Editor’s Intro: Comparing parents around the world

posted by: By Gaye Bunderson

Editor’s Intro:

Comparing parents around the world


I decided it might be fun to look through the Internet and see how American parents stack up against parents in other countries. What are the differences in parenting styles? The strengths and weaknesses?

Of course, as one is doing research, one might happen to stumble upon something that seems pretty outrageous. So I'll start off with that.

Parents in Bali differ from American parents in one particularly profound way: they don't let their baby's feet touch the ground until the infant is 105 days old.

I got this tidbit of info from a New York Times article dated February 18, 2017, and written by Bryant Rousseau. The headline reads, “In Bali, Babies Are Believed Too Holy to Touch the Earth.” Mr. Rousseau's lead sentence is so well-written, I'm going to share it. He writes: “Babies on the Indonesian island of Bali don't start off life on the right foot — or the left.”

It seems the newborns are so freshly from the spirit realm, they are deemed to have an aura of sacredness and, hence, should not touch ground. They “deserve to be treated with veneration,” according to the article. Hinduism is the prevailing religion in Bali, and because of that faith's views on reincarnation, it is thought a baby may be a reborn deceased relative — just one of the reasons they are expected to float above earth for a while.

The article quotes Robert Lemelson, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Before three months, babies are considered holy,” Lemelson said. “Their spirits still belong to the divine and are taken care of by their nyama bajang, or 108 spirits. That's why people in Bali always try to treat babies like gods.”

Of course, as an American, this makes me laugh. I mean, people are entitled to practice whatever religion they want, and I acknowledge babies are special — but deserving of veneration? They sleep, cry and make smelly diapers all day. They can't even feed themselves. If I'm going to venerate something, it's gonna have to give me a little more to work with.

When a baby's feet are finally allowed to touch ground, can you imagine what the little critter thinks? “Ah, terra firma at last!” Said no baby ever. The infant probably squiggles his little toes in the dirt, and then wants to eat them.

Well, anyway, moving on from Bali...

Something that stood out for me as I read through parenting-style articles was the topic of “co-sleeping.” Here, American parents are markedly different than parents in other countries.

The topic came up in a May 17, 2013 article written by Christiane Amanpour and titled, “What American Parents Need to Do Better: Lessons from the Rest of the World.” Oddly, it came up while discussing how to create independent children. In the article Amanpour quotes Christine Gross-Loh, author of “Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us.”

Gross-Loh states: “We like children who can speak their minds and give their own opinions and be their own person. This is part of being independent. But there's a whole other part that I think we've been neglecting and that's the idea of self-reliance and self-responsibility. Those are the sorts of ideas that I see being fostered in other countries that are not being fostered as well in the U.S. It's not our fault. We've been told that it's good to look out for childen and help them out.”

Here, she begins to talk about where children sleep at night — perhaps seemingly off-topic, but not. Amanpour states that the idea of producing independent children through allowing them to sleep in the same room as their parents at night may be counterintuitive. But a survey of parents in 100 countries seems to indicate just the opposite. The U.S. was the only country in the survey where children were put in a separate room to sleep; however, it was the children in other countries who seemed to display a greater sense of independence during waking hours.

Gross-Loh offered this explanation: “The idea is that when you allow children to be dependent in this way when they are babies, then they can easily move into age-appropriate independence as they get older. And research does show that even American children who were co-sleeping with their parents were more independent in different ways. … In the U.S., we have this tendency to think there are things they can't handle during the day, but we ask them to do something different at night.”

Some of the parenting differences among diverse nations were more quirky than useful, such as the fact that, according to one article, Nordic moms allow their children to nap in subzero weather outside. The mothers consider cold air a benefit to their babies' health. At least that was what was posited in an article titled, “6 Foreign Parenting Practices Americans Would Call Neglect.” Maybe there's a bunch of tiny human blocks of ice laying in little strollers all throughout Scandinavia, Finland and Iceland. But I doubt it. If you live in a very cold climate, it may not hurt to start acclimating kids to the chill at a very young age.

What do American parents do best? According to Gross-Loh, America beats the rest of the world in one important way: tolerance.

One of the things that was really striking is that we raise tolerant children,” she said. “In a way, it's necessitated because we live in such a diverse society. But it's the sort of thing I didn't see in other cultures.”

That's something to be proud of, American parents. Stay the course on that positive parenting method. We need tolerance now as much as ever.


Sources: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/18/world/asia/bali-indonesia-babies-nyambutin.html



Gaye Bunderson, editor


Leave a comment