Grandparents admit growing reluctance to babysit

By Hai Hien   June 14, 2022 | 05:36 pm PT
Grandparents admit growing reluctance to babysit
A grandpa pushes his grandchild in a stroller at a park in HCMC in May 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Nguyen Thi Ly, 70, who had moved to Hanoi for nearly a year to care for her two grandchildren, was hospitalized twice due to fatigue and exhaustion.

Ly's son and daughter-in-law, who are both business people and often come home late, asked her to come and help out around the house and care for her grandchildren.

Every day she gets up at 6 a.m. to feed her youngest grandchild before doing laundry, mopping the floor and cooking lunch.

After rocking the baby to sleep, she spends the afternoon preparing ingredients for dinner. When the clock hits 4 p.m., she picks up the eldest grandchild from kindergarten and heads home to finish cooking, feeding and giving them a bath before wrapping up her day around 9 p.m.

"How can I take a break when there is always something for me to do around the house," she said.

Though her days follow the exact same routine, she still struggles to keep up with her children and grandchildren's modern pace lifestyle.

Ly, who has low blood pressure, passed out twice due to overwork. Despite her husband's encouragement, she refused to return to the countryside, saying she must help her son out since "it's expensive to hire a caregiver in the city."

But unlike Ly, Le Thuy Van from northern Bac Ninh Province, didn't want to come to Hanoi for three years to help care for her second grandchild after conflicts erupted between her and her daughter-in-law when the 67-year-old babysat her son's first born.

So when her son asked for her help again, she immediately declined.

"It is expensive to hire a caregiver while I still have to pay rent and other expenses," the son said over the phone, leaving Van with no choice but to reluctantly pack her luggage and move to the capital.

As expected, the relationship between Van and her daughter-in-law grew worse since they frequently disagree on issues concerning child rearing.

For instance, she frequently allows the kids to watch cartoons during mealtimes so they sit still, but her daughter-in-law complains that it is bad for their health.

Ly and Van are among many grandparents feeling burnt out, drained and exhausted from a significant shift in extensive care provision.

There has been no specific research or statistics in Vietnam on the phenomenon of grandparents caring for their grandchildren, but the number is not small.

According to the Institute of Population, Health, and Development's most recent survey published in 2020, approximately 61 percent of the elderly nationwide live with at least one biological child. It is almost unavoidable for grandparents to live together and care for their grandchildren in order to assist their children.

According to the General Statistics Office's 2021 study about the aging population and elderly people in Vietnam, the country currently has about 11.4 million elderly people, 35 percent of whom are still working to generate income, with the rest self-employed or unpaid family workers, including those taking care of their grandchildren.

"There are grandparents who have recently retired and some even had to retire early to care for their grandchildren instead of their children. At an age when they should be resting and relaxing, they are forced to repeat a life stage known as raising children for the second time," Trinh Trung Hoa, a psychologist, said.

According to him, the desire to help out their children and the mentality of "helping their kids to save money or money" and "having to work to not be considered useless" cause many elderly people to put aside their personal desires in order to devote time to raise the next generation.

Many elderly people are unconcerned about childcare compared to their children's complaints and feelings of loneliness.

Nguyen Hoai, who lives in Hanoi's Ha Dong District, was scolded by her daughter-in-law in the middle of the road not long ago for picking up her grandson late from school.

When her daughter-in-law returned home and calmed down, she clarified: "I didn't have any bad intentions, I just didn't want it to happen again."

Later, at a family gathering, the 70-year-old grandmother said she always tries to take good care of her grandchild. However, there is nothing she can do about forgetfulness because it is a normal part of aging.

"When I first moved to Hanoi, I had to adjust my thinking to fit it in with my children's thoughts and lifestyles. But it has been extremely difficult, and I often feel very lonely," she sighed.

Hoai and her husband, who lives alone in the countryside, are sad for being been apart for such a long time but they continue to encourage each other, waiting for their grandson to quickly grow up so she could return home.

According to psychologist Nguyen Thi Tam of the Center for Training and Application of Psychological Science of Hon Viet in Ho Chi Minh City, elderly people need to have a voice in the family and free time to rest.

"Rather than allowing grandparents to care for their grandchildren, they should take the initiative to send their children to school or hire appropriate caregivers. It is truly unfilial when children take advantage of parents' love by asking them to babysit," she said.

Everyone has their own life, according to Tam. However, many children still believe that retirement means grandparents have free time and nothing to they try their hardest, even relying on their parents' kindness and shifting the parenting responsibilities to them. This is an erroneous and self-serving viewpoint, she added.

"Before giving birth, young people should be fully prepared in terms of health and economy... to ensure the best care for their children, rather than relying on their parents. Couples should not be in a hurry to have children if they have not fully prepared for these responsibilities," Tam advised.

According to psychologist Hoa, if a family with limited financial resources requires assistance from grandparents, they must consider and take into account both their psychological and health conditions.

"Taking care of grandchildren must be based on a spirit of joy, grandparents' love for them, and not responsibility," he elaborated.

According to him, if grandparents are healthy and happy to care for their grandchildren, they should only be assigned a specific time frame while still allowing them to have plenty of time to rest. One should also give grandparents a small sum if they don't have a pension or a lot of money.

"Not everyone agrees to receive money to care for their grandchildren, but it is the right thing to do," said Hoa.

Although it is not entirely clear, researchers have noticed a shift in the attitudes of the elderly in recent years as many refuse to take on the responsibility as caregivers of their grandchildren.

According to the "Role of the Elderly in Aging Vietnamese Society" study conducted on more than 300 elderly people in northern Ninh Binh Province and 500 people in central Da Nang City by Tran Thi Minh Thi, director general at the Institute for Family and Gender Studies, the rate of elderly people living with their children decreased from nearly 80 percent in 1993 to 28 percent in 2017.

Meanwhile, the proportion of seniors who live with their partners has risen from 9.5 percent to 50.4 percent.

The 2020 survey results from the Institute of Sociology under the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences on the criteria of happy families in HCMC reveal an astonishing figure: only 54 percent of the elderly are content with living in a family of three or more generations.

"I'm old and definitely incapable of caring for children. Furthermore, children shouldn't think that they can always rely on grandparents to babysit," Bui Thi Yen, 60, concurred.

The grandmother from HCMC believes that she has worked her entire life and that when she retires, all she wants to do is relax and spend free time with her husband.

According to her, the elderly's life should not revolve around the children's family since "whoever child that is, he or she has the responsibility to look after."

When her son and daughter-in-law discussed having a second child last year, Yen cautioned them: "Having two children will be twice as fun but twice as hard."

Her children, on the other hand, are adamant about having more children.

Rather than spending all of her time with the grandchild, Yen agrees to contribute a bit of her money to help her son pay the monthly fees of VND7 million for babysitting to help support them.

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