Ge Dongyan works as a OneSky Family Mentor in a rural village in China. Below is her first-hand account of how she was able to stay at home with her children while helping out other families in her village…
Up until 2015, my sons Xuanxuan and Chenchen were cared for by their grandparents while my husband and I worked away from our home in a village in China. I came home to visit my sons only once a year for the Spring Festival holiday. When the holiday was over and I had to leave them to go back to work, my parents-in-law had to take Chenchen away because he could not stop crying. Usually, my older son Xuanxuan was able to say goodbye, but I will never forget the day he pleaded with tears in his eyes, “Can you stay with us and not leave?” I told him, “Why don’t you understand? If I do not go to work, how can I earn money for you? Please listen to your grandparents and be a good boy at home.” I can still remember Xuanxuan’s grieving eyes.
At the time I was so focused on earning money for my family that I didn’t realize how harsh my response was. Still, I must have felt guilty because I became very sad when I heard that Chenchen, at the age of five, was asking why other mothers could take their children to school and pick them up, but not his. I was not very busy at work so I asked for a leave and returned home to visit my sons.
During my leave, I learned that OneSky was establishing its village programs so I applied for the job of Family Mentor. I was thrilled to get the job and, after discussing it with my husband, decided to take it so I could stay in the village. The training for my new job combined theoretical knowledge with role play and the topics included Building a Brain, the Responsive Care Cycle, and Secure Attachment.
My training made me realize how important the early years are for cognitive, physical and social-emotional development and how I had fallen short as a parent. For example, my sons were not good at expressing their feelings and ideas, which I realized was closely related to my parenting methods. In the past, I had been very dedicated to arranging everything for my children. When they objected, I blamed them for being disobedient. It was no wonder that Chenchen gradually stopped voicing any objections to my plans.
In 2016 my resolve to change my parenting style was tested when Chenchen’s classmates applied for a summer class under the supervision of their caregivers. I asked Chenchen, “Would you like to apply for it too?” Trained as he had been to defer to me, Chenchen, who was 6 years old, responded: “I’ll listen to you.” But I was committed to following the lead of my child as I had been trained to do. I told Chenchen: “This time, you can make the decision.”
At first, Chenchen stayed silent because he had gotten out of the habit of thinking for himself, but I kept encouraging him. Finally, he said, “Mom, I do not want to go to the summer class. Is it OK?” After thinking about it for a while, I agreed that Chenchen didn’t have to go to the summer class. Chenchen was so happy he jumped up and down. During that summer, I helped him with his studies at home and he had a happy summer vacation.
This year, going into third grade, Chenchen actually volunteered to go to a summer class in part because he was intrigued by a newly added subject: English. He asked me, “Mom, can you speak English?” I said, “Not really.” Chenchen went to the class happily every day. At the end of the class, he was among the best in all three subjects, Chinese, Math and English.
My relationships with both of my sons have improved since I received training and I’m gratified to see similar changes in other families. In fact, the changes have been so pronounced that villagers who adopted a wait-and-see attitude when OneSky’s Family Skills program was established, now completely accept OneSky’s parenting ideas.
For example, I started going to the mahjong room to talk to one mom Li Jing and her kindergartner. At first, she did not welcome my advice, “I am good at taking care of my child. Lili can play with my cell phone for almost half a day quietly without intruding on my playing mahjong. This is very good.” When I showed her an article about the downside of too much screen time, including TV and mobile phones, she looked shocked, though she stayed silent.
Reluctantly, Li Jing attended a Family Skills session about getting children to listen and follow instructions. One of the main points was “helping children prepare for changes.” At first, the caregivers did not understand, but after some explanation, they started to talk loudly about what they did at home, which was to tell their children/grandchildren to do something right away even if they were interrupting them. This always led to the children crying loudly. Each caregiver shared one of his/her own examples and resolved to change. At the end of the session, Li Jing said, “This advice is reasonable.”
Since Li Jing’s second daughter, Xinxin, who is now 10 months old, was born, she has not played mahjong at all and often goes to the Center to listen to family sessions and participate in parent-child activities and seek advice. She has said many times regretfully, “If the OneSky Family Skills Program had been established earlier I would have taken care of my oldest daughter much better.”
I have the same regrets about how I raised my older son Xuanxuan, whom I forced to attend summer classes, which didn’t help his grades but did make him unhappy and led to his venting his dissatisfaction by throwing things. But like Li Jing, I am determined to do better and I’m grateful for my job and determined to make great efforts to give left-behind children in the countryside a childhood that enables them to feel the warmth of a mother and promotes their cognitive, physical and social-emotional development.
By OneSky Family Mentor Ge Dongyan & Betty Jiang, Village Communications Coordinator