There is a new law in China requiring adult children with parents over the age of 60 to visit them frequently and see to their physical and spiritual well-being. While ambiguous as to what the spiritual needs are all about and unclear about how often the visits should take place, the new law, which went into effect last Monday, may impose fines and/or incarceration for violators.
There has been a negative outcry from various sectors, questioning the merits of the law. The social networks are holding it up to ridicule. Some say it will be difficult to enforce. But the law stands.
I am surprised that in a country like China where respect and reverence for the elderly is almost legendary, this new law, known as the Elderly Rights Law, was deemed necessary. We are told that it seeks “to protect the rights and interests of the elderly” and requires that family members must visit regularly their relatives who are 60 and older.
It is designed to look after them and stem the unwelcome results of China’s fast-moving economic development, which an article says “has challenged its traditional extended family unit and created a spiraling number of ‘empty nest’ homes.”
The very first case involving the daughter of a Chinese grandmother and her husband was taken to court last week. They were ordered to visit her mother once every two months and on at least two national holidays, or pay compensation if they neglect to do so.
Neglect and indifference
I discussed this briefly with a friend in Florida whose children live hundreds of miles away from her—two of them, in fact, in another country. She was aghast at the news and felt sorry for the children affected by such legislation.
“True,” she said, “there are cases where parents see their children only on holidays if at all. There are also many victims of their children’s neglect and indifference. But this would be too heavy a burden to carry for those whose circumstances compel them to stay away.”
She argued that they should not be blamed if their visits are few and far between, and surmised that these children may be even more anguished than their parents.
I remember there was a rest home for the elderly down the street from us when we lived in San Francisco. There was one woman who kept staring out the window waiting for her daughter Bessie, who lived across the bay in Oakland, about a 30-minute drive. She sent a check every month for her mother’s board and lodging in the elegant facility. But Bessie never came. No one knew why.
What saddens me is that it has come to this. Think of our own scenario. The OFW story comes to mind. A miserable job market has forced our men and women to seek better opportunities abroad. The exodus is heartbreaking. Mothers and fathers take jobs far away from home to give their children a better life.
The distances have made close and frequent contact of parents and children difficult, if not impossible. The new technologies have stepped in to lessen the pain. But it is not the same. Families are still fragmented. It is no one’s fault, really. It’s a sign of the times.
Now that our economy is flexing its muscles, does it mean that families will get back together, or will it only make the distances more comfortable, more profitable, and therefore harder to breach? Are the fissures caused by the search for greener pastures irreparable? Should we be worried?
It is unfortunate that, as members of the senior set, we take so many things for granted. Are we unwittingly sending signals that drive our children away?
It is important to keep in mind that our adult children have their own lives. They have families of their own, their own agenda. They need time and space to solve problems on their own, survive changes, and deal with upheavals, triumphs and disappointments.
Why are we dismayed that they don’t ask us for help? Haven’t we taught them well so they can stand on their own?
Of course we want to help. But as sure as we are that we can or that we should, we must keep our distance, hand over mouth if necessary, and quietly, prayerfully watch them as they struggle, maybe even fail, and eventually rise above it all, on their own.
Let’s face it, we are often overbearing. I hope our children realize that we mean well. It is difficult to accept that the reins are no longer in our hands. We are now grandparents and our time for steering the children is long gone. We no longer call the shots. That’s the job our children have taken over. It is their turn.
We must respect their time. I have learned (only recently) to watch quietly, in awe at how efficiently they accomplish their tasks and take on responsibilities. Each time, I am humbled by the realization that I could not have done it any better.
Will it eventually come to pass that we need a law that obliges our children to visit us (or else?)? I pray not.
One of the biggest joys in my life is the unsolicited, unexpected visit from any one of my children or grandchildren. A phone call takes the color of a rainbow. Today a text or a tweet can make my day sparkle and shine.
But, oh, to have one of them close to me, in the flesh, in my arms, asking me how I am. That’s got to be a thousand times happier than a year full of Christmas!