Saturday, February 18, 2012

How We Do Things (Global Perspective)

I'm reading yet another book on parenting.  Perhaps I read too much, but I can't help myself.  How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, by Mei-Ling Hopgood, looks at a selection of parenting practices from various cultures around the world, offering an accessible, and very reasonable, analysis of how they compare to American conventions.

I initially picked up Hopgood's book for the chapter on how the Chinese toilet train their kids (rather young, starting anywhere from 6 months to 18 months old, and as a low-pressure process).  This particular approach contradicts most American potty training books on the market. The American books promote a child-led time frame, usually between 2 and 4 years of age, and as a pretty goal-oriented task. I can attest that the presumptions upon which these methods are based are sometimes wrong. For example, these books' authors insist that children of 2 cannot communicate the need to relieve themselves, but I have a 14 month old who is consistently using sign language to let me know when he has to go.

My point is that it's easy for new parents to take published parenting advice as absolute truth, a list of edicts to be followed, and we worry if we fail to follow some of their guidelines. Similarly, the "traditional" advice we might be offered by well-meaning family and friends can also put pressure on us to do everything in particular ways because that's supposedly "best" for our children, but this advice can also be flawed.  And, the traditions may not go back as far as we think.  It was reassuring for me to read, at least by some cultures' standards, that I'm not completely off-base in starting early with the potty training.

So many of the parenting ideas from other cultures covered in this book contradict the advice of American experts, from late bedtimes in Argentina, to non-intervention in fights between children in Japan, to parents all over the world thinking it strange to play with their children. This topic is much too big, far too reaching, to ever say all I want to say in a brief blog post.  What is important, in my opinion, is keep an open mind as we make choices for our kids.  Keep open eyes to see what ideas another parent might introduce us to.  Realize that there are many ways to approach our parenting responsibilities, and the rest of the world can't possibly all be wrong, just different.

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