My Ayi Doesn’t Love My Kids

Saturday, 7 March 2009

And why this is a good thing

Recently, one of my friends left Beijing, taking her husband and two small children with her. The youngest child was raised with two mothers – my friend and my friend’s ayi. This bi-maternal relationship is no doubt nothing new to you, and while it’s an often enviable situation, it’s also fraught with “issues”.

My friend’s baby was born in Beijing and she was lucky enough to find an ayi who was somewhat reserved in her attitude to raising baby The Chinese Way. I’ve heard of battles greater than Waterloo between moms and ayis on the best way to raise baby, and the warring continues all over town. So it was with relief that the ayi/newborn experience for my friend was comparably do-able.

The child was raised bilingual. He was toilet trained the Chinese way and sleep-educated the Western way (ie: learning to sleep without rocking human arms attached at all times). It was the best of both worlds. The baby thrived. He had a big brother, a loving dad and two devoted moms. The only trouble with this happy family picture was that one of these moms was semi-permanent.

When the family said goodbye to their ayi, it was the most heart-rendering, distressing, emotional trainwreck to be found this side of reality television. I saw Ayi just the other day and she still has dark circles under her eyes and a hole in her heart. She haunts internet cafés for a glimpse of the toddler by email, and clutches a dog-eared photo of its adorable face. Back home, the toddler was initially a nightmare to settle but is adjusting slowly, still reportedly pining quite badly for Mama Ayi. Re-establishing completely Western routines has also been a problem.

When we hired our ayi well over three years ago, I kept things professional. To be honest, she is not the most maternal woman, nor the most sentimental, and my kids were old enough to skip that baby-bonding time with her. So we just didn’t enter the gooey, lovey thing with Ayi. She is good to them. Firm and sometimes even fun. But there is no real love there.

Amazingly, this actually makes me happy and somewhat relieved. I'm not sure that developing a deep attachment is the right thing. It’s going to rend my heart in two to leave Beijing eventually – at least I won’t have an extra three broken hearts to deal with.

First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

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