The Role of Time in Shaping the Caregiving Experiences of Chinese Grandparents and Skilled Immigrant Mothers in Canada

When Chinese skilled immigrant mothers cannot balance care time and work/settlement time, grandparents often assume the caregiving role despite how it disrupts their traditional experiences of aging. From a temporal perspective, these childcare experiences of Chinese skilled immigrant families in Canada are stories about time. An exploration of these stories demonstrates how different temporal frameworks intersect and conflict, and helps shed light on the dominance of capitalism-oriented temporalities and the challenges and inequalities this incurs in the context of transnational human migration.

McMaster Researcher


Zhou Y.R., " Time, space and care: Rethinking transnational care from a temporal perspective," Time & Society, 24, 2, (2015).

What is this research about?

Increasing numbers of Chinese skilled immigrants are coming to Canada to seek better life and work opportunities. For mothers, particularly, this creates a tension between unpaid 'life' or ‘care’ time and paid work time. This tension emerges for a couple of reasons. First, in Canada, accessible and affordable public childcare is not readily available. Secondly, Canada operates on Western 'clock' time, which places work time at the top of the hierarchy and fails to recognize that care time should be unrushed. As a result, the burden of childcare is often placed on Chinese grandparents who come to Canada to help out. The purpose of this research is to explore the caregiving experiences of Chinese grandparents and skilled immigrant mothers as the various cultural and economic time experiences inherent to their 'home' and 'destination' countries intersect. 

What did the researchers do?

The researcher conducted interviews with 36 Chinese grandparents who travel from China to Canada to help care for their grandchildren. The researcher also conducted interviews with 34 Chinese immigrant women whose parents or parents-in-law help with childcare in Canada or who have thought about asking for the help of their parents or parents-in-law. 

What did the researchers find?

The researcher compiled the data and presented three main themes that emerged from her findings:

  1. Perceived time difference between China and Canada
  • Some participants view China as lagging behind Canada in terms of development and they explain this in temporal terms; for example, "After all, Canada is a developed country, it will take many years for China to finally catch up."
    • On the contrary, others see ‘faster development’ and more opportunities for highly educated people in the bigger cities in China than those for skilled immigrants in Canada
  • Immigrant women explain that they came to Canada to pursue a better life for themselves and their children
    • Yet, many express regret over 'lost time' as their careers were postponed or stopped because of the challenges associated with starting over in Canada
    • Concurrently, many acknowledge that they are 'saving time' for their children who will not have to go through the same settlement process
  • Many participants view Canada as having better social conditions than China and appreciate the slower pace of life
  1. Time redistribution in three-generational households
  • Immigrant mothers who do not rely on parental help have to 'speed up' their childcaring activities, as they experience a time deficit that results from having to fulfill other needs, such as settlement and career development, in a short period of time after immigration
  • With the new workload, grandparents as caregivers have to readjust to a faster pace of life than the one they were used to in their post-retirement lives in China
    • However, they recognize that the time they spend caring for their grandchildren and doing work around the house saves time for their children to settle in to their new country
  • Chinese immigrant mothers gain 'freetime' with the help of their parents
  1. Temporal-spatial discrepancies of transnational families
  • Transnational caregiving arrangements move grandparents' lives away from traditional ideas of aging; it postpones grandparents' post-retirement and their children's fulfillment of traditional filial obligations for elderly parents
  • Grandparents also express feeling culturally isolated in Canada and express deep nostalgia about China
    • Yet, they feel anxiety over being separated from their children and grandchildren due to their status as a ‘temporary visitor’ in Canada 

How can you use this research?

This research helps us understand that migration is not just about moving people between nations, but also shifting notions of time and how it is spent.  This research may be of particular interest to those in the field of immigration and globalization studies. Furthermore, this research provides the foundation for exploring how dominant and peripheral temporalities contribute to social (in)justice in the contexts of human migration and transnationalism. 

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