The Transformation and Preservation of The Chinese Elderly with Children Overseas

By Ningxin He , Ruige Wu, Yiting Bu

“My mom is 70 years old and her body is not doing very well. She had a stroke a few days ago. My father called an ambulance and transferred her to the hospital. Looking at my weak mother and gray-haired father during the video call, I am painful!” This is only a short quote from a daughter who is working abroad on the most famous Chinese immigrants online platform1 point 3 acres.

Nowadays, this is not an exception.

According to the Annual Report of Chinese Immigration, the total number of Chinese immigrants across the world is approximately 60 million. As of 2015, Chinese immigrants have already become one of the world largest immigration group. Combined with the mounting number of Chinese international students around the world, Chinese immigrants will no doubt be increasing.

However, not everyone from this community has the capacity to properly work out this inter-generation relationship with their own parents. It is understandable and safe to say that some of the Chinese immigrants’ parents might share the same reality back in China: their children are immigrating to either work or study abroad, but they still stay domestically for various reasons.

The context of this phenomenon is the early waves of immigration starting from the Open-Up in the early 1980s and combined with the long-lasting effect of the one-child policy since 1982. As they were able to support their children to work or study abroad in the early days, it is worth-noting that this community is usually highly educated with decent jobs. After retirement, they normally would not experience a shortage of money and therefore lead to a relatively affluent life.

But that is not the whole picture. The social-economic status of the elderly cannot hide the challenges. Prof. Sui from Tianfu College, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in China, predicted in 2017 that maybe in five years there will be an outbreak of the elderly care dilemma in Chinese oversea society. His judgement is based on the fact that the batch of parents under one child policy are still under their 70s and able to take care of themselves. But in five years, this generation of parents will be over the age of 70.

One major challenge, as Prof. Sui stated, is the unattended physical and emotional demands of the elderly. And this demand only gets intensified as they become older. Chances are whenever emergency happens, unlike other children live close to their parent, their children would not be able to be present and provide any type of assistance if needed. Not to mention daily care and unreplaceable emotional connection that cannot be met by others. In this case, being set thousands of miles apart from their children is no doubt a “torture” for the elderly.

Here is another challenge: where to live? Simple as it might sound, going aboard and living with their children. But that is easier said than done.

Going after their children means giving up all the things they are familiar with and living in a new place where a new set of uncertainty is waiting for them. “I was like a deaf-mute.” said an old lady who had lived with her daughter in the UK for a few months and then went back to China. Immigrating to an unfamiliar country in the old years is like separating from their roots. The elderly will feel intensely insecure and anxious.

What is even worse, their children may be too occupied with work or their children’s education, thus not having enough time to help the elderly slowly adapt to the new environment. Given this, most elderly would still eventually choose to stay in the original country, suffering from the loneliness.

Elderly face unique challenges and hard choices in their retirement life mentioned above. However, the silver linings of this is the elderly’s attitude towards retirement life is also evolving. Their ideas are largely different from the traditional line “Raise children to care for you when you get old.” Instead, their ideas are supporting children to make choices for themselves.

“I have tried to convince myself and make changes in my life since my son decided to study in America” said, Aunt Yang, 51, a parent who agrees to be interviewed. Aunt Yang even takes extra steps and is willing to experiment co-op style retirement life with her besties, which she does not need to rely on her child and can take care of herself.

Similar to Aunt Yang, Jiafeng’s parent, another interviewee, are also learning to live the best retirement life. They are not only developing hobbies like raising flowers but chasing the most popular trend of the TikTok. This is the best testimony of this generation of elderly that are constantly changing living styles and getting more independent.

Even though the elderly’s attitude towards the retirement life has transformed, the dedication spirit in traditional culture has preserved: parents sometimes sacrifice themselves to fulfil the growth of their children.

For example, Uncle Feng, a civil servant, is active in his regard, respects his daughter’s ideas, and is very open-minded. Uncle Feng’s daughter works for Credit Suisse Group in the United Kingdom. She has a stable income and gets a good bonus every year. When we interviewed Uncle Feng, Uncle Feng was very optimistic about his future. He believed that as the country developed, the related institutions in medical and endowment insurance would also evolve. It does not matter if the daughter returns to the country or not. After he retires, he preferred to stay in China.

In the case of Aunt Yang, she is not willing to live abroad because her friends are in China, although she is willing to sacrifice living abroad to take care of her grandchild if her son needs. Jiafeng’s parents also accept to give up keeping Jiafeng around them and release the pressure of his.

As the needs and attitudes of this unique elderly community come clearer, the elderly care service industry also needs to evolve and iterate to adapt. In recent year, we have already witnessed a popularization of home-based service and community nursing service in the elderly-care service industry that can potentially fulfill the needs. This is a good start and encouraging news for the elderly. However, this industry still needs to catch up with personalized and unique demands like Jiafeng parents’ TikTok hobbies and offer more customized elderly care services towards this group.

Lastly, as this article points out this unique group of elderly are shaping and adapting their behaviors and attitudes towards the elderly care, the children also need to grow with their parents and shoulder more responsibility. The message from the elderly is clear, all they need is only the emotional and personal interaction with their children. To children, as you are thriving aboard and chasing your dreams, think about your left-behind parents, make a call and tell them you miss them.

All characters in this article are anonymous.

Source: Unsplash

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