Cultural variations in parenting beliefs exist whether we observe different ethnic groups in one society or societies in different parts of the world. For example, infants among the nomadic hunter-gatherer Aka tribe are held and cared for in close proximity to mothers while infants from Ngandu farming communities are more likely to be left by themselves, although these two tribes live in close proximity to each other in central Africa. The reason for this as per researchers Hewlett, Lamb etc is that the Aka tribe moves much more frequently in search of food.
In Kenya, Africa, many male parents are not encouraged to be involved in their children’s lives till they are about 12 years old. Italian parents value social and expressive abilities and having an even personality. Spanish parents want their children to be outgoing while Swedish parents value safety and contentment.
While most American parents arrange a separate crib for the baby most times in a separate room, for Asian parents this is something quite unheard of with most opting for co-sleeping.
Indeed, our parenting attitudes and belief are to a large extent reflection of our own cultural mores and the settings in which we have been brought up.
Not just parenting even birthing practices and what is considered de rigour differs in cultures. For example, while in most Asian cultures normal deliveries are preferred followed by long periods of confinement for women, increasingly in some Asian countries like Thailand, c-sections are becoming the popular choice.
As per one expatriate mom settled in Thailand, people here often prefer to get c-sections done on special ‘lucky days’ and go to fortune tellers and monks for finding out the opportune time for birth which was quite surprising to her. Also in Thailand, as in many other Asian cultures, the grandmothers play a key role in child rearing, often times acting as primary caregivers as more and more women opt for work.
Care of new born
Various child care studies undertaken in Asia and other ‘non-western regions have shown that the newborns are rarely left unattended during the day or the night, which contrasts greatly with the western world.
In majority of these regions babies and young children sleep with their parents often in the same bed or at least in the same room. As per a 1971 study by Barry and Paxson of the 186 nonindustrial societies, studied, close to 46% of children slept in the same bed and around 21% in the same room as parents.
Also in most Asian societies the adage ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ seems to be true. It is quite common for Chinese and Indian grandparents to act as primary caregivers along with the parents. Babysitters are used very infrequently and most of the child rearing is limited within family
In many African communities even the extended families are closely involved in taking care of children, lending a hand whenever needed. In many African communities, children do live for brief periods with the other families. There is an empathy that sometimes a parent is overloaded and can’t take care of the child, so friends or family take the children for some time. This is in great contrast to western societies where parents are increasingly expected to do it all on their own.
Breastfeeding is the norm in various Asian and African societies. For example, in Kenya it is welcome everywhere and actively encouraged. In countries like Peru, Nepal and Mali public breastfeeding is very actively practiced and is completely accepted in society unlike the S and UK where an open breast of a breastfeeding mother may be considered embarrassing or awkward.
Schooling and love of outdoors
In Norway most kids start school at the ‘Barnehage’ i.e. the Norwegian playschools which are highly subsidized by the government since it is felt that it is best for the economy for both parents to work. These schools typically run from 8 am to 5 pm.
In these playschools, the kids are encouraged to spend a lot of time outside, many times even having lunch outside even in quite cold weather. Norwegians consider outdoor time for kids (no matter what the weather) as really healthy. Even in Sweden many parents put their kids (bundled up well) in strollers outside to nap. It is believed that the cold fresh air is beneficial for the immune system.
In Sweden also government heavily subsidizes childcare. There are scores of preschool programs on offer at cheap rates including bilingual, public, parent co-ops, nature-focused, language-focused etc. apart from a very good maternity leave system the government also offer ‘Vabbing’ i.e. the government pays the worker’s salary in case they have to stay at home to take care of an ailing kid. There exists an extensive playground system and kids are encouraged to explore the outdoors.
This is in contrast to urban Asian societies like India and China where not only is quality schooling or childcare not extensively subsidized, parents also seek to limit outdoor time of kids especially in harsh winters or summers.
Individualism versus collectivism
In Sweden as well as many Scandinavian countries an interesting cultural principle is a part of the social conditioning. This is called the Law of Jante which means that no individual is more special than any other. Focussing on individual achievements or focus on outshining everyone else is lesser compared to highly individualistic societies like US and UK. In most Asian societies too rather than individualism, a form of collectivism is encouraged in kids where they are supposed to respect and follow the advice of elders.
Child safety and independence
While cultures like Japan encourage self reliance in kids at an early age with children as young as those in first grade walking to school and riding trains independently, there is a lot more parental supervision in the US and UK. However, the parents do not seem to consider this supervision as a loss of freedom, rather simply as a safety precaution. This is highlighted by a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2015, among 1,807 U.S. parents; about 25% say they give their children too much freedom.
But Children in America have a lot of freedom in various other aspects of life and they are permitted and in fact encouraged to make decisions from a very young age and their opinion is asked for. This is in contrast to many other societies across the world where children are not expected to express opinions or contradict an elder and are always supposed to follow their advice.
The British parents are known to be even less strict as compared to the American parents. One of the funny findings is that British parents do not mind when their children indulge in cursing or use of abusive words. The British parents leave their kids for a longer duration in their own space as compared to other countries.
There really does exist a diversity of ideas and beliefs across cultures when it comes to parenting. But actually there is often times no ‘right or wrong’ way of raising children. This diversity in fact should be liberating for parents and not stress-inducing since it just goes to show that there is no single fit for majority of parenting decisions.
Often times parents need to be guided by their instincts of what is best for their child. The beliefs and parenting styles followed across the world just goes to show that there is no single way to do things but what is important is to give space to children and let them grow into their own person and be who they are.