Heather Kaye laments how China’s government ‘co-parented’

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Heather Kaye laments how China's government 'co-parented'

It was culture shock with “benefits.”

An American mom who raised her two daughters under China’s authoritarian government says she misses her tight-fisted “Chinese co-parent” since returning to the US.

In an essay published in the New York Times Wednesday, Heather Kaye, 49, a fashion designer, lamented the control China’s government had over her family — but saw advantages.

After living in Shanghai for 16 years, the family was forced to return to the US because of the coronavirus.

“We’ve returned to a divided America where many feel government has no place in our lives,” she wrote. “In these times, I find myself missing my Chinese co-parent.”

“In China, government co-parenting begins in the womb,” she explained. “Chinese citizens have faced limits on how many children they were allowed under birth control policies that have since been relaxed.”

Though Kaye’s family, as foreigners, was exempt from those rules, Kaye said she found her kids would be molded by an ever-watchful government after they were enrolled in local schools.

“The girls’ Chinese kindergarten lectured us on everything, including how many hours our daughters should sleep, what they should eat and their optimal weight,” she wrote.

American mother Heather Kaye said she misses her Chinese government "co-parent" after moving back to the United State after living in China for 16 years.
American mother Heather Kaye said she misses her Chinese government “co-parent” after moving back to the United State after living in China for 16 years.
REUTERS/Aly Song

While it sometimes felt as though her children “were on loan” for evenings and weekends, Kaye insisted she saw “benefits” in the situation.

“Constantly served up moral, history and culture lessons on pulling together for the sake of the Chinese nation, our girls came home discussing self-discipline, integrity and respect for elders,” she wrote.

“With school instilling a solid work ethic and a total drive for academic excellence, my husband and I didn’t need to push the girls to complete homework; the shame of letting their teachers and classmates down was enough to light their fires.”

The fashion designer was forced to move her family from Shanghai due to COVID-19.
The fashion designer was forced to move her family from Shanghai due to COVID-19.
Haye wrote that she returned to a country where "many feel government has no place in our lives."
Haye wrote that she returned to a country where “many feel government has no place in our lives.”
REUTERS/Aly Song

Kaye argued that when her girls parroted propaganda — or worried they weren’t as advanced as other students — their “less demanding American family culture helped keep the balance.”

She also said the tight control of the Chinese Communist Party surveillance state made for “its own kind of freedom.”

“With crime and personal safety concerns virtually eliminated, our daughters were riding the subway unsupervised in a city of around 26 million people from the age of 11,” she wrote. “A constant but benign (and mostly unarmed) police presence kept order; streets and the green spaces around every corner were kept immaculate, and the sense of civic pride was palpable.”

Haye claimed there were benefits to the strict Chinese schools.
Haye claimed there were benefits to the strict Chinese schools.
REUTERS/Aly Song

Heavy censorship and national limits on how long children are allowed to play online video games also made for a “kid-friendly internet,” she wrote.

It was the pandemic that drew out “cracks in the system,” Kaye wrote, prompting the family to move to Washington, D.C. last June.

The culture shock was difficult, she recounted — her daughters experienced their first-ever live shooter drill since starting American schooling.

But she said she’s hopeful the American government will learn from China and “build new bridges across the street, nation and world.”

“There is no shortage of condemnation directed at China’s Communist Party by critics in the United States, much of it justified,” she wrote.

“But my family’s experience in China taught us that immersion in a culture with different answers to everyday questions alters how one sees the world. Practices that used to seem clearly right or wrong took on complexity and dimension.”

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