Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cultural Parenting

 (caption: those worried our son isn't getting enough "stimulation" during his waking hours can eat their hearts out with this video and the few pics from this week's activities, below)

My most recent experiences of being referred to social services by a loving consultant (yes, you can hear sarcasm dripping) has reminded me a bit about how parenting and the many societal "shoulds" are a mere result of culture.

In my very fun conversation with the social worker (no sarcasm - she was lovely), she exhibited  concern over the fact that I did not have a pram/push-chair.  It came up in the context of getting Gideon to sleep in the light by virtue of the motion a push-chair (yanks read stroller) creates.

"But I don't own a push-chair."

"Oh." (Concerned voice) "Why not?"

(Feeling suddenly like I needed to justified a very thoughtful decision.) "Well, first, we live in a third (Yanks read fourth) floor walk-up.  Second, we have a very specific philosophy of simplicity and so have avoided the onslaught of baby stuff like the plague.  Third, I just thought I would get one when my back broke."

"Isn't it terrible on your back?"

(Realizing she thought my meaning was literal.) "No - I have worn him every day so my back has gotten stronger as he has gotten heavier, and I have an Ergobaby, which is specially designed to distribute the weight evenly."

Once the social worker realized that her concern was more for me than for Gideon--the UK government's primary interest--she eased off. 

Turns out it was her one and only concern.  So much so that she commented near the end of our very pleasant conversation that had one or both of us laughing most of the time that she would be upset if she were me and had been referred to social services.  Instead of coming for a visit, which she thought unnecessary, she sent the local health visitor, who was also a sleep consultant.  More on this later. 

Though extremely pleasant, the conversation left me uneasy from its very fact and wondering why it is that people within western cultures are so concerned about push-chairs.  So much of the world does not use them--cannot use them--for lack of pavements/sidewalks and the suburban phenomenon of malls, strip or otherwise.  Why if so small a percentile of the world's mothers use them are they considered within that cross-section as vital to a mother's (or even a baby's) health?

Then there was the health visitor.  I was relieved to discover that the sleep consultant was an African man.  This meant he would (presumably) have a different cultural perspective and indeed did not balk at the hammock in the bathroom.

He did not balk at much of anything, and spent most of his time trying to figure out why he was there.  "You mean your baby sleeps *more* than the average amount for babies of his age?"  "I thought I was coming to help solve a sleep issue."  (Met with knowing smiles from myself and Asha, our part-time nanny and private sleep consultant.)

Yet there was one important reason to get Gideon to sleep in the light: nursery.

"But I'm American," I explained, "and we don't put our children in school at age two (let alone spend 5x the amount I spent on my college tuition, I didn't add)." 

"Oh." (Concern mounting.) "But will he interact with other children?"

"Of course." (Again feeling like I needed to explain a very thoughtful decision.) "I'll start something in the neighborhood that I enjoyed as a very little child - joy school - a sort of group home school where mums trade off on different days taking the kids.  There is a curriculum, but it is only about three hours 3-4 days a week."

(Concern dissipated.)

Although our very sweet, helpful, and nonplussed health visitor left without feeling like there were any problems to speak of or report, our conversation again prompted a few thoughts on how cultures impact our ideas and expectations of parenting.  Here because maternity leave is so long, it is considered un-motherly to start work before six or even nine months, sometimes a year.  Yet full-day nursery at one or certainly two is generally considered important to a child's development and even placement at a good secondary school through its knock-on affect.  I wonder how much of this has to do with the fact that mothers generally do go back to work at some point, eventually rendering a financial necessity a moral imperative.  I can't tell you how many have blanched at my being adamant that I won't be putting Gideon in nursery. 

Yet just across the Channel, the mothering culture is so very different.  A friend told me that she was criticized for unnatural "attachment" when she didn't go back to work after four months. 

It seems no matter where we live, us mums figure out how to judge one another, no?

This is how Gideon goes to bed.  We'll finish Peter Pan this week likely. 
He can "pay attention" or listen for a whole chapter at a time.

This is how he travels - in style, with a panorama of interesting things to look at.

With our precious 90-year-od adopted, blind grandmother at church.  He's fascinated by her gadgets
and the fact that he doesn't seem to be her center of attention because she doesn't look at him directly.

His favorite spot in our little flat - pawing through board books.  He especially likes the book he is
holding about lambs, and touches each furry, knobbly, or shiny page (good choice, Meg!).

Asha helping G to make a Christmas card.

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