Unable to afford daycare, many Chinese-American parents are sending their young children to China to be raised by their grandparents, then uprooting them again when they’re old enough for school—a practice that’s leaving some kids psychologically scarred, according to a new documentary.
“They are sent overseas, and they are raised by very loving grandparents, cousins, relatives,” says Lois Lee of the Chinese-American Planning Council, who’s featured in the short film Satellite Baby. “So the children are very comfortable in China.”
When they return to the United States, usually between the ages of four and six, they no longer recognize their parents, Lee says.
“The parents themselves also lost five years of bonding time with their kids, so they don’t understand their children at all. They never learned how to be parents.”
“So now they have these children that are strangers to them, and the children feel that their parents are strangers also.”
“They say, ‘Why am I brought to this country?’”
The kids struggle to adapt, and not all of them succeed, according to Lee.
“It is more than just an adjustment,” Lee says. “It affected them psychologically and emotionally and socially.”
“So when you go to school, you know, you’re learning cognitive and academic skills. But you have to look at the whole child and what he’s been through.”
“So that’s why I call this a post-traumatic stress experience.”
The “satellite baby” phenomenon is relatively new, Lee says.
In the past, immigrant mothers could afford to stay home with their infants and toddlers, so childcare wasn’t an issue.
But nowadays, she says, families need two incomes to survive.
Through its after-school programs in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, N.Y., the Chinese-American Planning Council is trying to help former satellite babies understand and cope with their feelings. The organization is also working to educate adults in the community about the disadvantages of sending infants away.