge and cook all the meals.
Zhang said she'd have to quit her job if she didn't have help from the grandparents.
"Because I can only trust them. I can only trust my parents or my husbands' parents," she said. "They are the only person in the whole wide world that can love my son so much."
Li Ping said it's the Chinese tradition to help raise the grandchildren. "We are still quite healthy after retirement," he said. "Being around the kid every day brings us joy. We have nothing to complain about."
University of Maryland sociology professor Feinian Chen said parents in China often leave their children behind with grandparents as they move from the countryside to major cities in search of better paying jobs.
"It's not just about individual choices but it's about what you do to maximize the well-being of the whole family," Chen said. "Grandparents providing care for the grandchildren very much creates that opportunity for other members of the family, mostly the mothers, to engage in other opportunities."
Chen herself was raised by grandparents in China. Later, in the United States, she benefited from grandparents helping with her own kids.
"Without a doubt I would not have gotten tenure without the help from my parents and my parents in law," she said.
In the U.S., only about 14 percent of grandparents provide significant care to grandkids, but Chen said it is more common among certain communities.
"The black grandmothers, the Hispanic grandparents, the Asian-American grandparents often times play a much more prominent role," she said.
Zhang said that even though many new parents in China expect grandparents to help out, she wanted to take a moment to make sure her mother-in-law knows how truly grateful she is. They hugged, and her mother-in-law cried.
"I said to her that I appreciate the help a lot and we always know that, and as a Chinese, we don't say it aloud. She said to me that I'm also a good daughter-in-law."
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