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Monday, May 11, 2009

The Truth about Satellite Babies

CANADA/FEMINISM - No, we're not launching babies into outer space. If you're confused about the name satellite babies, we should best start you off on the right foot so you know what it is we are talking about.

Satellite Babies is the unusual but growing practice of immigrant women (often single mothers) sending their babies to live with their grandparents or aunts/uncles overseas so they can focus on school or career here in North America.

Its a tough decision to make. It can be very difficult to raise a child all by yourself, even if you do live in a wealthy nation like Canada or the United States. Sending your baby overseas to China, India or wherever to be raised by the relatives isn't really a right or wrong decision. Its a very gray area and its up to the individual to decide what is best for their baby and for themselves.

During a recession or during times of financial peril it does make a lot of sense.

According to a Canadian study published in the Infant Mental Health Journal, an increasing number of immigrants to Canada and the U.S. are shipping infants to their home country to be raised by extended families. In Greater Toronto alone an estimated 2,000 Canadian-born kids of Chinese parents are sent back to mainland China each year, then returned to Canada when they reach school age.

"These parents are completely torn by the decision, but they believe in this collectivist value that their own pain of separating from their child will be a greater good for the family (later on)," says researcher Professor Yvonne Bohr. "The family system is the building block of a community. When it is changed, compressed and stressed, it could create problems in relationships."

"Serial family separations are common in countries that welcome immigrants, and could be but one of many repercussions of globalization for parents and their children," says the 22-page article. There's even support groups in Toronto that help guide parents through the pros and cons of sending their children home.

"I've built this bonding with my baby boy, seeing him grow every day. It is hard to be separated from him," says one mother with two kids. "But to keep him here, I can't go to English classes or get a job. I really don't know what to do."

"It's too expensive to put two kids in daycare. I don't have any support," she says.

All of the families interviewed for the study cited the necessity to retrain or to develop their careers and the high cost of child care as reasons that would make it impossible to keep their baby in Canada. Some said they tried to bring the grandparents to help babysit in Canada, but were caught up in government bureaucracy.

More than half said their own grandparents had taken care of them, so having their children raised by their own parents feels very traditional. Returning the child to the old culture seemed to be an acceptable solution, the report found.

The parents are also really torn by their decision. Its a decision of necessity because there isn't a lot of support for immigrant mothers. The parents also expressed "sorrow, hardship and guilt" for the "abdication of responsibility and of letting the baby down."

Professor Bohr says parents also raise concerns over the returning school-age kids' adjustment to a new place, as well as depression at being separated from their grandparents.

Some people will no doubt say that these women are bad mothers, but such naysayers have never been in such a position of poverty and doubt about their future, or the future of their children.

Technically the practice of sending children to live with their grandparents does happen frequently in North America, its just that we're not used to sending them overseas.

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