From frigid naps to diaperless infants to independence at a young age, it takes all kinds to raise the next generation - something that Americans would do well to remember.
One thing that sets American parents apart from the rest of the world is their widespread belief that parenting has no script. Every parent forges their own path while raising kids, prioritizing current child-rearing strategies gathered from friends, websites, and books, rather than asking their own mothers for advice. Modern ideas are viewed as the optimal way to position children for achievement in the future.
This contrasts greatly with other countries, who have highly scripted versions of parenthood. Parents understand that there is an accepted way of raising kids and they do it without questioning. While it may sound restrictive, some experts say it’s helpful and makes parents feel less out of control, confused, and overwhelmed.
“You don’t see the handwringing in other places around the world,” says Christine Gross-Loh, author of Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us. “People understand that there is a way to do things.” (via Ideas.TED)
Many of the things parents in other countries do would raise eyebrows here in North America. Let’s take a peek at how the rest of the world raises their children. Perhaps we can learn from their approach.
Children are given far more responsibility at a young age in Japan. Kids as young as 6 can be seen riding the subway alone, sometimes even younger if accompanied by a slightly older sibling. Compare this to the general consensus that 11 is an appropriate age for children to ride the New York City subway unaccompanied, and you’ll realize that Japanese parents clearly value independence in their kids more than Americans do.
Spanish children don’t really have a set bedtime. They often go to sleep at 10 or 11 p.m., usually at the same time as their parents. But instead of being sleep-deprived, as you might expect, many of these kids have a siesta in the afternoons, which offsets the shorter night. Their parents do the same, heading back to the office late in the afternoon and working until 7 or 8 p.m., which means that they cannot spend time with their kids unless they stay up late. It’s a cycle that works well for them, as well as many other Latin American and Mediterranean nations.
In rural China, India, Laos, Vietnam, and other parts of southeast Asia, infants are potty trained so they don’t have to wear diapers. Mothers carry the babies around without diapers, usually draped with a towel, and set them over squat toilets to pee on their own. Often this is accompanied by a vocalized sound (“sheee-sheee”) that signals to the baby that it’s time to let go.
This technique, called “elimination communication,” has been gaining popularity in the U.S. in recent years. While it requires more diligence up front, this method has the benefits of reducing the number of diapers washed or tossed in landfill, and does not result in the painful, drawn-out months of potty-training that plague so many American toddlers.
Mothers of the Kisii tribe in Kenya carry their babies in closely-wrapped slings, but they do not look them in the eye. NPR explains why this is part of Kisii culture:
“Eye contact is an act bestowed with a lot of power. It's like saying, ‘You're in charge,’ which isn't the message parents want to send their kids. Researchers say Kisii kids are less attention-seeking as a result.”
Another African tribe, the Aka pygmies, are famous for their fathers, who are happy to nurse infants on milk-free nipple. Several years ago anthropologist Barry Hewlett told The Guardian:
“There's a level of flexibility that's virtually unknown in our society. Aka fathers will slip into roles usually occupied by mothers without a second thought and without, more importantly, any loss of status — there's no stigma involved in the different jobs.”
Scandinavia is another culture that values independence. Parents in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark let their infants sleep outside at frigid winter temperatures. In fact, cold-weather naps are thought to strengthen the child and make him or her healthier.
Similarly, young children in Denmark are often left outside in their strollers, wide awake, while parents shop or dine indoors — an act that would strike horror into American hearts, either for fear of kidnapping, arrest for negligence, or the child being traumatized by abandonment.
It’s reassuring to know that there are so many different ways of doing things. Most kids turn out just fine, so perhaps American should just dial down the stress, sit back, and enjoy the fleeting journey that parenting is, instead of fretting so much about getting it right.