• My dad put away the food and towels, did the dishes and took out the trash. (Getty Images )
"It dawned on me that my parents’ help was beyond occasional babysitting and this kind of arrangement was not common in Western cultures."
By
Lucille Wong

28 Aug 2019 - 9:16 AM  UPDATED 12 Nov 2019 - 3:36 PM

One Friday while on maternity leave, I invited two of my mum friends over for a play date. We enjoyed lunch while our three crawlers played together. 

I told my friends that my parents would be coming over to look after my daughter as I had to take a phone call at 3pm but they were more than welcome to stay.

At 2.30pm on the dot, my parents arrived with a casserole (still warm from the oven) for our dinner that night, fruit (peeled and sliced), something pureed for the baby and freshly laundered tea towels. My clotheshorse was filled to the brim with onesies and cot sheets. My parents had taken our dirty tea towels back to their house, washed it, dried it, folded it and returned it.

After greeting my friends and their babies, they got to work. My dad put away the food and towels, did the dishes and took out the trash. My mum swooped up the baby, excused themselves and headed to the nursery to start her naptime routine.

My friends looked on with bewilderment and I was embarrassed to admit that most of my days on leave was spent like this. My parents came over. I briefed them on the baby’s eating and sleeping pattern from the night before. Then, they would shoo me back to bed (if we had a bad night) or out of the house (if we didn’t). I was free to go to the gym, write, read or whatever I wanted without the baby.

It dawned on me that my parents’ help was beyond occasional babysitting and this kind of arrangement was not common in Western cultures.

It dawned on me that my parents’ help was beyond occasional babysitting and this kind of arrangement was not common in Western cultures.

In contrast, my parents were born in Hong Kong and raised in intergenerational households. With grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins all under one roof, everyone chipped in with housework and childcare. Raising children did not fall to one person, or even one couple but the entire extended family.

By the time I was born in the 1980s, Hong Kong economy was booming and the expectation was for young men and women to work and for long hours. Late nights at the office was normal. There was no paternity leave and only six weeks of maternity leave.

When mum returned to work, I was sent to her brother’s wife. My aunt was older and was already at home with her two children. For a nominal fee, I was dropped off to her place on Sunday night and then picked up again on Friday evening.

My mum recalls bringing me home on weekends and I would refuse to sleep in this foreign place that was my room.

“Of course, you abandoned me!” I had said half jokingly and half seriously. I couldn’t imagine leaving my six-week old baby with anyone for that long.

But my parents did not feel bad or guilty or anything like I would feel if someone accused me of neglecting my baby. It was just their reality.

Some may interpret their commitment to my daughter as duty or obligation but I don’t see that at all.

Some may interpret their commitment to my daughter as duty or obligation but I don’t see that at all.

When they offer to take my daughter on weekends, I have to remind them that she has a dad and paternal grandparents who want to see her too.

With so many cooks in the nursery, there are bound to be some challenges. Managing conflicting views on how to raise children (the number of layers required before the baby can go outside), the complete lack of privacy (they have a key and are not afraid to use it), getting into trouble for things I have or have not done in my own house (to rinse or not to rinse dishes before they go into the dishwasher).

Despite the incessant nagging and all of the opinions, I know I am lucky to have two parents who are retired, healthy and relatively young. They live 15 minutes down the freeway and only have one grandchild to dote on.

Despite the incessant nagging and all of the opinions, I know I am lucky to have two parents who are retired, healthy and relatively young. They live 15 minutes down the freeway and only have one grandchild to dote on.

I would have never survived the fourth trimester without them. Nor would I have, and continue to, survive motherhood.

As my baby approaches her first birthday, the question of a second comes up often.

I haven’t forgotten the pain of breastfeeding and sleep deprivation. But if and when the time is right to grow our family, it will be made easier with my parents at my door, with or without fresh fruit and cleaned towels.

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