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Mothering Around the World

posted on July 21 2017

What are some of the cultural differences when it comes to bringing up a baby?

We look at how the culture of motherhood changes from country to country.

Parenting around the world, cultural differences about bringing up a baby

Imagine a world where you are encouraged to eat sushi while you are pregnant (a). You go to Sleep Camp to train your baby to get through the night (b). Everyone believes there is no safer place for your child to ride in a car than in his mother's arms (c). Oh yea and when a red head walks by, hurry to pinch your friend, because if you're first you get a wish (d).

Here's the thing, it's all happening right now. (a) Japan, (b) Australia, (c) Abu Dhabi, (d) Mexico. Parallel lives living in vastly different ways to you and me. That is what makes mothering so amazing and so frightening all at the same time. One minute we think we've figured it out, the next minute you think you are raising a future criminal. Probably and simply because there is no one right way, there are many.

Mothering Around the World

“Tomato? She eats tomato?” I remember my mother-in-law exclaiming when she walked in to find me feeding my 9 month old. For her this was the strangest thing in the world and for me it was completely normal. A few months later, my little girl had started walking and she turned the corner all wobbly and cute, munching salty crisps out of a bag of Taytos. My mother in law must have seen the look on my face because she said, “I hope it's okay, I gave her a bag of crisps”.

See-- I am not from Northern Ireland, so sometimes what seems completely normal around here can seem a little unusual or even weird, and vice versa. I was seven months pregnant when I moved here so I was surprised when the midwives in the delivery room rolled a big gas tank in my direction, gas and air is not used in the States. I even feared it might burn a few brain cells, I didn't abstain mind you.

I was so grateful to get away from private healthcare. In the States I was constantly on edge over finances, hoping my health insurance would cover whatever procedure was in store for me. It's common to hear of $80,000 bills charged to parents whose baby was born prematurely, turns out many insurance plans don't cover incubator costs.

Meanwhile in Congo the cost of giving birth is equivalent to one months salary for most, making it prohibitive for so many women who turn to home births because they can't afford to go to hospital. Compare that to Norway where medical care is free, childcare costs no more than £200 a month and everyone gets a pension.

Parenting around the world, cultural differences about bringing up a baby

Did you know that, also in Congo, say you are on the bus and your baby starts to cry, women will holler “give it the breast” and expect you to whip it out on demand. While in Northern Ireland I was so eager to get out of the house that I started breastfeeding in coffee shops and on park benches. Most of the time, baby cries for my friends meant they would rush home to feed, abandoning me mid sentence. It left me wondering was I being too brazen?

Parenting around the world, cultural differences about bringing up a baby

I still regret not piercing my daughters ears when she was born, in Latin America it's just the way we tell girls from boys. Here I nearly fell off my chair when I heard someone call it mutilation and others warn of infection.

In China they worry incessantly about a baby being too cold, so they layer the child and if it sweats they apply a wet cloth on its neck. This is completely contrary to Scandinavia, where children are prescribed cold air for a couple of hours a day. At nurseries as long as the temperature is above 14 degrees, kids play outside. They even eat their lunch outside with gloves on! Outside of coffee shops in Copenhagen it's common to see buggies lined up with babies sleeping in them, because feeling cold rids the system of germs they say.

In France you'll never hear food being used as a bargaining tool, “get in the car and I'll give you a sweetie” were the exact words of a friend recently. In fact the French avoid giving their children snacks, so that they are more hungry at one of their four mealtimes which by the way aren't anything like Northern Irish food menus that are completely devoid of vegetables. Unless of course you count chips as a veg and most people do.

Parenting around the world, cultural differences about bringing up a baby

Not everyone kisses children on the lips I had to tell my husband's family. Where I come from, lips are lovers but there is a whole lot of kissing on the cheeks. In Argentina all children are taught to 'saludar bien' say a proper hello by giving adults a kiss on the cheek when they enter a room.

Most Chinese babies are potty trained by the time they turn 12 months, they start with newborns by dressing them in split pants and it's common for the baby to pee and poo on the ground. I can't imagine it either.

Speaking of hygiene in Mexico one American family got told by the school to improve the appearance of their child's hair and that they should try using hair gel.

Parenting around the world, cultural differences about bringing up a baby

I'll tell you what-- if it was up to me, I would have held off on crisps for a long time, but it's not just up to me. The values and customs of her father, his family and the community around her are equally important.

I truly believe that my daughter is a child of the world and that I am one of the lucky ones who gets to guide this little rocket until it's old enough to take off on it's own.

And one thing I can see clearly here from basecamp is that the world is wide and unknown. That is something I hope to be able to convey to her so that she grows up open minded and open armed but, no kissing on the lips (until you meet the one).

Additional Reading:

French Parents Don't Give In by Pamela Druckerman (book)

The Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood (book)

Mothering Around The World by Joana Goddard (blog)


Photos have been borrowed from the fabulous Atlas by Barefoot Books, a great way to show your children the geography of the planet we live on. You can buy it here:

 World Atlas by Barefoot Publishing Books

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