Anxious Chinese Mothers Think Twice on Second Child

March 7, 2018  Editor: Liu Yang

After giving birth to her second child three years ago, 37-year-old Liu Si'en quit her job and became a full-time mom.

Yet life around children is not easy. "Everything I do is for the kids. It's even more tiring than work," she said.

Liu gave up work, thinking she could offer her children the best education and companionship, as some mothers choose to do in China.

Living in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, Liu follows more than 30 childcare and education WeChat accounts and has joined eight "mothers' groups" on social media. Every day, her phone buzzes with messages sharing thoughts and articles on child-rearing skills and philosophies.

"What about sex education?" "How do I teach the kids to use the toilet?" "How can I make my two kids get along better?" Liu not only reads the articles herself, but also forwards them to her husband.

One of the accounts Liu follows is written by Zhu Yuzi. Zhu, a radio host in Guangdong, is also the mother of two children. She has more than 70,000 followers on WeChat.

Along with several volunteer organizations and the women's federation of Guangzhou, Zhu compiled a report on the "anxiety index" of Chinese mothers, polling over 4,000 mothers, 70 percent of whom had two children.

The report showed 75 percent said they were "in controllable anxiety," 25 percent were "stressed," while 6 percent were "extremely anxious."

After more than 30 years of the one-child policy, China began to allow all couples to have two children in 2016. While some are happily expecting a new family member, others are reluctant.

A report from the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF) in 2017 showed over half of families with one child had no desire to raise a second child.

Limited educational and medical resources and quality of baby products were among the top concerns for having another child, while 70 percent of the parents were worried about their financial condition and lack of care for the two children, the report showed.

The findings match what Zhu has found in her survey.

Taking herself for example, Zhu found that one-third of her family expenses were on education. In addition to schooling, her six-year-old son takes six extra-curricular classes that cost up to 30,000 yuan (U.S. $ 4,750 ) a year. Her daughter, though just 3 years old, also attends a class after kindergarten. The one-hour course costs 10,000 yuan every year.

"This is what I get for my anxiety: the feeling that my kids have not lost at the starting line," Zhu said.

For working mother Qin Haihong, raising two children while working is stressful and lowers her living quality.

The two often fall sick at the same time. Her husband is busy, their parents are in poor health and she is often left alone with the children.

"All my time is divided into little pieces with so many headaches in life. There is no way I can stay calm," Qin said.

Even grandparents, who often help take care of children in China, are affected.

Ms. Wang, 62, took care of her grandson for three years but last year, she quit the "job" as she was sick of the explosion of messages in the school's WeChat group.

"The homework is posted in the group along with countless school updates every day. It was like the whole family were going to school with the child," she complained.

"Financial conditions, welfare, social life and employment can all affect the desire to have children," said Dong Yuzheng, head of the Guangdong Academy of Population Development.

China saw 17.2 million live births in 2017, down from 17.9 million in 2016, with birth rate dropping from 1,295 to 1,243 per 100,000 population, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

"The birth rate is dropping while society is aging. Such demographics sound an alarm for social development. We need to do more to encourage people to have children," Dong added.

The Chinese government is taking measures to increase people's sense of gains and address the anxiety of parents.

China will increase support for preschool education and intensify supervision on child-care institutes, according to the report delivered by Premier Li Keqiang on March 5 at the first session of the 13th National People's Congress, China's top legislature.

Li said China will develop fair, high-quality education by promoting the integrated development of urban and rural compulsory education and addressing the problem of heavy extracurricular burdens on primary and secondary school students.

The government also intends to raise the personal income tax threshold and create expense deductions for items like children's education and treatment for serious diseases, the premier said.

Increasing the number of kindergartens has also been listed as a key task for 2018 in the work reports of many local governments.

Social organizations are also coming to the aid of mothers.

A volunteer group in Guangzhou "Love of breast milk" has become a haven for anxious mothers. The group meets regularly to share experiences and holds picnics and other activities to get stay-at-home moms out of their closed world, and encourages them to donate surplus breast milk.

As of November last year, about 1,000 members had donated 1,300 liters of milk, benefiting 378 infants with illnesses.

"It's a way for us to warm each other. We know we are not alone," said Xu Liang, head of the group. "We find friendship and gratitude here. It's a virtuous circle."

The group also helps the women's federation in Guangzhou set up public baby care rooms across the city. Mothers can locate rooms on their mobile phones.

Despite the foreseeable pressure, Xie Ping still wants a second child.

"Thinking of the joy and hope the kids bring us, I believe the difficulties are just temporary," Xie said.

(Source: Xinhua)

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