|At a restaurant recently when the girls climbed into the neighboring booth to play games on this student's phone.|
Last month we were at a restaurant celebrating Juliana's birthday with friends. The adults were sitting at one table while the kids (four 3-6 year olds) were sitting at another table. After a while their coloring and giggling and eating pizza turned to crawling under the table playing hide and seek. The few others in the restaurant looked on indulgently, smiling when the kids encroached on their personal space (which they probably don't realize is a thing).
We sat back watching and occasionally reigning in when it got a bit out of control, talking about how great it was to raise kids in China. “Can you imagine doing this in America or Norway? No way your kids could run around a restaurant. It's so much more stressful going out with kids!”
There are certainly hard parts about raising kids in China, which I'll probably touch on later, but there are some real advantages too. China is such a kid-friendly culture. For example...
- You don't have to keep an eye on your kids every minute when they are outside at the park or in the neighborhood. In fact, I've seen a number of unattended 5-6 year olds playing near our home. There is much more of a communal feel – there are always aunties and grandmas around to keep an eye on things, and everyone is more or less familiar with their (hundreds and hundreds of) neighbors.
- In general, I feel like my kids are honestly safer in China. There are no practice lock-downs at school. There also isn't such a culture of fear here - people just don't seem to worry about sunscreen or the wrong kind of bed killing their child.
- Restaurants are naturally noisy environments, so if your kids are making noise nobody cares. If they run off and play with the owners' kid or explore behind the counter, it's just to be expected. If they get overly friendly with the people at the next table, checking out their food, they will probably get a lot of smiles and possibly candy. If the restaurant is slow, the waitress might offer to hold your baby while you eat (so long as you don't mind her being shown off to everyone in the restaurant).
- If your child starts throwing the standard supermarket fit, instead of casting disapproving looks, strangers are more likely to do whatever they can to cheer up the poor child. (Any disapproving looks would be from your failure to give the darling whatever they want).
- Potty training is a lot easier when it's totally acceptable to squat your toddler by the nearest tree.
- When people realize we have three kids, they ALL say, “哦! 好辛苦!” (“Wow, so hard!”) They are shocked that you raise children without help from grandparents. People are very good about recognizing that kids are hard and you are pretty amazing to be doing this all on your own. :)
- There are a lot of fun things for kids to do. For $1.50 you can spend hours in a bounce castle at the nearby park. There are indoor and outdoor play areas (though very few free playgrounds). Our city has a free kid-friendly science museum, a kiddie beach, and a park with a carousel, train, and the standard tank ride.
- Your kids can almost always find playmates outside. It helps to have hundreds of neighbors in a few acre radius. Grandparents spend a lot of time outside with their little toddlers, and school children congregate outside at the end of the day.
- The in-home childcare rate is around $3-4/hour.
- I hardly ever take all the kids to the supermarket. In fact, I only go to the supermarket about once a month, since most essentials can be gotten from small shops nearby. We even have old-fashioned fresh milk delivery two days a week!
- Your kids have visited multiple countries, taken hundreds of flights, napped on the back of an elephant...all before starting school.
- Bouncing around in a little electric cart or sitting on the back of a bike is much more interesting than riding in a car. You can see the scenery much more clearly and really enjoy those fun speed bumps.
- One of the official duties of grandparents (students, friends, random strangers...) is to pass out candy to any child around.
- You often refer to the world map when talking about where various friends live.
- You realized that people around the world have very different perspectives on parenting. Here, everyone sleeps with their babies/children and putting your baby in another room sounds horrifying. They also rarely use diapers, would never give a baby cold (room temperature) water, and don't put kids to bed until late at night. People do things differently, and shockingly, it all works out. So perhaps there is more than one right way after all.