22.05.2008 - 24.05.2008
One of my evening students, Betty, age 32, is married with a 4 year old son, and lives with her in laws in a small apartment. She often misses class or is late, but has been quite open in her comments about China and family life. In other classes she has mentioned her dilemma with her son, who complains about the nursery school they send him to and often throws tantrums in the morning. She is uncertain whether to switch schools, because she is not sure how he would react or that the others are much different.
It turns out that it is much more complicated than I knew. She resents her in-laws, who, she says, do nothing to help out, and look down on her because she comes from a poorer family than her husband. When they got married, he was able to give her family a fairly large sum of money, but she was not able to reciprocate. This is a very important here, as people generally marry within their same socioeconomic background. Also her husband does little to help take care of their child, even though Betty works full time, as he does. He apparently takes his parents side whenever Betty complains. She desperately wants to get their own apartment, but they can't afford it now.
It appears that she is quite enmeshed with her son, who carries on and demands presents in order to go to school. She feels she is a bad mother because she loses patience with him, though at other times she just gives in. He is an only child like so many others, because of the one-child policy of the government. If they had more children, they would have to pay a large fine. She worries about her him, and feels that he is not very good when it comes time to playing with other children. She does her best to encourage this, but thinks the school, private and expensive, over emphasizes learning activities and neglects social skills. This way they can point to all the facts the children can recite and bolster their reputation. The teachers indicate that her son is not a problem with them, but she is concerned that he is too much of a loner. I suggested she go and observe when he doesn't know she is there, but the school apparently does not welcome such visits.
It is obvious that she feels quite isolated and somewhat depressed, whereas her friends all think she has it made. A car, a decent job, a husband who doesn't beat her, and an affordable place to live. This makes it difficult to complain, which is something that is rarely done in China anyway, except with one's closest relatives. I suggested she try and get her husband to get her son up in the morning and bring him to school. Since he feels he is better able to control him, she can use this as a reason to get him more involved. I said that perhaps , if her husband had more responsibility for their child, he might see that his parents do very little to help. Betty was, of course, thrilled with this suggestion, though it remains to be seen how her husband will respond. I also indicated that sometimes children pick up on the tension and unhappiness in the family and misbehave as a result. She seemed to understand this idea, and that it made sense to her.
She went on to mention that ten years ago, her younger brother and mother were severely injured, after they were physically attacked by the neighboring farmers because of some kind of disagreement. She was in college at the time, and spent more than a month going to the hospital everyday and taking care of them.
"Where was your father," I said.
"Well,"she indicated, "he is a simple country man, and usually daughters take care of these things."
She also told me that the police did nothing. I was incredulous.
"They never get involved with poor families. They only care about the rich."
So apparently nothing was done to investigate. Although her family members recovered, she worries about them. I got the feeling that they might have recovered physically, but not emotionally, and they are still very poor. She was the only child to go to college. I told her I thought she had a lot on her shoulders. I wrote this on the board, and after I explained what it meant, she nodded. She said that she finally felt that somebody understood her situation. In China, she said, nobody ever goes to see a psychologist because everyone will think they are crazy. I assured her that I didn't think that. The other and younger female student in the class was also very supportive, and I think it was helpful for Betty just to talk about her situation.
English lessons plus therapy, not to mention my own cultural education. An interesting evening.
I later heard from her that her husband was in fact, taking more responsibility with their son, and that things had eased up a bit at home.