Differing Grandparent Styles

By Rhonda Dippon – HCC Volunteer

The six of us were lounging on a small hillside waiting for darkness. My husband and I had invited our Chinese family to our house for a Fourth of July picnic, and now we were at a local park awaiting the fireworks. We’d hosted all four Chinese through Hospitality Center for Chinese (HCC) during the previous summer. We were their first American greeters when they arrived at the Mpls./St. Paul airport, and now we were like family. Our Chinese family consisted of two young male grad students attending the U of M and an expectant couple. He was a post doc doing research at the U of M, and she was a chemical engineer now awaiting their first child. While we anticipated the fireworks, our talk turned to the November arrival of the baby.

Expectant Grandparents

Our post doc shared that his mother would be sad to miss the birth and early years of his child’s life since they would be in the U. S. two more years. He didn’t think she’d be able to afford the visit. Mom-to-be’s mother was making plans to come and stay for a few months beginning around the due date. Grandparents in China are typically highly involved in their grandchildren’s lives. They often are the caregivers while their children work. No day care for their grandchildren! What a commitment these Chinese grandparents make to their children and grandchildren!

I don’t know of many American grandparents who would drop everything to visit and help care for their newborn grandchild in a foreign country for several months. But we see many Chinese grandmas and even grandpas doing just that. I grew up in Indiana and gave birth to all three of my children in Minnesota. My mother did not show up for any of the births, nor did she visit often. My mother-in-law came for two of the births and stayed a week each time. I am fortunate to have all 10 of my grandchildren live in the Twin Cities, and I get to see them often.  I even was the daycare provider for three of my grandchildren.

Different cultures, different priorities

The daddy-to-be informed us that his brother’s child lived with his parents full time. “Why?” I asked.

“Because my brother and his wife live in another city where he found a better job with more money.”

I didn’t understand. “Why didn’t they take their child with them?”

“The city he works in is not good for children.”


He was very patient with me. “The air quality is not so good. The schools are not so good.”

“Then perhaps he should have stayed in the other city and taken less pay,” I countered.

“No, he will earn more money is this city, then he will be able to provide better for his family.”

Everyone got into the discussion, and we bantered back and forth on the pros and cons of the situation. It was non-combative talk—neither saying his opinion was better than the other. We’d known each other for a year now and grown to love each other.

He said it was very common in China. Besides, the grandparents are good to their grandchild and will take good care of him. I had hosted a Chinese scholar in previous years who was the recipient of this exact situation—her grandmother had raised her. She said she was much closer to her grandmother than her mother.

I said it was very uncommon in America to do that. The immediate family always stayed together.

We’d come to a crossroads, neither of us changing our opinion. After a silence, one of the grad students said, “I think that Americans value family more, and Chinese value jobs and money more.” Different cultures, different priorities.

The Chinese all agreed that the fireworks were not very good. “China’s fireworks are always much better. These were small and just the same. Chinese fireworks make animals and other shapes. Yes, these are very bad.” They are always very honest. Well, the Chinese did invent fireworks, after all.


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