“It Takes a Village” to Raise a Child: Parenting in China

Samantha Zavettori reminisces the trials and blessings of her family’s journey since welcoming her son.

 Two years ago, where did you give birth and why?

Even before I got pregnant, we had a plan. The first choice would be Hong Kong, mostly because of the language. We didn’t know at that time when we would have a baby, so we didn’t know how much English would be spoken at the hospitals in China. The second choice would be China and then Brazil. The reason we chose Brazil last is that I always wanted to have my husband around at the time the baby would arrive. I didn’t want to travel when I was seven months pregnant. I wanted to be in China, leaving my life with my husband and waiting for the baby’s arrival here.

How long did it take for you to come back to mainland China after giving birth in Hong Kong?

It took us 10 days to come back. At the hospital, we stayed five days. Then, we rented an Airbnb only because we had to deal with all the paperwork, such as passports and birth certificates. [My son] is a Brazilian born in Hong Kong, so he couldn’t get a Hong Kong ID.

Are you happy with the choice to give birth in Hong Kong?

Yes, it was amazing, and I am willing to do everything again. I chose the hospital I wanted, and I got all the support I needed. So yes, I’m very happy with that experience.

What are the pros and cons of being an expat parent in China?

I think it’s difficult being a parent, no matter where you are. I love living in China. I think Francisco will have a lot of great experiences living in Dongguan. He will make a lot of friends from all over the globe. He will speak languages. He will travel more than if we lived in Brazil. But I think for me, the disadvantage is being away from his grandparents and relatives back home.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, you were stuck out of China for nine months. Can you talk a bit about your experience?

We decided to go to Brazil. My husband took my son and me to Brazil. The plan was to stay there only for two months, wait for things to get better in China, and come back. But then the whole world got COVID-19. While we were there, China banned entry for foreigners. My husband managed to come back earlier for work. He was here, and I was in Brazil with Francisco. So, it was a very telling time for us as a family because Marcelo missed our son a lot. We did a lot of video calls and sent thousands of photos… The silver lining was that our son could spend a lot of time with his grandparents.

What languages does your son speak right now?

His first language is Portuguese because that’s what we speak at home. Right now, Francisco has been speaking a lot of Mandarin, and we love that. He’s getting really good at Mandarin and learning it from the nanny. Then, he will learn English when he goes to school.

How do you explain the need for a full-time nanny?

After I had Francisco, the plan was for me to go back to work. The plan was for us to find a nanny. She’s been with us since Francisco was four months old. After we came back from Brazil, we decided that we want her to stay with us. Because Marcelo works, and I am pretty much by myself the entire day. So, she helps me with a lot of things, like cleaning and food. We’re definitely a team, and it takes a village.

What kind of activities do you do with Francisco in China?

For sure, Dongguan has a lot more parks to offer. He loves to be outdoor. Every time we get the chance, we go to a park, and we spend time there. We also take a swimming class together—a parent and baby class—which is very fun. We have been doing that class since he was four months old.

What is your plan for Francisco to start kindergarten?

We are actually considering taking him to pre-school soon in April. We are going to send him to an international school. I have been working at EtonHouse for 13 years, so that is my choice. That’s why I didn’t consider sending him to a Chinese school. I want him to get an international education.

Is it challenging if your husband works long hours and travels?

Marcelo is an amazing dad. He tries to be present as much as he can, and he’s a very hands-on dad. Every time he’s at home, he will take Francisco away from me and take care of everything.

How do you measure your success as a parent?

I think by being present. By making sure Francisco is well taken care of and loved. That’s what’s important to me. I chose not to work because I wanted to spend as much time as I could with him.

 What is the plan for your family in the future?

We want him to grow up here, and we want to stay in China for as long as we can. This is our home, and we love it.