Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Cross-Cutural Parenting Lessons from Libya and the UK

Baby G with our Libyan driver/security guard/comedian "Big Ali"
 [The subtext of this blog should be: Ode to black felt-lined doors that allow my three-month old a long enough nap (three hours and counting) to blog!]

Before returning to part-time work (now every spare moment is taken up by part-time doctoral studies or work), I read a fascinating book entitled, "How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm," which provides a survey on various parenting strategies from around the world.

Not only did this book reconfirm my no-pram commitment (for as long as Baby G will take a real nap in the sling), but it was a balm for my soul.  I read it during the headiest days of unsolicited parenting advice. From it, I learned that whenever you do whatever is not recommended in one country, it is the exact thing that is recommended in another.

I experienced something similar as I have compared parenting strategies and cultures in the US, the UK, and now that I have returned from a week there with our son, in Libya (yes, you read that right - we took Baby G with us - he got the youngest Libyan visa out there, I think).  I often found that science followed rather than lead cultural norms.

Here's a sampling of the cross-cultural parenting comparisons:

* Going back to work: In the U.S., you are criticized no matter what you do. Here in the UK, you are looked at funny if you start working sooner than a year, as there is a 9 month statutory leave and another 3 months of reduced pay leave, also statutory.  Surprisingly, I didn't get one cross look in Libya for my choice to go back to work part-time.  Women there often must work and try to work whenever possible.

* Breastfeeding: In the U.S. and U.K., the standard recommendation is to breastfeed at least until six months when solids are introduced.  I learned from a Dane in Libya that in her country, the science-backed recommendation is for a year coordinating to their statutory leave.  In Libya, breastfeeding is not the norm - many were surprised (and lauded the fact) that I was still doing so.  I suspect this may have to do with the fact that conservative dress is not conducive to breastfeeding, it is not done in public (I stayed close to my hotel room or pumped), most mothers need to work, and, finally, I don't know if it is a heavily researched topic in the country.  I found this surprising for a conservative Muslim culture - one would think that breastfeeding was among one of the most important "traditional" roles of women.

*Babies in public: In the US and the UK, babies would not readily be tolerated at work. In Libya, although I initially thought he shouldn't leave the hotel much, I found that I could really take him anywhere and into any meeting; he was carried, kissed, and adored by all, including stern-looking security guards and soldiers. 

Thanks to widening exposure to other cultures, I have stopped worrying about whether my present culture agrees with my parenting because I know that somewhere, some culture does.  Instead of moving there, I'll create a new one in my own home. 

view from our hotel room in Tripoli

Lance had a volunteer opportunity with the Financial Services Volunteer Corps this last week in Tripoli. 
I took advantage of the fact he was going (and provided a bit more security) to follow
up on some of my projects.

first time at the pool

Gideon got to meet one of the only other white babies there. Surprisingly, all of their
advertisements for baby formula or other baby goods uses white babies.  When asked why,
the reply is "because white babies are cuter."

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Lorianne. I always enjoy reading your writing and topics. Thanks!