09:25 GMT10 May 2021
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    MOSCOW (Sputnik), Tommy Yang - Growing up in Chinese communist revolutionary Mao Zedong’s birthplace of Shaoshan, Mao Fenhui has always embraced a woman’s right to work and wanted pursue her professional career.

    But less than six months after returning to work from an eight-month break to have her first child, the young mother decided to quit her job in October 2013 to become a full-time mother to take care of her daughter, who was a little more than one year old at the time.

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    Similar to many mothers around the world, Mao Fenhui faced the tough choice between pursuing her professional career and taking good care of her children. She eventually decided that her children were the ultimate priority for her. This challenge is the exact reason many young mothers like Mao in China are probably reluctant to have more children, even after the Chinese government relaxed its four-decade-old population control regulations, commonly known as the "One Child" policy.

    Unimaginable Choice

    Facing a serious demographic problem of a shrinking work force and an aging population, Chinese authorities have relaxed the controversial "One Child" policy several times in recent years, allowing all Chinese couples to have a second child starting in 2016. But official figures showed the policy relaxation failed to jump start China’s population growth in the past two years, as the number of newborns dropped to 17.23 million in 2017, down 630,000 from the previous year.

    In response, Chinese authorities plan to abolish population control policies completely allow people to decide how many children to have as early as 2019, US media reported on Monday, citing unnamed sources in the Chinese government.

    However, for young mothers like Mao in China, ending the birth control policies is unlikely to be enough for them to decide to have more children, as they struggle to strike a balance between child care and their professional pursuit.

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    After quitting her job and reuniting with her family in her hometown, Mao found out she was pregnant with her second child. Today, she is a proud mother of a five-year-old girl and a three-year-old boy. But when asked if she plans to have a third child, Mao gave a firm answer of "no."

    "I would never even consider having a third child. There’s no reason for me to do that, as I already have both a daughter and a son. Having a third baby would lead to the ‘happiness index’ in my family to drop sharply. After the government allows you to have more babies, would they help you raise the babies? I have finally waited until the time when both of my children can go to kindergarten. I must be crazy to try to have a third baby. I can never imagine what life will be like," Mao told Sputnik over the phone on Wednesday.

    She believes that the Chinese families who decide to have three or more children are mostly very rich and have sufficient economic resources to hire additional help to bring up the children.

    Heartbroken Decision

    Looking back at her choice of quitting her job to become a full-time mother, Mao said she made the choice because she could not stand the separation from her daughter as she worked in a different city.

    "I returned to my job in Changsha when my daughter was about eight months old and she only could stay with me for about a month. No one could help us take care of her. So my husband had to move back with my daughter to our hometown in Shaoshan. I could only meet my daughter when I came back on Friday night and had to leave her every Monday morning," Mao told Sputnik over the phone on Wednesday.

    The 36-year-old young mother from South China’s Hunan province was working as a sales manager at German automotive bearings producer Schaeffler Group’s office in the provincial capital of Changsha, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) northeast of her hometown Shaoshan. After graduating from university majoring in international business, Mao was the person who helped the German company set up their office in Changsha in 2008 and became a key member of the local office by the time she decided to quit the job.

    "I really didn’t want to give up this job, after setting up the office and having worked there for almost five years. But every time I had to leave home on Monday and looking at my daughter in the eyes, my heart broke. She was crying non-stop, because she was at the exact age of not wanting to be separate from her mother. I was always so sad when I thought about this," Mao said, while taking a deep breath.

    Limited Job Prospects

    With both of her children attending kindergarten and ready to go to school in a few years, Mao was ready to try her luck again in the local job market. But after job hunting for a few months earlier this year, she failed to find a position that would allow her to have the time to pick up her children and care about them after school.

    "I really envy many policies in other countries for young mothers, which give them a chance to keep their jobs after taking a few years to take care of their children. This is very unrealistic in China. If there’re such policies in place, I definitely wanted to keep my job. For me, becoming a full-time mother was a forced choice. Now, both of my children are in the kindergarten. I really want to go back to work," she said.

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    Thanks to her husband’s support, the young couple decided to move to Changsha later this year and try to start a business which offers after-school training for school-age children. Mao gave a simple reason for trying to run such a business.

    "This is the only business that would give me time to pick up my children and help them with homework after school. So I thought I can just run a business that offers the same services to other children. I thought about offering language training classes. But the schedule doesn’t work for me, as most language classes are either in the evening or on weekends, when I want to spend time with my children," she said.

    Longer Maternity Leave

    Chinese demographic researchers suggested that it is up to the Chinese government to provide adequate assistance to young mothers if they want to boost the nation’s birth rates.

    "Labor force participation rate for women in China is one of the highest in the world. Chinese government needs to create conditions for women to work after giving birth. For example, they can build more kindergartens and offer subsidies or tax exemptions. They also need to offer sufficient maternity leave for women and the additional costs for their salaries during the maternity leave should not become burdens for the companies that hire them. If the companies have to cover such costs, they would be reluctant to hire women employees," Yi Fuxian, an expert in demographics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Sputnik.

    The expert pointed out that China could learn from Russia’s experience, where the government covers part of the salaries for women on maternity leaves. Under Russian laws, women are eligible to take a maternity leave to take care of their new-born babies up to three years. Current regulations in China only give women about three months of maternity leave, including the time before giving birth and after. In Mao’s case, she was lucky to take an 8-month maternity leave, after her bosses allowed to add her unused annual vacation time and additional sick leaves.

    Better Childcare Services

    Unlike older generations who rely on the children’s grandparents for assistance in childcare, young mothers like Mao started to value their personal involvement in bringing up their own children more and more.

    "For many young mothers in China today, if they want to go back to work after giving birth, they have to basically just hand over their children to the grandparents. It’s difficult for me to accept this way of life. I believe I still need to take care of my children myself, because relying on grandparents would cause a lot of problems," Mao said.

    Mao gave an example that when her daughter started to learn to eat on her own when about one year old, the little girl would splash food all over the place as part of the learning process. But the grandparents wanted to avoid such trouble of cleaning up the mess at home and preferred to continue to feed the little girl food.

    "If you rely on the grandparents to take care of the children, you can’t blame their methods. That’s why I insisted on taking care of the children myself and allow them to learn to eat on their own at about one year. I don’t want my children to be like some kids in China who are always chased by grandparents holding food in their hands and trying to feed the children, even when they’re already much older," Mao said.

    To meet the needs of younger mothers who prefer to avoid over-reliance on the grandparents, Chinese authorities could offer better childcare service for children before kindergarten age, demographic scientists suggested.

    "Based on research in many different countries, offering better childcare services for children before kindergarten age can be really helpful. For example, it’s very difficult to find an adequate place to take care of children under the age of two in China today. If the government can offer more support in this aspect and develop a mature market for such services, it could help ease a major concern for many young mothers," Gan Li, director of Survey and Research Center for China Household Finance at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, told Sputnik.

    Changing Attitude

    Young women in their 20s and 30s in China today grew up as the nation’s first generation of "only child", as they were born after the "one child" policy was first introduced in late 1970s. Although some young parents in China today decided to have a second child to "make up" for not having a sibling during their childhood, this generation of younger parents also started to pay more attention to their personal feelings and achievements in life.

    After becoming a full-time mother to take care of her children, Mao felt she give up a lot of her personal life.

    "I feel I have lost myself, my freedom and my personal life completely after raising two children. It’s impossible for me to go anywhere without my two children with me. It consumes so much energy. I wish I could go travel with my girlfriends without having to worry about the children. This will be something really luxury for me. I do get to travel with my children from time to time these days. But it’s more like continuing to take care of the children in a different environment," she said.

    Mao recalled the most recent romantic trip she took with her husband, without her children, was when she was 4-months pregnant with her second child in 2013 and she went to a beach resort with her husband, leaving her older daughter to the grandparents.

    "It was a special 6-day vacation for me and my husband at the beautiful beach in Sanya [in South China’s Hainan Island]. We finally had some time just for the two of us," she said.

    For Yuan Bo, who runs a foreign language school in Zhengzhou in Central China’s Henan province, additional pressure from people who tried to convince her to have a second child would only backfire.

    "I’m not a baby producing machine. I don’t care about the policy. How come only the policy changes? We don’t get any benefits from the government, do we? A lot of people are trying to talk me into having a second baby. I mean really it’s none of their business. Why they care so much," Yuan, whose father was keen on persuading her to have a second child, told Sputnik.

    Yuan spent her teenage years studying at the University of Texas in San Antonio. Her experience in western cultures also led her to focus more on her individual development in life.

    "Maybe I’m just selfish. I just don’t have the time and energy. I’m not a queen who carries the responsibility to extend the royal bloodline. I’m just an ordinary person. I want to enjoy this life time that I have," she said.

    Yuan added that she just wants to provide the best opportunity for her five-year-old son, as education is really competitive in China.


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