Yisheng (pseudonym), 35, recently stopped posting his daily photos as a househusband on Tianya Club, one of the most-visited internet forums in China.
One and half years ago, he started to provide updates on his househusband day under the “stocks forum” on Tianya, depicting his life stock trading from home with the ankle-biters running about—his life as a stay-at-home dad. His posts attracted over 148,000 views and 4,300 replies. However, he recently announced a cessation to his posts and replies. “I have started to feel tired of my life at home and don’t feel like sharing it.”
Yisheng decided to quit his job when his child turned one. “My wife was promoted at that time and when the breast-feeding ended she became very busy. As for me, I prefer investing in the stock market, from which I gain more of a sense of achievement and make more money than from my job as an accountant,” he said.
Following his posts on Tianya, netizens applauded his patience, diligence, and family-oriented attitude. His first post was a picture of breakfast he made for his wife and son, a second grade primary school student: three bowls of noodles with soup, eggs and vegetables, and a small plate of jujube and walnut seeds.
After his wife left for the office and his son for school, he would wash the bowls and clean their two-bedroom flat, with one hour to watch TV news, paying special attention to government policies that could affect the markets.
“I read books written by Soros and Buffett, but I know their experiences were based on Western financial systems. The Chinese stock market is very different…It’s affected too much by government attitudes and policies,” he told his followers on Tianya.
The second picture he posted was a lunch: steamed fish, a bowl of fried vegetables, and preserved pork. After lunch he would take a nap before picking up his son and preparing dinner.
Cooking and housework are time-consuming and repetitive, but Yisheng enjoyed it and said he spent the last year in peace. He compares himself with Ang Lee, the Taiwan-born American film director who spent seven years as a cook before he became a world-class director.
But, eventually, he became anxious. Just a year later, he started to miss the old days when he could hang out with colleagues after work. “I do enjoy being with my child and wife, but I want to get back to a community and get along with different people.” He belongs to an emerging population of stay-at-home dads in China. The traditional belief that men should be the breadwinner and that women should “help the husband and teach the children (相夫教子)” is fading and there are a growing number of stay-at-home dads.
An online survey by Netease polled over 3,500 netizens and over 50 percent of 1,589 male respondents said they would not like to become a stay-at-home dad and only 30 percent said yes. Among the 2,158 female respondents, 40 percent said they could not accept their husbands as stay-at-home dads and 30 percent said they could. A common reason given by the respondents who oppose female-led households is that they think both mother and father should have clearly specified jobs, otherwise it will give rise to gaps in communication.
A report by the Shanghai All-Women Federation in 2012 said that a majority of people agree that a strong wife and a weak husband is not good for family stability.
“In the long term we would not have anything in common; gradually he would not be able to understand the pressures of work and would complain if I came home too late,” says Zhang Xiaoyuan, 26, a white-collar worker in Beijing.
The stay-at-home dad concept became quite popular four years ago with the TV drama Marriage Battle, which tells the story of three couples in which the wives work and the husbands stay at home. It wasn’t exactly a hymn to feminist polymics; the couples often gave way to bickering and the men were annoyed by their bossy wives. But, there was an exception, the perfect house husband: Xu Xiaoning. He was gentle, patient, understanding, and he was happy to cook—a role that became very popular indeed with viewers.
“The role of Xu Xiaoning became popular among female viewers because nowadays fathers are given little time to join their wives during pregnancy or the nursing period, so women like to see men parenting like a caring father. But they do not like seeing their husbands wearing aprons all day,” says Zhou Xiaopeng, a marriage consultant with Baihe.com, China’s largest match-making website.
Chinese labor law has no regulation for paternity leave and many long for more involvement from men in the child-raising process; this is what has led to the popularity of the stay-at-home dad, says Zhou. “In my generation, girls were taught to be a good mother. Even though we value our jobs and were not dependent on men, we expected them to shoulder the family’s burden,” she added.
Far from a burden, many stay-at-home dads feel their lives are smooth sailing, and, like Yisheng, most of them think it’s temporary.
But, Cui Yuxiang feels proud that he has spent more time with his kid than other working fathers. Living in Beijing, Cui became a stay-at-home father three years ago when his daughter was born. Unlike Yisheng, he does not feel isolated, but he does think he’s a bit clumsy when it comes to handling babies.
“Whenever my wife stays with the child, she smiles more and seldom cries,” Cui says. “Maybe most men just can not be as gentle as women.” Now that the shoe is on the other food, Cui is upset when his wife comes home late. “Now I understand why wives complain about their husbands coming home too late.”
For now, he is enjoying the job of father, but he plans to go back to work when his daughter is old enough for primary school.
“Though I could just make money through a part-time job, it’s not enough and we have to prepare for our child’s future education costs,” Cui says. “I cannot put all the burden all on my wife’s shoulders. I believe no man would do that.”
Besides the difficult job of being a dad, loneliness is also a factor for stay-at-home fathers.
“Housewives in a community can form a group in which they share their lives, make friends, and organize activities to enrich their lives, but I don’t feel I can socialize with them,” says Jiang Yu’an, a 35-year-old stay-at-home dad in Beijing.
But, times have changed, and the good news is that he says he has never been judged for “living off a woman.”
“Initially my parents were worried that I would be pointed at by people because, in the countryside, neighbors and relatives often exchange gossip with each other. But, in a big city like Beijing, people living in the same building do not know each other and many people are migrant workers with relatives living in hometowns far way, so there is no one coming to your home to judge you,” Jiang says.
Just like Cui and Yisheng, Jiang says his job of stay-at-home dad is temporary. “My son is three-years-old, I will get back to work when he turns seven.”
“Stay At Home Dads” is a story from our newest issue, “Family”. To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.