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Single children growing up, marrying
By Li Dapeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-05-23 09:54

Having finished a day's work, Xiao Huang comes back to her little warm apartment where her mother-in-law has already prepared the dinner for her and her husband.

Huang, 26, a single child who now teaches at Xiamen University in Southeast China's Fujian Province, married early last year. Her husband is one year older than her, works at the same university and is also a single child.

"I'm really a fortunate woman," said Huang. "I appreciate our parents who give us a hand with the housework while we are busy working. We maintain a close relation with our parents."

The number of couples like Huang and her husband is growing in China.

In fact, as the nation's first one-child generation, born in the late 1970s and early 1980s, grows up, couples made up of single children will take up the largest proportion of marriages in the country.

Statistics from the National Population and Family Planning Commission show that by 2003, more than 80 million children had one-child certificates.

Wang Jie, a marriage expert from the Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences, said one-child couples will become the principal part of the Chinese marital body, gradually replacing the traditional big family in the coming decades.

"Actually, I don't feel different from couples not made up of single children," Huang said.

"I believe that harmony within a family mainly depends on its members' personalities, not their one-child status."

But not every young couple is as lucky as Huang and her husband.

A recent survey conducted among more than 1,000 people by a family education research body based in the city of Tianjin, has found that 32 per cent of the one-child couples are at odds with their in-laws or often fight with their spouses.

Most of their problems start with minor trifles such as who should take up more housework or who should retreat in case of a conflict, the survey showed.

The survey also found that 60 per cent of the one-child couples are not competent enough for parenting and have to turn to their own parents for baby-sitting.

At the same time, different approaches to childcare have led to arguments between the three generations.

Yuan Xin, an expert in psychology of Nankai University in Tianjin, said "incompetence in housework will become a key factor leading to disharmony in the married life of the couples who are both single children."

Professor Yuan also said many one-child couples are less capable of looking after themselves.

"My parents always help me as much as possible so that I can focus on my work, since I am their only child, the focus in their life," said Huang.

Another survey, started last year tracking 100 newly married one-child couples, showed that 20 per cent of them pay time-workers for housework.

And 80 per cent do not cook but eat with their parents, and 50 per cent have conflicts with housework.

Furthermore, signs show that when the young couples quarrel with their spouses, they are not always considerate to others.

"Young couples tend to have strong and self-centred characters, which runs counter to the familial pursuit of centripetal harmony. Most of them do not easily give in," said Professor Yuan.

"I admit that I am doted on by my parents in certain aspects, which may have some influence to my way of coping with social relations."

"But I know I should cherish what I have."

So when she had relationship trouble with his husband or elderly people, she preferred to confide in her friends to avoid direct confrontation.

Sociologists said, China's one-child generation needs to become more tolerant and considerate to cope with varied social relations, solve discrepancies and in the long run, create a healthy environment for their own children.

Expert Wang Jie said problems in one-child couples are simpler due to the smaller families.

Wang said one-child couples only face vertical familial relations, and don't have troubles with other relatives, which enhances intimacy among the immediate family.

"I enjoy my family style so much because my husband and I own all the love from our parents. We don't need to share their love with others. Meanwhile, we don't have trouble in getting on with in-laws in the same generation," Huang said.

"But," she added, "we two must take on all the responsibilities to take care of the elderly."

As junior teachers in the university, Huang and her husband always feel financial pressure such as the housing mortgage loan. So they have to focus more on their work. That's also one reason why they are not planning a baby in the near future.

"We feel sorry that we don't spend enough time with our parents," she said.

Many one-child families have the same problem. The parents tend to feel lonely and unattended, when these grown-up kids, once the spiritual ballast of the family life, are too busy at home to spend any time with the elderly.

"Anyway, now that we have enjoyed all the love given by our parents, we should present all our love to them in return. That's our responsibility as the young," said Huang.

"We will try our best," she said.

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