A Tiny Vietnamese Village Where Women Chose to be Single Mothers
February 15, 2013 10:17 AM   Subscribe

LOI, Vietnam — They had no plan to break barriers or cause trouble. But 30 years ago in this bucolic village in northern Vietnam, the fierce determination of one group of women to become mothers upended centuries-old gender rules and may have helped open the door for a nation to redefine parenthood.
posted by winecork (19 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Despite their increased financial need from their families, and the lack of resources to provide for their children without a husband to help with the rearing and finances.

It's happening here in the US as well, but the increased poverty and need of social support doesn't seem to be embraced, nor do the women bravely choosing single motherhood in the face of poverty and lack of resources to provide for their children seem to be considered progressive hero's here in the states.

Which is ironic because we might be more inclined to see it as such when looking at other countries. To me it present an interesting intersect between child rights and women's rights. Normalizing it doesn't solve the problem of the poverty and lack of emotional resources associated with it. For exceptionally wealthy women who can afford to take off work, hire nannies and quality childcare, and compensate for the lack of an extra parent by hiring help it might not cause the child to experience a lack of emotional or physical resources. Otherwise, if either extended families, or the government don't carry the burden the father WOULD have carried of helping the mother with resources, housing, time at home with the child- then the child will suffer for that.

In fighting inequality and for child rights to have healthy upbringing that prepares them to survive and be physically/emotionally/psychologically healthy in the world, how do parent rights to have children in poverty fit into that? I support both, so genuinely wondering others perspectives. I think that we should work to make it possible for all people to have children considering it is so universally sought by human beings to do so. One or two children per person will not cause overpopulation if we could become successful at encouraging follow through with this ideal. (In fact, not to be morbid but 2.5-3 children per adult is unlikely to contribute to overpopulation due to death before reproduction or chosen abstinence from reproducing. Once our medical system is even better than now, 2 children per adult would keep things as is and declining since certain people won't want to reproduce.)

But I also support initiatives to ensure children are being reared in physically and emotionally healthy and loving environments that meet their needs. The single parent model presents some obvious pitfalls in terms of amount of people available to nurture and spend time with the child that I don't think should be ignored simply because we also support women's rights. I also think out culture is really brutal about mothers who "don't measure up" and "don't deserve children"- and putting pressure on women to wait to have children until they measure up in terms of career, personal development, education, and income in order to consider themselves eligible for marriage or motherhood. I would prefer that sentiment be focused a little more into supportive initiatives to help parents do well rather than berating parents who struggle for becoming parents in the first place.

But I also think if our cultural values are causing poverty and difficulty for children, we really need to address that because it's just not acceptable for children to live in poverty or emotional neglect. It's a cultural trend (child poverty and neglect) I think should end if we ever become successful at being an ethical, pro-social, and effective species. Still poverty is subjective in many ways, and to me "poverty" is really things that cause parents to be overworked to the point they can't spend time with their families and nuture them, can't provide healthy nutrition, or can't provide safe housing that doesn't cause disease or poor health. Time limitations and being overworked are some of the most brutal aspects of being poor-- and they are present in a lot of families even those well compensated. Large financial compensation however does tend to result in a buffering of the harmful effects of negative work environments and lack of time for relaxation and family togetherness if spent well.
posted by xarnop at 10:58 AM on February 15, 2013

But Ms. Luu wanted to become a mother, not least so she would have support in her old age. In Vietnam, nursing homes are scarce, and care for the elderly is considered a filial duty. “I was afraid to die alone,” Ms. Luu said. “I wanted someone to lean on in my old age. I wanted a child of my own.”

Honestly, it seems like some of these women made calculating economic choices to have children as away out of poverty - at least in old age, since there didn't seem to be structures for paid care or familial care from someone other than children. I'm sure they also wanted children, too, of course, but the decisions were made in an economic context.

I also worry about discussing whether people "deserve" to have children based on how much money they have. That way lies eugenics.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 11:14 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

"I also worry about discussing whether people "deserve" to have children based on how much money they have. That way lies eugenics."

I'm actually one hundred percent behind you there. I personally think the solution to poverty is to address poverty, rather than shaming poor people for having children while poor.
posted by xarnop at 11:25 AM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Every woman has the right to be a wife and a mother, and if she cannot find a husband, she should still have the right to her own child.

Oh man, I hate it when people say they have a 'right' to a child. Nobody has a right to have children. It is a privilege that one should work hard to maintain and appreciate. This is a life we are talking about - not a toy or a plot of land.
posted by cyml at 11:48 AM on February 15, 2013 [12 favorites]

Yes but who determines which humans are worthy of this privileged? The state? Communities?

Unless you're willing to allow the state to regulate who is allowed to have children (And yes screening out poor and differently abled parents would essentially be eugenics however nicely you frame it, and frequently result in minority races being barred from parenthood or removed simply due to race or poverty by the nice wealthy all knowing white people)- then yes, everyone DOES have the right to procreate.
posted by xarnop at 12:02 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is a privilege that one should work hard to maintain and appreciate.

How do you earn that privilege? In the past, the "privilege" of having children has been suspended for women who were too brown, or too uppity, or who wanted to work, or who made different choices about who to partner with and what their family should look like than someone thought was ideal. If you give an external authority control over a woman's fertility, then you remove it from the woman herself, opening the way to grave abuse.
posted by KathrynT at 12:02 PM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

"Privilege" is probably a bad way of framing it. How about "responsibility?" As in, if you exercise your "right," then you must also accept your responsibility to provide for your child so that he can live a life you find acceptable. When you fail to fulfill your responsibility, so that it falls to society generally to support your child, is it unreasonable for society to say back, "look, we have children of our own to support." Or, "we forewent children, because we knew we could not support them. Why must we support your children, when we cannot even support our own?"
posted by spacewrench at 12:17 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think I framed my comment in the wrong way.

I am not saying that the state or anyone else should determine whether or not women should be allowed to have children - I am saying that everyone should look at it as a privilege rather than a right that they deserve. I hear a lot of people talking about how they deserve kids and how it is their right to have children and sometimes, I think they have forgotten that they are talking about actual kids.

I am not proposing that people regulate birth. I am saying that we need to look at having children differently and hope that the change in mindset will create favourable situations for children. When I say that people should work hard to maintain and appreciate that privilege, I am saying that parents need to remember that even though they gave birth to their children, the children are not their property and that parents should continually strive to be better parents in order to keep the privilege of having kids. I also should mention that I am reserving these comments for abusive parents.
posted by cyml at 12:19 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end." —Kant
posted by tychotesla at 12:25 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Somebody needs to explain the the New York Times how Vietnamese names work.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:26 PM on February 15, 2013

Somebody needs to explain the the New York Times how Vietnamese names work.

No, they got it right. You are correct that the surname comes first, but in Vietnam people generally don't go by their surname (perhaps because 50%+ of them are Nguyễn).

It is normal usage to go by [Title] + [Given Name], where [Title] for women is very often "Ms."
posted by grubby at 12:32 PM on February 15, 2013

I think I basically feel about childbearing the inverse of how I feel about capital punishment. Which is to say, I don't have a problem with the idea that in principle it's possible to do things so awful that execution is an appropriate/necessary response, but in practice, actual governments have proven themselves generally untrustworthy of administering such punishment fairly. By the same token I actually think that it would be fantastic if having a child really was a privilege you had to earn - but I cannot even imagine the earthly human institution or system I would trust to make that judgement.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:48 PM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

You will never solve the problem of bad/unprepared parents by legislation, because that would require both an unearthly ability to judge fairly and a crystal ball to see into the future. Some teen parents do just fine. Some wealthy healthy prepared types do not.

Your best bet is to surround every parent with resources, from basic healthcare/vaccinations all the way up to a mechanism for finding someone else to care for their child in the least traumatic way. You also lower the number of unprepared/unwilling parents by increasing the rights of women and making birth control easy to access.

But even in that utopian world, there will be some parents who simply fail at it, for whatever reason, or at the very least need extreme amounts of help. That's the price we pay for wanting to have a next generation and not wanting to make our bodies the property of the state. As prices go, I don't think it's too high. In fact, our unwillingness as a society to do some of the basic things I mentioned ends up costing a lot more in lives and misery than it saves in money.

Many people have this fear about People We Don't Know Having Kids, that they aren't like us. We only have kids for good, loving reasons, they have kids because they are lazy or stupid or want to overrun the planet with offspring or want to stay on the government dole, or pick your stereotype.

Anyway my own views or Is It Ok to Single Parent are, of course. In our current society it is riskier, but I'm not going to say that marrying a random person will necessarily mitigate that risk, or be wise. I don't think marriage should ever be a condition of becoming a parent.
posted by emjaybee at 2:13 PM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

From a legal perspective I am one hundred percent behind single parent rights. (Also being one myself.) From a "is this really the best thing for kids"? I would say my experiences watching single moms struggle with poverty, co-parenting, dating and what that brings into the home-- is that there are way more variables in which things can go wrong and be difficult for the children.

I PERSONALLY am very socialistic (whether we're talking non-profits or the state, I value policies, programs, and accessibility in the realm of making healthy parenting activities and support accessible to people of any income.) So the solution to this problem is more support. I think that support has to come from somewhere and making decisions that deliberately either put a burden on people around you (tax payers who don't want that burden or family that doesn't want that burden) is always going to be something that people who then feel obligated to provide that support to ensure a child doesn't live in poverty have a right to be grumpy about.

I also think that rape, sexual abuse, and reproductive coercion can leave many women pregnant who aren't comfortable with termination, and I can't imagine forcing such women to terminate or give up their children to the state instead of provide supports to help them parent without going into poverty and lacking in resources to parent well.

That said, I am a fan of committed parenthood and would not be opposed to mandatory parent education being in highschools. I don't think it would cause people to become parents, if anything, if it detailed the realities of parental responsibilities (you stop focusing on partying, it's no longer about you, you don't drink heavily around your child, you don't make risks that are fun but put either you or your child at risk, you don't do illegal drugs, you stop smoking, you learn about effective discipline, you don't date people who don't understand healthy parenting, redirection and non abusive discipline) on and on and on.

I personally think a child development class should be required in high-schools because many people don't go to college and it would be great to reach ALL parents, before they parent, about the basics of abusive/ineffective parenting styles and children's emotional and physical health needs.

I think social pressure to encourage people who don't really want to put children first and give them a high quality life including the work and action steps of learning what that is and doing that would be excellent. But I also believe in a lot of resources to help parents with struggles, disabilities, differences in functioning, difficulty earning income-- to help their families flourish.
posted by xarnop at 4:15 PM on February 15, 2013

Single parenthood in this society is different from single parenthood in that society.

They wanted a child, according to the article, partly because in that society, with no child you have no one to care for you in your old age.

Of course there were issues and problems but their issues and problems in Vietnam were not going to be the ones that single parents face in THIS society.

(I guess I would rather see the discussion be about the subjects of the actual article than the problems of single parenthood in the west. Not everything is about us.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:13 PM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Wouldn't it be great if EVERY woman who didn't want a child wouldn't have to carry one?

Wouldn't it be great if access to free birth control was available to women of EVERY country?

Wouldn't it be great if EVERY women who wanted a child could have one without a stigma and with support from society?

Wouldn't it be great if EVERY child born could be loved?

I am amazed at what these women have done. The state and the patriarchy dictated that they not have children, and they went ahead and did it, in essence forcing the state to acknowledge their choices. Such bravery. I didn't have to raise my kids alone, and I salute women who do/have done it. It's a tough job. Change, one child at a time.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:10 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I find it interesting that the women decided to not to adopt children. Lord knows, there were plenty of orphans by the end of the war. My experience was that adoption was fluid and not bound by bureaucracy. Also, note that this is northern Vietnam and no mention of single, south Vietnamese women. The big question I have is whether the legislation only recognizes those women who "ask" for children instead of those who find themselves single mothers due to abandonment or perceived indiscretion.
posted by jadepearl at 7:14 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, dying alone without anybody to take care of you in your own age is one of the biggest fear of Vietnamese people.
One of my relative has a mentally disabled daughter, not severve but she is incappable supporting herself financially. My relative is weathly but she was getting old, what would happen to her daughter after she died? So she arranged for her daughter to get married, have a daughter of her own born and divorced the husband soon after. That child is now 20 years old, going to university and helping her grandmother to take care of her disabled mother. It was unfair for the child, and her mother who had no say in the matter, but none of us could blame my relative. What she did she did out of love, ensuring that when she died her daughter won't be left in the hand of poeple she doesn't trust.
The second case is of another close friend of the family. She was married for years with no child. Her husband's family started to say things along the line of "Poisonous trees bear no fruit, poisonous women bear no child". She divorced her husband and went "xin con". When she got pregnant, she did her best to make sure her child would be safe. She was not wealthy, but she stopped working, moved to another city with better climates, and lived off her saving untill the child arrived. She got her desired daughter at the age of 40 and she spoiled the kid rotten. She works as a maid but her daughter goes to a private kindergarten school which fees eats up a third of her salary. Her kid knows of her father, and they see each other once in a while but he is not involved in her life. Her family supported her choice and all in all, she is very happy with her state of single motherhood.
The third case is my own aunt, she is 36 now, single and in no prospect of getting married soon. My own grandmother who is in despair of her daughter's singlehood suggested last year that if my aunt can't find a good man to settle down with then she should "find some random guy, get pregnant and dump him later, it's ok" . My grandmother is 87 years old this year that would have frowned upon such things if my aunt were in her twenties. My aunt declined, my grandma then said she will kept an eye out for kids for my aunt to adopt.
Vietnamese people are pragmatic, and if a woman of certain age wants to have child, nobody is going to tell her no.
All of these happens in the South where people are less concerned about things then people in the North. In fact, I read an article in some Vietnamese magazine about single mothers, and some of the mothers actually moved from the North down South to escape the stigma that would follow them in the North.
posted by LenaO at 11:40 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think in US culture there's a lot of push for children in poor circumstances to never be born, and it kind of adds to women foregoing motherhood against their own wishes because they don't feel financially secure enough or "good" enough.

I think that drive adds to the lash out about people who dare to reproduce while imperfect or needing help. Personally I wish we could solve that by making it more possible for EVERYONE to raise children in a healthy way, and maybe not so much emphasis of mothers being good/not good bot more focus on identifying risk factors (what makes a mom "not good enough?) and providing the right supports to address that. Sure, no one should parent if they have uncontrolled bipolar mood swings that cause them to scream obscenities at everyone around them and threaten to harm themselves....

However, there are plenty of faults that make people "not good enough" that there are solutions for (and there ARE solutions to bipolar disorder for many people).

Poverty means these parenting flaws or problem areas can't be addressed with resources making it more likely the home life will involve not only physical but emotional neglect/abuse which I think can have ever worse effects than having to wear jeans with holes in them or eating modest meals and not having desserts or extras lying around. That's here in the US. In some culture's I think parenting is more involved with extended families and problem areas get compensated by other relatives if possible. Also, birthing people even when things are terrible is human nature. We have hope it will get better. We have hope that our children will taste the beauty of life even if they know suffering. And yes, children bring hope and new life (and extra labor) where there is suffering. It's presumptuous to decide for all poor people they are better off never being born. There are, quite likely, fates worth than death. But I am certain not EVERY poor person, or child of a single mother, or person in an (I know third world is loaded, what's the right term here? Impoverished nation?)-- is better off never having been alive.
posted by xarnop at 7:17 AM on February 16, 2013

« Older So good they cancelled it.   |   Dogs On A Treadmill Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments