Go East, Young Mom

Last fall, as my belly grew, so did my anxiety about raising a child. How will I learn what to do fast enough to apply it to my child? And then, as she grows, so will the things I’ll need to know. Sisyphus has nothing on parenting!

In that time, I did two things that I cannot recommend enough: I watched “Babies,” a documentary following four babies on four continents during their first year of life and read Our Babies, Ourselves, an anthropologist’s research-backed review of parenting practices across cultures and centuries.

We do not have to possess all the knowledge and instincts within our own brains and hearts to raise our children. That is impossible. We can never know all of the lessons of child-rearing that the generations and eons before us have produced. So instead, we should do what every generation before ours has done: look to others for help.

This past weekend, my dear college friend Deema visited from New York. (She was my co-adventurer to the Korean Spa.) In the first minutes of her meeting my daughter, she had Juniper on the ground chortling to an adorable French song involving arm rolls and leg taps. In five months, I’ve squeezed two half-hearted giggles from my child (and one was probably gas). She asked my daughter repeatedly, “When are you coming to Didi camp?” (‘Didi’ is Deema’s nickname given by her nephew.) I would love for Juniper to go to Didi camp (some of its advertised highlights include the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Museum) and to be influenced by all the divergent and glorious ways of being in the world – ways that I cannot alone provide to my child.

Beyond providing songs that might make my baby laugh, other cultures give us a chance to review our own parental practices with a fresh eye. Sleeping with your baby – commonplace in most of the world. Crying and babies – like peanut butter and jelly to me, not so in Africa. I’ve been dangling brightly colored objects in front of my child to stimulate her intellectual development, while a mom in Spain or Italy is more focused on social interactions. And I love this word from the Kipsigis community in Kenya: ng’om, which roughly means a child’s intelligence of knowing what to do and doing it, our responsibility to others. I wish we had a word for that!

Perhaps you’re like me and reviewed the contents of the Finnish baby box with hot jealousy when the internet took note last year. The only thing better than receiving those tidy adorable contents would be knowing that your child is growing up in an egalitarian society that values the best start for all babies. My Finniphilia is well-founded: those kids are smoking American students by international measures, even though they don’t go to school until age seven! So much for testing into kindergarten!

As with everything else, the more we can incorporate a diversity of ideas into our parenting practices the better off we’ll be.

What parenting practices from other cultures do you want to adopt?

Andrea Lee is a mom who’s winging it, just like everyone else. 

Tags: This Week in Moms, Mom, mothering, Mother, raising children, parenting, child, advice, diversity, culture, cultures, appreciation, healthy, well-rounded, balanced

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