Raising children in Shanghai is one of the biggest challenges expats face when they first move to China with their family. To be honest, expat family life in China is a pretty sweet deal. Not in spite of the fact that you have children but, in many ways, because of it. Chinese culture is incredibly family-oriented, and you may be surprised to learn that even a bustling megacity like Shanghai is very child-friendly.
Having said that, not all that glistens is a Fortune Cat souvenir. Sometimes, raising your offspring in a third-culture can be angst-ridden. This holds true whether you’re planning to move to China with an infant or a teenager.
Here are just a few of the challenges and amazing benefits of raising your expat kids in Shanghai.
- You’ll miss your parenting tribe (at first)
Trust us, you’ll never appreciate your family and friends more than you will after you’ve moved to Shanghai with your kids. Having a dear loved one drop in for a cup of coffee, a chat, or a 2-hour babysitting session so you can run an errand is a blissful luxury you’ll soon appreciate. It is often said that it takes a village to raise a kid and, even if you don’t have the luxury of family nearby now, you will no doubt still feel isolated and lonely at first as an expat parent in China.
The key here is patience, grasshopper! Hang in there, and you’ll soon have a local Shanghai tribe of your own. It’ll be multicultural and insanely varied, made up of people from all walks of life, with kids of their own and without, all in the same living-abroad boat. Expat parenting in China is made infinitely easier once you start making friends.
- You won’t miss the parental judgments
Do you know what many Chinese parents do? They stick their young kids on scooters, have them eat whatever, stay up late and basically get on with the business of parenting without fear of judgment. And you can too. Ironically enough (and perhaps in contrast to what you’ve always been told), there’s a distinct lack of ‘social norms’ when it comes to parenting, especially in Shanghai. Here, you won’t fear being judged or criticized for raising your children your way. For new parents, particularly, this is a beautifully freeing experience.
- You’re gonna LOVE your ‘auntie’
Just about every expat family who moves to China hires an ayi, or domestic helper. Your ayi won’t just help with housework or childcare duties, but they will swiftly become a much-loved part of your family. Having a housekeeper in China is ridiculously inexpensive (even in a major city like Shanghai, the going hourly rate is about USD 4 an hour), so it’s not seen as a luxury splurge, the way it is in many other foreign countries. Pivotally though, your ayi will gift you a wonderful peek into the local culture, and she will, more often than not, become your first ‘Shanghai friend’, especially if you arrange to hire one before you even arrive.
Here’s a handy guide to finding an ayi in Shanghai you may find useful.
- You’ll discover just how enamored locals are with kids (especially expat ones)
Your child will become a hit no matter where you go, especially if there’s smiling, giggling toddlers. It’s not uncommon to sit down at a café and have your child ‘kidnapped’ by waitresses, sweet old ladies, ayis, and just about every woman in the joint. It’s totally normal, so don’t panic! Instead, order your cappuccino and enjoy a little childminding break while your star offspring is passed around and entertained by his or her new friends.
When you do find a particularly child-friendly establishment…pin it on your map. Nothing says appreciation like a return visit!
5. Raising teenagers in a BIG city is scary but, luckily, China is quite safe
We’ll go out on a limb here and state that raising teenagers in China, even in Shanghai, is a less worrisome prospect for many expats. The crime rate in the country is incredibly low. Although we wouldn’t blame you for worrying about your teenager going out and about in Shanghai, do remember that this is an immensely exciting city, one that is also relatively safe.
Reigning in the over-cautious parenting is even more crucial if your teenager(s) didn’t get a say in your move to China. If they embrace their new home and want to explore, simply set some boundaries, keep the communication lines open and let them make friends and explore.
- Your kids WILL be different (in a totally good way)
There’s no denying that expat kids in third-culture countries stand out from the crowd. Raising them in Shanghai essentially ensures they’ll be open-minded adults able to interact with people from drastically different cultures. They’ll also undoubtedly learn Mandarin. By raising your kids in Shanghai, you’ll be opening them up to a brand-new world, and the big move will gift them countless life opportunities they’d never get at home. Embrace the change you’ll make in your child’s life!
- Your family bond will strengthen
There’s nothing like a stint of expat life in China to bring your family even closer. Many expat families feel the intense experience strengthens their family bond, particularly for families with teenagers. Moving with slightly older kids means you may just skip that stage in their life when they’d typically retreat from family time. Instead, you’ll all be thrust into a new city and culture and will only have each other for comfort and support.
So don’t sweat the initial hard times: in the long run, this can be an incredibly bonding experience for you all, one that’ll last a lifetime.
- There’s a wealth of resources out there that can help… find them!
The wonderful thing about raising your kids in Shanghai is that you’ll be following in the footsteps of countless other families. Information, advice, and recommendations are all just a click away. With a slew of social expat groups in this expansive city, finding what (or who) you need is actually quite easy. Some of the best websites you should scour are ShanghaiLiving and EnterShanghai. Also, here’s a great list of Shanghai expat groups on MeetUp.
- Your kid’s school will become a focal point of his/her and your social life
Choosing the right Shanghai international school for your kids will be one of the most important decisions you will make. Not only in terms of their global education (which is important enough of its own accord) but also when it comes to meeting other expat families. Even back home, your child’s school is probably a focal social point for your family, and it’ll become even more prominent as an expat abroad.
China is one of the most exciting destinations in the world for foreigners who want to experience life as an expat. Not only is work lucrative, but the cultural experience is outstanding for kids and adults alike. The standard of living, for expats, is sensational yet, for those moving here with children, the main concern lies with the level of school education the country offers.
International schools (or expat schools, as the locals call them) offer the best of Western-style education in China. Every year at WISS, new families who’ve just moved to China find a home away from home. International schools provide comfort for those families by offering a world-class education based on ethics, compassion, academic knowledge, and experimental learning. Schools like WISS are more than just schools but are comprehensive communities ready to welcome parents and children with open arms.