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Grandparents without borders

(China Daily)

11:00, January 27, 2013

Xiong Jiayi enjoys quality time with his grandmother. (Photo/China Daily)

Migrant grandparents who leave their homes to live in the cities and take care of their children's children are a growing demographic. Liu Zhihua highlights changes they have to face in adapting to their new lifestyles.

In villages across China, grandparents have set aside their dreams of retirement to raise children left behind by their reluctant parents, who migrate to the cities in pursuit of making more money than at home. At a totally different level up the economic pyramid, in urban households, grandparents are now migrating from their homes to take care of their grandchildren in cities hundreds and thousands of miles away - as families scatter across a rapidly transforming China. Their children need to work, and are reluctant to hire a full-time babysitter, either due to distrust of a stranger, preference for family, or financial restraints.

As a result, grandparents, especially grandmothers, shoulder the responsibility of being primary caregivers, when they could be at their leisure after retirement.

But it's not always easy to adapt, especially at what may be a relatively advanced age.

The Jingzhou native of Hubei province doesn't understand the Shanghai dialect, but in the community where the family lives, nearly all the elderly neighbors speak only Shanghai dialect.

Deng does have one frequent visitor, a friendly old woman who is an empty nester , but conversation is difficult because she speaks only the Shanghai dialect.

If it wasn't for the traders in the morning market speaking Mandarin, Deng would have few opportunities to speak her native tongue with those in her community.

When her daughter and son-in-law go to work and the housework is finished, she generally stays in the apartment and plays online games.

"I'm so thrilled I just jump if I meet someone whose language I understand," Deng once confided to her relatives at home in Jingzhou during a phone call.

Wu Liujia, 32, a publicity officer at a military hospital in Chongqing, appreciates the sacrifices her parents and grandmother have made to help her.

Wu became pregnant in early 2010. When doctors warned of a possible miscarriage, Wu's retired mother, father, and 82-year-old grandmother set off from Anhui province in the east to Chongqing in the southwest to take care of her and her future son.

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