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Grandparents need government support in infant care

YANG JUHUA | 2018-06-06
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)


Grandparenting is a childcare model determined by the Chinese history and culture, intergenerational inheritance and basic national conditions.


 

As the 19th CPC National Congress report pointed out, the principal contradiction facing Chinese society is between unbalanced, inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing demand for a better life. To young women, the imbalance between work and childcare due to insufficient social services is the principle contradiction.


Currently, many women hope to have a successful career as well as a happy family. In reality, however, childrearing and work are like “fish and a bear’s paw,” preventing their pursuit of a better life and hindering the implementation of the universal two-child policy.

 

Grandparents: Main caregivers
At present in China, grandparents have taken the initiative to look after their grandchildren because there are not enough nurseries and the quality of childcare services is not guaranteed.
The rate of grandparents in taking care of children varies in research projects for differences in surveyed object, place and age, but more than half of infants are under the care of their grandparents. The rate reaches 90 percent in some places.


According to a 2016 National Health Commission survey on the demand for childcare among urban families with kids under 3, grandparents accounted for 80 percent of the caregivers, including supporting daycare.


The universal two-child policy has fueled the demand for grandparents in infant care. In China, having one child is a rigid demand, but to bear a second one would involve a tradeoff of cost and effect between childcare and career.


Given the high costs of childrearing, safe, convenient and economical grandparenting has become a critical factor allowing many families to have a second child. Investigations of many places hint at a phenomenon: If grandparents offer help in childrearing, women are more likely to have a second child, and vice versa.


Intergenerational reciprocity is a Chinese tradition to maximize family functions. Actually, care by grandparents also shares some government responsibilities, but it is taken for granted, and its social service function has yet to be valued by the government.


When it comes to childcare, grandparents are virtually “volunteers” or performing a duty. Worse still, their basic rights are left unprotected, which has affected the improvement of seniors’ wellbeing.


Grandparenting can either be a choice made by two generations, or out of necessity. The truth is, many Chinese grandparents tend to spoil their grandchildren and depend on their experience in childrearing. The lack of related education often leads to intergenerational friction.


Since most grandparents are aged and the trend of excessive rearing has made infant care demanding and toilsome, grandparents are willing to provide help for the eldest grandchild, but if a second grandchild comes along, most of them would be powerless due to aging and worsening health conditions. If they fall ill, moreover, the double-income family would face huge pressure.


With the acceleration of population aging and the release of postponed retirement policy, some young seniors still have to look after their parents, making grandparenting difficult to sustain.

 

Suited to national conditions
Grandparenting is a childcare model determined by the Chinese history and culture, intergenerational inheritance and basic national conditions.


First, it can compensate for the deficiency of public services. In modern society, infant care is an important part of public services. However, a survey of four cities on the demand for the care of kids under 3 carried out by Renmin University of China shows that 1.8 percent of infants under 1 went to the nursery; the rate was 1.5 percent for toddlers between 1 and 2, and 7 percent for those aged 2 to 3. However, 48 percent of the surveyed families needed it, according to the report.


Because it takes a long time to rebuild the childcare service system, it is an effective model in the transitional stage to incorporate immediate, safe and reliable grandparenting into the system to fill the void of public services.


Furthermore, grandparenting can minimize costs. Child abuse scandals by some privately run kindergartens have made headlines in recent years, reducing parental trust in childcare centers.


The worry about children’s safety and whether their basic needs can be met discourages parents from sending their kids who are poor in expression to the institutions. Grandparenting will free them from the worry and save money, while lightening their childcare burden.


In addition, grandparenting can promote family-work balance. Nowadays a great number of young people who hope to have children are climbing up the career ladder, so deciding to have a second child is a tough choice.


According to the third National Survey on the Status of Chinese Women, approximately one-third of surveyed stay-at-home mothers were forced to quit their job or else their children would be unattended. Many women who already had one child said they did not intend to have a second one primarily because there was nobody available to care for their kids.


The employment rate of Chinese women dropped from 73 percent in 1990 to 64 percent in 2016. An important reason is that women gave up their careers to take care of their families. Under such circumstances, grandparenting is conducive to dissipating the negative impacts of having a second child on their career and helping to realize family-work balance.


Also grandparenting can contribute to active and healthy population aging. Chinese President Xi Jinping called for efforts to actualize a positive role for seniors, fully utilizing them while supporting them.


Multiple forms of participation are vital channels to bring seniors’ role into play. The elderly normally feel a strong sense of loss and powerlessness when they retire. Taking part in caring for their grandchildren might be a way for them to realize self-worth. Therefore, grandparenting can not only realize family and social values but also advance active and healthy population aging.

 

Policy suggestions
Family care is crucial to the growth of infants. Chinese reality and history has proven the advantage of grandparenting. To ensure the sustainability of the model, it is vital to recognize their social value through institutionalization, fully acknowledging its necessity in sharing government responsibilities, reducing social service costs and increasing the supply of social services, as well as its significance in promoting the universal two-child policy and addressing work-home imbalances facing women.


It is suggested that the government provide compensation for the people who take up the caregiving role. Caregivers can be provided a fixed amount of cash subsidies on a monthly basis in light of regional development degree, population age structure and pension level. Apart from cash, the form of subsidy should be diversified, such as pension and medical insurance, to help seniors improve their physical and mental health.


Childcare training programs are another solution. Communities can launch early education training sessions, starting with common infant care problems to disseminate knowledge about interacting with infants, their behaviors and rational education and upgrade seniors’ childrearing expertise. In this regard, it is advisable to train the elderly of higher education levels systematically and then guide them to do the popularization and education work in the community. Knowledge imparting within the same generation can enhance the efficiency and effect, reducing intergenerational conflicts.


The third suggestion is to create conditions for elder caregivers to take a break and relieve them of pressure in raising children. Infant care is constant labor that will wear seniors out. Community playrooms can serve as a place for them to “catch their breath.” Grandparents should be encouraged to take children to the room where volunteers or professionals provide temporary care and help.


Also the government can buy social services, arranging professionals or certified volunteers to provide one to three hours of services at home. Infant nurses can be assigned to provide professional services like bathing and feeding regularly. In addition, elder caregivers should enjoy certain medical services.


All in all, grandparenting is an objective model of caring for kids under 3 and an important guarantee to ensure people’s access to childcare, whether for emotional or instrumental purposes, actively or passively. However, it should be a voluntary choice of grandparents, rather than being compelled by other family members.


Grandparenting is neither a responsibility nor obligation. The elderly should not be forced to give up opportunities for entertainment or participation in other social activities. If grandparents are willing to take care of their grandchildren, public policy should be in place to show support. Otherwise their right to make a different choice should be respected, never deprived or transferred by anyone or in any form.

 

Yang Juhua is a professor from the Center for Population and Development Studies at Renmin University of China.

(edited by CHEN MIRONG)