December 29, 2004

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REDUX: HK Parents

First posted: September 25th, 2003

In some ways I feel sorry for our helper Jacquie. She's a lovely Filapina lady, attends church weekly and loves the kids. Unluckily for her Mrs M and I are parents who like being actively involved with the kids. We want to bring them up, and we take the good (eg kisses) with the bad (too numerous to mention). We make sure we get them up each morning and put them to bed each night. It is great having someone to do many of the menial jobs around the house so we have even more time to spend with the girls. She helps when we ask her to and is great with them. But there is a line we draw, somewhere, to seperate parenting from helping.

What prompted this rant? On Saturday afternoon I was looking after little PB. We went to the playground at Disneyland, which has a good spread of equipment. PB plonked into the swing and spent the best part of an hour in it. This gave me plenty of time to think. Looking around there were at least 12 other kids in the playground. Yet I was the only parent. The rest were helpers. There are plenty of reasons for this. Often parents are away, or have functions, or simply want to get the kids out of the house for a while. But it certainly struck me as unusual to not see any other parents at all.

What really struck me was one little 5 year old boy. He was sitting on a bench, playing with his helper's hair. Every 5 minutes or so he would start kissing her and cuddling. Not just a one off little peck on the cheek. He was clambering for more and more kisses and clinging to her desperately. She felt uncomfortable with this and kept fighting him off once he got too boisterous each time. Another 5 minutes and he would start again. Plainly this little boy was pleading for affection. Clearly he wasn't getting this from home and the helper must be the only adult figure he knows who shows him such affection. This is what leads to the emotionally retarded kids playing in that playground on Saturday.

Many parents here see helpers as a way to outsource parenting. They can live their lives as if the kids didn't exist. Long weekends away, shopping, night clubs, whatever tickles their fancy. We also sometimes take advantage of this - we'll sometimes leave the kids with Jacquie and go shopping on Saturday afternoon. We are even thinking about leaving the girls for a day with her to go to Macau. It is part of the luxury of life here. But we make sure we are the kids parents' and the kids (and Jacquie) know that. Many parents are surprised to find the kids aren't that interested or close to them. It's not too surprising given the kids hardly know these people. Yet when these parents decide they want to dip into the game for a while they are shocked the kids would rather spend time with the helper and shun them.

I don't know quite why this all bothers me so much. I think it might be seeing a 5 year old boy casting around for a parent, surrogate or real. Hong Kong enjoys and encourages the worship of material goods. But there's a lot of emotional damage done in the process.

posted by Simon on 12.29.04 at 12:22 AM in the Hong Kong category.


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Right on about the delinquent parents. But I'm writing to say that since you started keeping the Blog Awards at the top of the site I've lost interest in everything else. Perhaps it's a Pavlovian reflex in me that only pays attention to the top posts of blogs, or maybe it's because I'm nominated (For Best Japan Blog! I'm gunning for second-to-last here!) but I swear I didn't even bother to look at your other posts until the other day. I just assumed you weren't updating while you were in Australia or something. OK, just wanted to let you know!

posted by: Adamu on 12.30.04 at 09:53 AM [permalink]

I see the same cases in other parts of Asia. Infact a chunk of my early years were spent with a maid/baby-sitter/playmate. Mom was away in another country and was hardly around, so I'd only heard of her, but not enough to be close to her.

Curiously enough, my grandma became my surrogate mom. So, eventhough there were maids around my cousins and I, we knew who the grand dame was.

It's the culture in Asia to have a helper in the house. But it makes for a lot of dependency on the part of parents. They end up only being with their kids for the good times, but leave the bad stuff (changing nappies, crying kids...etc) to the maids.

posted by: Stephanie on 12.31.04 at 12:57 PM [permalink]

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