The longer I live in China, the more I think the “Things That Make the World Go ‘Round” list should look something like this:
- Nai Nai Shame
Being a stay at home mom and a foreign one to boot in a culture where grandparents and nannies do most of the child-rearing can make a lone laowai mama feel like a bit of an awkward unicorn on the playground. Combine that dynamic with the fact that in China, only members of the older generation know anything about anything and suddenly, that unicorn is not only awkward but also an easy target for criticism. Even the most zen and culturally sensitive of hippie souls can easily find herself ready to revoke her pacifist pledge as she is cornered day after day by gangs of grannies and every single one of her some of her parenting decisions are brought to the social courtroom for judgment.
After a recent, personal big 不好意思 (bù hǎoyìsi) moment of totally loosing my cool on a concerned passerby who stopped her ebike to inform me my baby’s skin was showing, I decided it might be time for some stress management solutions. Or at least ways to join ‘em if I can’t beat ‘em.
So if you are a mom, and you too find yourself waking in the middle of the night from granny stress dreams, here are some helpful hints for hanging with the nai nais in harmony.
1 Dress your son in pink and sparkles.
That way when he inevitably gets called little sister, it won’t feel offensive, more like, “Yeah, that makes sense! He IS dressed like a girl and not in fact wearing a bob the builder t-shirt and fireman boots and running with testosterone-powered inertia into that mud hole over there.”
(Note that if you bejewel your daughter in a matching get-up, however, she will definitely be mistaken for a boy.)
2 “还行” (Hái xíng)
Teach your child that this phrase means, “You’re right!” So for every compliment you politely curtail, he’ll receive an ego boost.
Nai Nai: Your daughter is so beautiful!
You: 还行 (hái xíng – She’s ok looking.)
Daughter: I knew it! I AM stunning!
This way you don’t have to choose between being rude or crushing your child’s hopes of any kind of self esteem.
3 Just Sock ‘Em
If you hear your inner voice whispering, “Let his feet be bare and free!” Tune it out. 40 degrees Celcius outside? Doesn’t matter. Your child can survive a little heat rash, but can you survive the 批评 (pīpíng)? No sister, just sock that child.
4 Concoct elaborate scientific explanations for why ‘x,y,z’ is not life threatening
Example: You are letting your child play in the dirt! And it just RAINED!
Explanation: In my country, we rub our children down with a mineral solution from birth that provides a protective barrier from all harmful toxins they may encounter…etc. etc. Grab a Chinese medical dictionary, spice up your vocab, and loose them in the technicals before they have time to see through your BS.
(Note: this explanation also works for “Why is he out in this big wind!?” “Where are his shoes!?” and “Why are you letting him sit on the ground!?”
5 Truth? They can’t handle the truth
Fact: sometimes in life, lying is necessary. Accept it. Example: “Honey, do I look slim in this crop top?” “Tiny!”
Similarly: “Your baby is so small! How old is she?”
Repeat after me: “She’s 3 months! She’s 3 months! She’s 3 months!” Then run away before the inquisitor has time for a closer look.
6 Embrace the Perks:
Enjoy the freedom to indulge your children, judgment free! Let’s be honest. That’s nice.
Though stateside (or wherever else you hail from) you may feel peer-pressured into ignoring your child’s screams with steel-hearted determination, here you can rest assured that ne’er a nai nai will roll her eyes as you succumb to the toddler tantrum and buy that little crier the candy he begs for in Jenny Lou’s.
Don’t let nai nai shame get you down. Walk tall as you schlep your children hither and thither all by yourself! Welcome the praise you receive as you march forward in your caretaker to child ratio of less than three to one. You are a badass. You are 真厉害 (zhēn lìhài). Embrace it. Own it. Milk it for all its worth.
10 winners will get ¥2,300 in prizes on December 20. Join the WeChat group to enter in! Chances are 1 in 12 at the moment; better odds than a mom going a day without nai nai shame.
Join the group on Facebook by clicking here or on WeChat by scanning the QR code
Jess Qualls lives with her husband and two small kiddos in Beijing. She especially enjoys coffee, toddler conversations, and Dr. Seuss.