“That’s not how we do it at home…”

The differences in parenting styles around the world

My neighbour commented recently on my “English approach“ to child raising. This does not involve wrapping my son in the St. Georges flag or weaning him onto tea when he was four months old, but more the fact that he screams himself silly every single time I try to get him dressed to leave the house. My neighbour was not commenting approvingly – apparently my English approach is that I do not hold my toddler under a cold shower until he stops screaming. I was a bit baffled by this – my nationality and my son’s screaming seem to me to be entirely unconnected. But when you raise a child in another culture, your own background begins to stand out more clearly. So this month I asked a few of my fellow foreigner mums around the world to comment on what they like and dislike about attitudes towards raising children in their home cultures and the ones they are part of now.

„In Japan, where I grew up, public education was very well rounded, with equal importance given to the arts, music, physical education, and moral development. I learned to sew or create complex things, how to read music and play many basic instruments. Kids are taught to be independent and care for themselves and others. Teachers are simply there for support. For example, students serve each other lunch from grade 1, and they clean up after themselves. Children walk alone to school every day, because the older ones act as leaders and accompany the younger ones.  I love these things about Japan. However, here in the CR there is so much more family time than in Japan and the US, where I have also lived. Most parents come home early enough to spend quality time with their children and I think it’s so important to spend time with their fathers or grandparents. In Japan, kids barely see their fathers. I also like that they value nature here and you see families spending time outside much more than the other countries I’ve lived in.“

“I think there is something special and idyllic about a Czech village childhood, the freedom and the support of close family. And I always appreciated that my daughters attended innumerable “kroužky” (activities clubs) all through their childhoods. I know that in the UK, for example, piano lessons and craft workshops are seen as only for richer parents, as they are very expensive. I appreciate that almost any Czech child can have access to music and art.”

“The role of the father in taking care of a newborn surprised me here. In Armenia, I think 90% of men wouldn’t change diapers or bathe their toddlers. I like that Czech parents take their kids for a walk very often and support them to be sporty. On the other hand, kids here seem jealous sometimes – maybe it’s because they learn it at home. I really don’t like the custom at children’s birthday parties where the guest brings a main present and also some small present for the other kid(s) with the words „it’s for him not be jealous“. Maybe if they didn’t do this, it wouldn’t come into the kid´s mind to be jealous!”

“Once my university teacher of Cultural science said „While travelling people will see your nation through your personality. Be the person who you feel proud to be“. That goes for how you bring up your child too. But travelling means receiving. Italians give you unforgettable emotions and belonging and will always cheer up your little cutie and celebrate. USA gives you freedom and diversity of mind – you believe in yourself and that will help you to be a great example for your kiddos, because their dreams and victories are your success too. Czech people teach you that “ the early bird catches the worm“… so you go to bed earlier and it’s good for you all!. Do cultures matter? They do in many ways. But to bring up a child you mainly need to give him or her your time, patience and love. These are things that we carry in our hearts as gifts from our own families and they travel with you everywhere.”

“I appreciate the emphasis on diversity and multiculturalism in British schools. Of course, this is in many ways a reaction to Britain’s dark imperial past. But it saddens me that celebrating difference and multiculturalism is not on the syllabus in the CR, or that it seems to be actively discouraged and distrusted here. On the other hand, children in Britain seem to have lost the sense of natural authority, for parents or teachers. I don’t know how to get that back.”

“Portuguese culture is very family orientated. I think it is this, more than anything else, which makes bringing up a child in Portugal a special experience. Going out with my baby daughter felt like travelling with a tiny rock star, people always have a smile for her. I was struck by this contrast with the UK when, on a recent visit to see friends and family, a waiter told our group of friends that, if we didn’t all order a meal immediately, „the baby will have to leave.“ It was 4 in the afternoon and we were drinking coffee. I know the UK has licensing laws, but in Portugal the idea of making a baby unwelcome just wouldn’t cross anybody’s mind. Who would come to your restaurant if the whole family couldn’t be together? I personally feel that I have benefited greatly from growing up in cultures other than that of my country of origin – and I am glad I can give my daughter that experience too.”

“Last time I was at the beach back home in Italy I heard a mother shout at her child “Don’t go near the sea, you might get wet!” Italians have so many needless rules for their children, such as waiting for three hours after eating before doing anything active (but we are always eating!) and keeping the kids inside all day if it is slightly wet or cold outside. I like that Czech kids are outside in all weather. I also love the baby cafes in České Budějovice – I think Italy does not have this idea of creating places specifically for children yet. Sometimes I think there is more pressure on Czech children to be “šikovný” (clever/skilful). We do not really have this word in Italian and maybe that is why it is ok to not be!”

Illustration: Władysław Podkowiński: Chilren in the garden. 1992, oil on canvas (Wikimedia Commons)

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