How often do you visit your parents? Once a month? Only on holidays? Whenever you need a free baby-sitter so you can head off for a wild time in Las Vegas?
If you lived in China, visiting your parents wouldn’t merely be a matter of choice. It would be a legal obligation.
Last week the Chinese government enacted a law requiring adult children to visit their aging parents “often.” The “Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People” spells out the duties of children to contribute to the “spiritual needs of the elderly.”
In addition to the legislation, the government has issued a text telling children to buy health insurance for their parents and teach them how to use the Internet.
“China’s economy is flourishing and lots of young people have moved away to the cities and away from their aging parents in villages,” the vice president of the China Research Center on Aging explained in a New York Times interview. “This is one of the consequences of China’s urbanization. The social welfare system can answer to the material needs of the elders, but when it comes to the spiritual needs, a law like this becomes very necessary.”
These measures are, I’m sure, well-intentioned. What could be sadder than the picture of neglected parents sitting all alone in their remote village — uninsured and unable to Tweet — as they gum their moo goo gai pan?
But how satisfying would it be to my spiritual needs to have my children visit only because it was against the law not to? Besides, I may be aging, but the first one of my kids who refers to me as “elderly” will be the first one cut out of the will.
And I’m guessing that there are plenty of parents for whom visits from their children only on holidays are more than enough. And plenty of adult children who would rather be sentenced to three years in Sing-Sing than a weekend with their in-laws.
More than one family visit that started out with hugging and kissing has wound up with sniping and bruised feelings. Who knows how many Thanksgiving family get-togethers ended in acrimony because a mother disapproved of the way her daughter-in-law was mashing the potatoes?
But maybe all of that is easy for me to say, because getting our kids to visit us never has been a problem. Just the other day, in fact, one of our children announced that he and his brood intended to visit us next weekend. We had to tell him not to bother, though, because we won’t be here.
That’s the weekend we’re heading off for a wild time in Las Vegas.