Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat.
- Rudyard Kipling
Like food, music, culture, politics and a host of other things in life, parenting styles too differ between the East and the West. As Indians residing in foreign lands, it is better if we educate ourselves on a lot of things including the local laws related to child protection. Sometimes, a little awareness goes a long way in avoiding unpleasant situations like these where the kids involved in both the cases were taken back to India as a result of custody-issues.
While the world is coming closer as a result of globalization and barriers are breaking, there still exist differences between the traditional ways of parenting in the eastern and western worlds. Please understand that the purpose is not to criticize one above the other - rather the idea is to present both the perspectives and let you be the judge of how you want to deal with these issues while raising your kids. Another thing is – traditions change too. What was the norm a few decades ago in the US or India does not hold true today in many areas. This might be as a result of the latest research, a consequence of changing demographics and laws or just a sign of the changing times. I’m covering just the basics here, not the bigger aspects like education, disciplining, morals or spirituality etc.
So here we go:
- Pregnancy: Though there’s no baby born yet at this stage, I included this because the journey with your baby begins well in womb. The traditional Indian way till recently used to have very less involvement from the would-be dad during the 9 months of pregnancy. In many instances, the would-be mom used to go to her parents’ place for some much-needed rest and pampering.
Traditionally, American women go through all the 9 months of pregnancy – throw-ups, swollen feet, heartburn, shopping for the baby, lamaze classes and all – with just the husbands by their sides. Surely, there are advices and help from parents, in-laws, neighbours; but having someone else other than the spouse stay to help you during pregnancy is not the norm.
- Birth: In US most hospitals offer the option of having your husband or any close relative by your side when you welcome your child to this world. Roughly one-third of births in the US are Caesarian while in India, C-sections account for 9% of all births. The reasons for Caesarians differ though between the two. In USA, C-sections are performed mostly for medical reasons such as placenta issues, breech position, fetal distress, multiple births etc.
According to a WHO study, in many Asian countries including India, the reasons for C-sections apart from medical ones are: Fear of pain during labor, less time consumed during C-section compared to the natural process (for both patients and doctors), financial gains for the doctor and/or the hospital, wanting birth to occur on auspicious days and times, wrongly perceived notion of C-section being less risky.
- Eating: The traditional Indian way is……. to feed your child in any way possible! The adage ‘ The ends justify the means’ was probably coined to describe the obsession of Indian parents and grandparents to feed the kids as much as possible employing any means of distraction.TV, laptop, Ipad, books, stories, acting, music, outdoors, bribing, threats – everything is tried, tested and justified in order to put that last morsel into the baby’s mouth.
What’s the American way? Well, the kids here learn to feed themselves at an average age of 18 months. They start feeding themselves with finger-foods and graduate to using spoons and forks in a few months or years. I have never seen an American mom running behind her son imploring him to finish off his food. Our pediatrician told us specifically that we as parents should take care of only the quality of food; the quantity of intake should be left to the kids.
- Toilet Training: The Indian way is based on, what I call, cues and clues. A soft whistling or a grunting (cues) by the caregiver makes the baby associate those sounds with pee/poop. The caregiver, in turn, looks for clues that the baby is ready to relieve and to be carried to the toilet. All this comes under Elimination Communication.
Interestingly, the American way used to be similar to the above earlier until the advent of mass-scale diapers in the 1960s. That changed things for sure and the average age of potty-trained US kids jumped from less than 1.5 years to well over 3 years in recent years. Here’s an interesting article on how there are different approaches at play even here within the USA. Don’t forget to check out the funny ‘naked and $75‘ technique in there
Then there’s the issue of usage of toilet-paper versus water. There used to be an ad showing a person eating and then cleaning his plate using paper instead of washing it with soap and water. I don’t remember the context but the question was probably of hygiene. Toilet-rolls, wet wipes, bidets, hand-held sprayers, or just good old water and mug – there are more options out there than you’d think!
- Sleeping: When I used to read Calvin and Hobbes, I always used to wonder why there were so many ‘monster under my bed’, ‘monster in the closet’ chapters. But today as a mom of 2 and 5 year olds, I fully understand where all that fear comes from! The standard norm in the Western world is to have separate beds and/or bedrooms for each of the kids, depending on affordability and comfortability. Audio or video monitors are used to keep tabs on the child. There are various variations of this in No Tears or Cry It Out methods.
The traditional Indian way has been what is termed as Co-sleeping. A few neighbours and friends asked me this – “If you share your bed with your kids, how do you manage to get …err…intimate with your spouse?” Oh, come on…, looking at India’s population, do you really think existing kids have been a problem? If a couple is into each other, they will always find time and space to be intimate; On the other hand, if emotional barriers exist, then even being next to each other you can be far apart forever.
What works for your kid at 3 months of age might be different from what works for her at 3 years of age. The key is to be flexible and keep your options open. Also, you might find that a combination of both styles works the best for you. A perfect example would be the attachable crib called bednest, using which you can care for your baby lying right next to you, while the baby has a separate space to sleep nonetheless.
Normally, parents everywhere love and care for their kids with the best intentions in mind. There’s no reason to deduce that just because your neighbour makes her kids sleep in a separate room, she loves them less. Just as you do not become less hygienic if you feed your baby with your own hands as long as you wash them properly beforehand. However, proper communication is a must in order to avoid misinterpretations. For example, we never shy away from explaining why our daughter’s head has been shaved off this summer. What is unknown is feared. As soon as you explain the unknown, it becomes known to them and you would find on your end that most people are open-minded about knowing new stuff. Different? YES. Something to fear or despise? NO. And – it goes both ways. Because…Human emotions are the same everywhere, be it East or West!
But there is neither East nor West,
Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
though they come from the ends of the earth!
- Rudyard Kipling