Family Patterns in Childhood My maternal grandmother, Kwun, was born in Fujian, China in 1919. Her rural community consisted mainly of farmers, and their society most resembled the clan family pattern where the hoe was the primary mode of production. In comparison to other residents of her town, she was raised in a relatively wealthy household; her parents were shopkeepers for a local tea business and field work was not required of her. However, she was still a productive member of society and contributed by taking care of the younger children in her family.
Kwun’s household size varied while she grew up. She was the second oldest child out of four or five children, the exact number of her siblings is unknown since infant mortality was so common at the time and many babies passed away before the age of one, a topic we touched on in the childhood through the ages lecture. Only she and her youngest sister survived and lived on into adulthood. Kwun conceived and gave birth to a seven to eight children, but like her mother and many other women in the patriarchal era who lacked proper medical care, only four of her children survived.
Lin, my mother, is her youngest child. In clan societies, informal child fostering was common and a widely accepted practice. My grandmother encountered various forms of child fostering in her life. Kwun grew up with a distant cousin her parents took in after his parents died, leaving him orphaned at age eight. She adopted her oldest child, a victim of attempted infanticide, who was abandoned on the streets. In Asian societies, infanticide is a common practice for families who desire sons in order to pass down their family wealth.
Kwun also simultaneously raised her sister’s daughter along with five of her own children when her sister and her sister’s husband relocated to Hong Kong. There was no difference between how biological and adopted children are treated, just like in clan families. To this day, Lin refers to her adopted sister’s children as her niece and nephew and my sister Elis and I address them as our cousins. We are just as close to them as we are with our cousins whom we are biologically related to. For nearly all her life, Kwun’s role in the household was a caretaker.
She babysat her younger siblings, raised her own children, and later on helped to raise me. Although her husband was the breadwinner of the family, she did not fully embody the role of a homemaker. She did very little chores and never learned to cook. Grandpa Cheng took care of both the first shift and second shift roles. This family structure differed from my mother’s role as both a contributing breadwinner and homemaker in my household growing up. In today’s post-nuclear society, more women are in the labor force and contribute to the family income. My mother is no exception.
Lin shares similar struggles with Nancy in the reading “Joey’s Problem”. Both women work full-time and after the work day, come home to a second shift of housework that involves cooking and cleaning. Even though both my mother and father work full time, my father is the one who comes home, shower, relaxes, and waits for dinner to be served while my mother immediately begins prepping dinner from the moment she gets home, often times without a break and by herself. She will also stay up after everybody else has gone to bed in order to clean and take care of other housework.
My mother is usually the last one to go to bed and the first one to be awake in order to prepare breakfast for the family. Lin’s role is consistent with the post-nuclear trend of women having less leisure time than men. The second shift at home coupled with the greedy institution that is the workplace, my mother claims that she has never truly had a day off. In patriarchal societies, the living quarters were very open and lacked privacy. For my parents, their childhood dwellings in China were similar to those structured in patriarchal society: open spaces lacking privacy and used mainly for economic production.
There were community kitchens and dining areas that forced everyone to interact together as a community and my mother speaks about a nosy neighbor who liked to spy on the residents and gossip. This neighbor is an example of the snoops present in patriarchal communities who made sure people adhere to the roles and morns of society. Additional forms of the lack of privacy included the public bath houses my mother’s family frequented. In the winter time, my mother and grandmother would go to the bath houses fed by natural hot springs and bathe.
There were larger, less expensive bathing rooms that housed more people and private rooms at a higher cost. While my grandmother and mother always paid for a private bath, they were still bathing with each other. Courtship, Love, and Marriage According to the lecture on courtship, people tend to marry those similar to themselves. This was true for both my grandparents and parents. My grandparents, Kwun and Cheng grew up together in the same town and knew each other since their teenage years. Their relationship most resembles the nuclear era trend of dating that leads to marriage, marrying your high school sweetheart, and propinquity.
My mother’s dating history is a great example of someone who dated less homogenously and recreationally where dating doesn’t always lead to marriage. Lin claims that she has been on at least one date with ten different men before she met my dad. Most of her dates were arranged by a mutual friend and embodied the patriarchal trend of courtship being a community affair. My father’s mother was actually the one to introduce her son to Lin and on their first date, it was definitely a highly controlled community affair.
My mother and uncle dined at a restaurant with my dad, my grandmother, and aunt. At the end of their lunch, Jiaming asked my uncle for Lin’s phone number and that is the beginning of how my parents began their relationship. It was a publically arranged and chaperoned first date where both parties had the approval of their families. After this first encounter, there were less instances of familial control. My father courted my mother in a semi-ritualistic format, another patriarchal trend, by calling her every night after work for a dinner date.
The reading “Bridal Wave” talks about how weddings have become an extravagant affair that is wrapped up in consumerism and is more focused on the actual wedding rather than the relationship itself. My interview with my parents revealed that their big day contained none of the pomp and circumstance that is normally associated with modern day weddings. When they got married, only Lin’s older brother and Jiaming’s mother and sisters were present at the ceremony. My mother’s father had already passed away at this point and Kwun had immigrated to the United States.
My grandmother had never even met my father before he married my mother, an uncommon aspect of my parents’ high level of familial involvement. After my parents returned to Hong Kong from their honeymoon, they held a small reception for family members only, omitting the traditional tea ceremony that is usually conducted in Chinese weddings which involved paying respect to members of the community. This decision was somewhat unconventional, yet perfectly acceptable at the same time, Hong Kong being a progressive environment that was exposed to many western trends, but still maintained its roots in traditional Chinese culture.
Both my grandparents and parents’ relationship contain elements of the romantic love script. Although neither couple ever needed to consider divorce, divorce was not considered an option. They believed that marriage was a lasting commitment and that you should stay together no matter what. However, my parents do not adhere to the idea that their spouse completes them or that their identity is wrapped up in the other person. My parents’ marriage also have some aspects of the ego-centered love script of the post-nuclear era.
They both agree that relationships require communication, take work, and that love is a choice. And although they wouldn’t consider a divorce for themselves, they are not opposed to the idea of other couples getting a divorce. Work and the Roles of Women In today’s post-nuclear society, more women are in the labor force and contribute to the family income. My mother is no exception. Lin shares similar struggles to Nancy in the reading “Joey’s Problem”. Both women work full-time and after the work day, come home to a second shift of housework that involves cooking and cleaning.
Even though both parents are working full time, when Jiaming comes home, he immediately takes a shower, makes himself a cup of tea, and occupies himself by catching up with the news until dinner is ready. For Lin, right when she walks in the door, she begins prepping dinner and stays up late cleaning the rest of the house. It is evident that Lin sacrifices much more leisure time than Jiaming. Immigration Everybody in my household acculturated to American society at different speeds; even Elis and I had notable differences in our childhood despite us being only two and a half years apart in age.
Two years after we moved to the States, Elis began kindergarten and was also a part of the English as a Second Language program until the fourth grade. My family’s relocation took place when I was seven months old so I simultaneously learned English and three other Chinese dialects. I don’t remember a time where I didn’t know either English or Chinese nor can I identify one or the other as my first language. Lin and Jiaming, on the other hand were both in their forties when then first immigrated, which attributed to a slower acculturation process.
For the first decade, they took English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes in the evening at local high schools and churches. They were able to learn basic grammar and could hold simple conversations. But, despite Lin and Jiaming’s English education, there have been and still are instances where communication between the parents and children are difficult because some English words are too difficult to explain in Chinese and Chinese words that Lin and Jiaming don’t know how to explain in English.