Struggles of a Western Chinese mum


There aren’t many events which I would call life changing, but becoming a parent certainly tops that list. I remember having a blissful pregnancy, followed by a painful delivery process and stepping straight onto the steep learning curve of motherhood. As if parenthood is not challenging enough, I was also faced with information overload and lots of eager people sharing their views on the correct way of doing things.

Parenthood has been one of the key areas where my mixed background and views come into play. Things that I read in Western books contradicted with traditional Chinese beliefs. Take tummy time for example (where you place the baby on his/her tummy to force them to lift their heads in order to strengthen their neck muscles) – when my daughter was less than 2 months old, in walks my mother in law during one of these sessions. She was horrified and reacted as if we were abusing her granddaughter. (I might be exaggerating but you get the picture).

The biggest challenge was during the first month, when we had the Chinese confinement lady with us.  For those who are not familiar with this concept, a confinement lady is someone (usually a middle aged woman) who’s responsible for taking care of the newborn and helping the mum recover. I had no intention to abide by the Chinese confinement rules, which includes eating certain food (involving lots of ginger, herbs and alcohol), not showering and staying at home for a month (!). She was there anyway and I ended up having someone bossing me around, putting me down for my poor parenting skills and forcing me to drink rather disgusting soups. It wasn’t all bad because I learned how to take care of a baby and she was a good cook despite the disgusting soups.

However, while my mum had hired the confinement lady, I arranged for a Western midwife to visit us a couple of times. Needless to say, her recommendations were rather different compared to the confinement lady’s. For example, when I stripped my baby down to solve the issue of her falling asleep during a feed, the confinement lady was worried that she would catch a cold. Looking back, I was probably too adamant in my views and these things really don’t matter too much but at the time, it felt like I had to fight to have things my way.

The confusion continues as my daughter is growing up. I don’t want to be a tiger mum and disagree with the strict education system that is the norm in Asia. Even so, it’s tough not to have self-doubt when everyone around me is sending their kids to tons of activities and applying for all the top schools. One of my colleagues told me about sending his two year old son for an interview preparation course in order to get into kindergartens. This is insane!

Disciplining my child is another area where I’m uncertain about. The Chinese way is to be strict with the child and make sure that he/she will toe the line – greet your elders, do what you’re told, you get punished for misbehaving, etc. While I’m always envious of my friends who have obedient kids, I remember how I grew up in such an environment and felt stifled. My daughter has my temperament and I can see how the more we discipline her, the more rebellious she becomes.

It is a learning process and it can be beneficial to have diverse influences on my child. She can become multilingual and gets to receive presents during Christmas and red packets during Chinese New Year. If we get it right, maybe she will become a genius who aces her exams but is also well rounded. While I continue to be pulled in different directions, I’ll try to look on the positive side.

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