Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I was catching up on the Parenting magazines that had accumulated over the past three months. Intrigued by an article about different cultures raising children, I noted that two of the families had written books about parenting. They sounded interesting enough so I decided to order them from Barnes & Noble.
I decided to start with How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting because I liked the name most :) I wasn't sure what to expect or what I was hoping to gain aside from some sort of way to relax and rewind each evening. What I learned was value & understanding for parenting across the globe. From Argentina to Congo and Taiwan to Lebanon, we all face the same basic questions on how to provide for, feed, play with, and teach our children. But in some areas, our approaches could not be more different.
Mei-Ling Hopgood, author & mother, explores 11 lessons from around the globe that generally make Americans gawk in disgust. In my case, I felt right at home with how I am parenting AND making mistakes along the way.
The chapters are as follows (with my brief description/summary followed by my own parenting examples in regard to the subject at hand):
- How Buenos Aires Children Go to Bed Late
- Summary: Aside from being the most kid-friendly country, Argentina throws a pretty mean party that includes children and elders at all hours of the night. Falling asleep anywhere during an event is acceptable and highly welcome. Time with family is more important than sleep.
- Real Life: While routine and structure has been key to our lives since Adelaide arrived (mainly because I am a single parent most days/nights), we do make exceptions for special events or when we feel like it. We have since she was born. She already has a late bedtime according to most parents' standards...8:30pm. Family time is precious for us as we live in completely different states so we don't hesitate to let her stay up later when in KY or on vacation.
- How the French Teach Their Children to Love Healthy Food
- Summary: Pre-schoolers in France dine on 5 course meals at school including beet salad, various cheeses, and roasted lamb. They have more extensive palates than most adults in the States. For the French, the art of making a meal is just as important in a child's learning process as the nutrients he/she receives so from an early age children are involved in the preparation of family meals.
- Real Life: For now, Adelaide eats fruits & vegetables. I buy mostly organic baby food or give her the "real" stuff that Ryan & I eat (now that she has teeth and my fear of her choking has subsided). I don't give her chocolate or sweets...although she often reaches for the whipped cream on my Starbucks and has been known to snatch the top off of my cupcake before. She will grab for just about anything, including wasabi as I learned the hard way, which is positive I think. As the days pass, I find myself becoming more comfortable with giving her more "table" food. But this chapter gave me more confidence in raising a great eater.
- How Kenyans Live Without Strollers
- Summary: Because the road conditions and lack of sidewalks in Africa do not really allow for smooth paths, strollers are basically non-existent. Actually many of the mothers interviewed had no idea what a stroller even was. Historically a stroller was a buggy designed for the royals of England to pose their children in; thus representing great wealth at one time. So Kenyans carry their babies. Everywhere. As they grow into toddlers and then children. On their backs. On their chests. On their hips. All while lugging buckets of water or groceries or whatever else they need to.
- Real Life: I am a wimp. Undoubtedly. I use the Baby Bjorn when we travel because it frees up my hands. I carry Adelaide in & out of Target or Starbucks on my hip until we can reach a shopping cart. I complain as my back aches. Then I read this chapter and felt like a loser. In my defense I will say that the hassle of getting the stroller out makes me think twice about using it and so I have found myself carrying her more here & there. But I can't quite imagine life without one.
- How the Chinese Potty Train Early
- Summary: Three to six months is the average age that parents in China begin potty training their children. The majority of them are fully trained by 12 months. Diapers are not exactly used, rather split pants which allows kids to freely do their business wherever they feel the need. Freedom of the body is welcomed everywhere.
- Real Life: See previous post here.
- How Aka Pygmies Are the Best Fathers in the World
- Summary: In the small village near Congo, Aka Pygmies (one of the last true hunter-gather communities) fathers spend 49% of the time with their children and mothers spend 51%. A statistic that is nearly unheard of in any other country. The fathers go so far as to offer their nipples for soothing when mothers are out gathering and unable to breastfeed.
- Real Life: I can assure you that Ryan will never be offering his nipple to any of our children. However I found this chapter to be the most intriguing on the basis that it is possible for men/fathers to spend a significant amount of time with their children. Something I think that decades ago was taboo in the US. As a mother, I have found myself saying to Ryan (or thinking) I can do it/need to do it/know how to do it (all better) because I am the mom. But then I remember some great advice that I received from Sara B just before Adelaide was born. She told me not to "cripple" Ryan by watching over his every move, complaining about how he does fatherly duties, and nagging him. In terms of co-parenting, it has been one of the best pieces of advice for me. I want to empower my husband to help in all facets of Adelaide's upbringing. Often this means I have to let him do it "the wrong way" or "his way" and ignore the perceptions that I think people might have when we are in a group setting that "oh the dad is taking over because the mom must not be a good parent" because who cares what they think anyway right? I now relish in the fact that when Ryan is around that he wants to take over and be as involved as I am the other 99% of the time.
- How Lebanese Americans Keep Their Families Close
- Summary: In the Lebanese culture, the household generally includes mother, father, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, & cousins. Outside friends are rare because the extensive family can be 50+ people. Decisions are made as a group. Everything from business to mealtime to child-rearing. In their eyes, family has your back no matter what and will do anything for you. This includes people married into the family (i.e. daughter-in-laws, son-in-laws).
- Real Life: I don't think it is any secret that I desperately love my family and ache to be home in Kentucky. Ryan jokes that I would like to be neighbors with my parents. He isn't totally off base. I was fortunate enough to grow up with three amazing siblings and the two best parents around. We grew up four houses down from my grandparents (dad's parents) and my other grandma lived 1/8 of a mile away. The older I have gotten the less I care to see friends when we go back to KY; I'd much prefer to spend every single minute with my family. Now that we have a child, it is extremely important to me for Adelaide to grow up near her cousins (something I always longed for but never had the opportunity to have). Someday. Sooner rather than later.
- How Tibetans Cherish Pregnancy
- Summary: In Tibet, the mental & spiritual sanctity of pregnancy is just as important as the physical one. Pregnant women are prayed for daily and watched over by family and friends. Given the royal treatment during and after childbirth as well. Tibetans believe that recovery from delivery is just as important as maintaining a health pregnancy.
- Real Life: While I was pregnant, I did a great job of being active. I worked out and played tennis five days a week. I ate as healthy as I could but allowed myself treats. I got massages monthly and pampered myself often. As for my mental & spiritual journey, I prayed for the health of our child and our marriage. I enjoyed pregnancy and was happy to adjust my body for the gift of life. Post-delivery is a different story. I felt a lot of pressure to be this perfect mother who eased through the tired nights and kept up the house. Pregnancy had been such a breeze that I was expecting my body to bounce right back. In some aspects, my body is still healing nearly 10 months later. I find myself advising other new moms to rest and accept help. To sit and sleep in the early days. When you are in the hospital, I think letting the nurses handle your baby at night is key. It doesn't make you cold or not motherly. It makes you smart. Your body, whether easy or hard, has spent 9 months changing and growing then giving birth to a precious bundle. And the best thing you can do for your bundle is be at your best: physically, mentally, & spiritually.
- How the Japanese Let Their Children Fight
- Summary: In Japanese schools, you will not find teachers jumping in to solve conflict amongst students. You won't find kids tattle tailing on others. Appalling to most other cultures, you will find the Japanese letting children work out conflicts themselves. You will see them learn to problem solve. On their own.
- Real Life: When Adelaide is petting/poking someone's face at Gymboree, I am quick to interject. Mainly because I think it is offending the other parent. When someone is getting rough with my own daughter, I sit back and watch. She will either remove herself from the situation by crawling away or she will start crying which signals for the other kid to stop. In KY, Bishop (4) and Collins (2) play with Adelaide. Sometimes they are rough because they forget she is a tad smaller. I don't mind at all. Half the time, she is following them around and asking for them to play with her. I want her to be able to problem solve and work things out on her own. And mostly I believe that children are incredibly smart therefore will quickly (without the feelings and drama of adults...watch the Real Housewives of NJ to see how adults are idiots) reconcile the issue.
- How Polynesians Play without Parents
- Summary: The children in the Polynesians are taught to play with siblings or friends. Parents are there to provide for them and care for them; not play with them. Older siblings are put in charge of small tasks for babies (supervised) and playtime is led by the more experienced children.
- Real Life: If I spent every minute that I was with Adelaide playing with her, our house would be a disaster, she would never get to eat because I would have no time to make or clean bottles, we would have no clean clothes, and this blog post would be non-existent. As I am writing this, she is happily playing on the floor in our office with Beaumont and her three toys that have been laid out for her. Don't get me wrong, I play with her. I read to her. I make bath time fun. I talk and giggle with her. I just don't do it 24/7. I want her to learn to entertain herself. I want her to play with other children. I think it is important. It was one of my favorite things growing up. Gathering the neighborhood kids to play games during summer nights. Playing school or house or dress up with my sisters & brother.
- How Mayan Villages Put Their Kids to Work
- Summary: From an early age, children in the Mayan villages have chores. Young boys learn to operate knives at three years old. Young girls clean dishes & fold laundry. Children are not begged to partake nor do they receive "rewards" or an "allowance." They simply do it to be a part of their families and communities. And to feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Real Life: I have seen and pinned countless "chore charts" recently. Not because I plan to give Adelaide chores but because I want to be prepared when the time comes. I have always enjoyed the pride and contribution aspect of working. In sports, you don't work for the money. You work for the love of the game. I hope that Adelaide will naturally have those same feelings and I also hope that I am able to instill the traits of a strong work ethic.
- How Asians Learn to Excel in School
- Summary: Excelling in school for Asian children not only exemplifies how hard the child works but also reflects upon his family and community. Asian parents do not make excuses for their children's failures. They don't blame the teacher, the school, or the system. They hold their child responsible for his/her academic achievements. In turn, Asian children rank among the highest test scores across the board. Seven of the last twelve National Spelling Bee competitions in the US have been won by children of Asian descent. This is not a coincidence.
- Real Life: I am not a genius. Neither is my husband (despite what he says). I don't believe that Adelaide (or any other children we might have) will be a genius. And quite frankly I am just fine with that. Actually it really annoys me when people try to compare babies to other babies, their parents at that age, their cousins, their siblings, etc. For me, I enjoyed school as a way to learn and educate myself on subjects. I can count on one hand the days of school I missed for being sick growing up. In college, I hated missing class and rarely did. If I did (other than for tennis matches), I would always notify the professor. I have an affinity for learning. THAT trait is something that I hope my children will inherit. The yearning to learn and excel in school. My parents always pushed me to do the best I could in school. They didn't make excuses for any poor grades or projects completed. They held me accountable (something they still do and something that I wish a few parents I know would have figured out...you do your kid a real dis-service when you make them think they are perfect because no one is perfect and mistakes are how you learn. I could soapbox on this all day). I truly hope I am able to hold Adelaide accountable for her academic success, how ever great or small.
I am by no means a parenting expert. I have one child who is not even 10 months yet. I make mistakes all day, every day. I often do things based of self-convenience and/or outside perceptions (I feel like there is too much judgement of parents these days, especially from people who are supposed to be supportive). This is something I will probably always struggle with in my parenting. But I am open minded and want to learn from other parents, near & far. I want to share my mistakes with the other parents. Most importantly, I want to be the best parent for MY family.