“Mom, Can you tie my shoes?”
You look down at your seven year old kid holding out his shoe to you. “Sure, sweetie, I’d be glad to.”

My conversation with student 1 (a mother of a 2 year old son)
“How do you teach a child to do something? You know, they have to have interest in something before they do it.”
“Of course, they do, they’re a child. So you just make everything into a game or a song and praise them when they do it.”
“I do that but after they master it their grandfather just takes them out to play. The next time they just go out to play again. I don’t know how to make him continue doing it.”
“You mean your grandfather is teaching the child it’s OK not do whatever you taught them?”
“See, that’s how foreign grandparents are different. If my father were standing behind me and saw me teaching my child to do something it’s his job to reinforce it, not teach them how to not do it. I would expect my father to help me praise my child for doing whatever I had taught them to do.”
“I try to tell my parents to do that to help me but they never listen to me. They have so much power over me. They are always controlling me.”
“That’s a difference between foreign parents and Chinese parents.”
“Where I come from my parents taught me how to do something and then they wouldn’t let me leave the house if I didn’t do it. It’s as simple as that. If I tried to leave the door without my coat my father would first tell me to get a coat and if I refused he would go and put a coat on me.”

Student 2 (a university student) and I
“I want to go study abroad but if I don’t get permission from my parents than they won’t let me. What would you do?”
“I would make enough money to study abroad myself if I wanted to.”
“But that would take a long time and I wouldn’t be able to get a job. A boss would prefer someone from the countryside over me because they’ve been working much longer and have more experience.”
“See in the US everyone starts working from around the same age, of about 15 years old, I started working even earlier than that.”
“But if I work then my grades will go down and i won’t be able to catch up to the other students. How can you handle working and studying at the same time.”
“Many students do this in the US.”

conversation with student 3 (a mother of a 2 month old daughter)
“So who do you live with?”
A few minutes later I find out she’s married and has a daughter. I decide to try and ask the question again.
“Who do you live with?”
“My daughter lives with my parents-in-law and my husband and I live together.”
“So when do you see your daughter?”
“When I get home from work or from school I go over there to visit my daughter.”
“How far away do they live?”
“On the first floor, I live on the 6th. I don’t like living away from my daughter. Her grandparents and I often fight over how to take care of her, it makes my daughter cry. I hate to see her there crying because we are all fighting over her.”
I must have had a puzzled look on my face as I simply don’t understand the concept of a mother not taking care of her own child and letting others fight with her over how to take care of her.
“What’s wrong?”
“I’m confused. That’s just not how things are done in the West.”
“So I want to go to the west to get away from her grandparents.”

How did this happen? Why can’t he tie his own shoes? You wonder to yourself. Then you stop to think, I’ve spent 14 hours a week with my son since he was 5 months old. Her grandparents have been taking care of him, doing everything for him, not letting him do anything at all for himself. So he simply hasn’t learned what the other kids his age have. My American friend Michael used to tell me how he didn’t enjoy his Chinese wife going to her home with their child as every time he went he unlearned how to do something and when he came back they would have to reteach him how to do it because her parents simply wouldn’t let him do anything for himself. It’s these kind of stories that scare me when I think of raising a child here. Not that I can’t take care of my own child, or that my parents can’t help teach me how to but having parents-in-law that are possibly like the ones in these stories.

This makes me think to myself how proud I am that every time someone tells me that my shoes are untied it’s like an order in my head to tie my shoes. That every time I hear that it’s cold outside I grab my coat without even taking a second thought. These are things that my parents taught me.

“My parents taught me how to take care of myself. So that when they’re not with me at any point in this world I still now how to do what they taught me. That was my parents main goal, to teach me how to take care of myself and then they’ve done their job.”
“We never think of our parents as not being with us. We just think about how happy and healthy we are.”
“Of course I think of how happy I am to be alive and how healthy I am but I need to live for now, do what I can for myself now, learn to be on my own now because some day I may also have to rely on someone else again. Some day I might not be able to take care of myself again.”
“That’s the way we should think but we don’t like to think about a time without our parents.”
“If my parents left me tomorrow I would be able to take care of myself tomorrow. I wouldn’t have to think to myself how to do something now that they’re gone. They’ve already succeeded in teaching me how to do what I need to do. How to think for myself, do things myself, trust or not trust people depending on certain factors, work for myself, manage my money. Many things.”

It’s amazing to me that in this huge country children never learn to manage their money until they’re out of university completely reliant on their parents money to do things and they spend it all. Then they have to start teaching themselves, at the age of 23 or even older how to manage their own money. Something that my 12 year old cousin can do.

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