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Single Parents Hesitate to Join Club

Nearly a week after its debut, the first single parents club in Beijing has drawn few people, as many wonder whether discussing their family matters at the club would hurt their children, already traumatized by the grievance of a broken family.

The non-profit club based in a downtown community aimed to offer psychological counseling and parenting courses to single parents -- including the divorced and widowed, said Zhang Songling, an official with the women's federation of the Guozijian community, in the northeastern part of the city proper.

Only 18 parents have joined the club to date, though single parent families make up 4 percent of the 2,323 households in the community, which has 5,700 permanent residents, according to Zhang.

The community features Guozijian, the imperial education authority established in 1306 that also served as a higher learning institution until the late Qing Dynasty toward the end of the 19th century. The place was renovated into a cultural heritage site after the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949.

"Single parents need more care and support from the society because of the extra heavy burdens they have to shoulder in life, both financially and psychologically," said Zhang.

This was because a broken family, divorce in particular, was traditionally taken as a disgrace in China, she added.

A divorced mother in the community told Xinhua she was not ready to join the club yet, out of fear that her daughter, at the sensitive age of 14, would be offended. "She's ashamed of our splitting, and doesn't want anyone else to know it," she said.

But Ning Li, the single father of a 10-year-old boy, was more open.

"I didn't have to talk much about my family life," said Ning, "But I feel there's nothing to be ashamed of if I pour out to others and get their sympathy in today's more open society."

About 80 percent of Chinese urbanites say they feel free to divorce if their married life is not happy, the Beijing-based Horizon Research Group has found in a recent survey in several cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The percentage is still higher among those who have received a college education.

"The Chinese have developed a more scientific and rational attitude towards marriage," said Prof. Ge Chenhong with the People's University. "The society is also more tolerant and showing the divorced more care and understanding."

But most single parents are still facing many problems in life, women in particular. "Many single mothers struggle to make a living with their children with a meager income," said Zhang, "It's difficult for many people to get married again because their life is always overshadowed by the unpleasant experiences of the past."

Though all single parents were encouraged to marry again, Zhang said the single parents club was not intended as a matchmaking service.

"It's more a place for them to share their happiness, sorrow and problems and to receive professional help about child rearing," she said. "We will provide them with comfort, reassurance and some concrete help."

She said the women's federation would try to persuade more single parents to join the club.

Li Jianru, a psychologist based in Beijing, said an unsuccessful marriage could be discouraging and could lead to self-denial. "You've got to learn to face up to the failure and start all over again, because the parents' attitude towards life will directly impact their children's healthy development."

In Beijing's close neighbor Tianjin municipality, a club for single mothers has received 217 members since it was set up last Friday.

Zhang Haiyan, a 40-year-old mother and one of the first members of the club, said she worried a lot about the mental health of her teenage daughter. "She was traumatized by the death of her father five years ago and has been unsociable ever since."

At the single mother club, Zhang said she hoped other mothers with similar experiences would ease her problems and help her raise the child properly.

There are 23,000 single mothers aged below 54 in Tianjin City, according to a survey by the municipal women's federation. Most of them suffer financial problems, difficulties with their children’s education and social discrimination.

(Xinhua News Agency March 13, 2004)


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