Cultural differences

Parenting and Me time

12:59 PM

There is no denying that each culture has their own parenting style, and that there is no good or bad way to raise your children, and yes I saw a lot of things that are done much differently in India than in Switzerland, this came back to my mind recently when I stumbled about this article titled “Why French parents are superior”, the author is an American who lived in France and studied differences in parenting between the French and the Americans, and noticed that the French do approach child raising with far less anxiety, which apparently leads to better behaved toddlers in public.
Now I am not going to go as far as claiming that the French are indeed superior to other parents, or that I know exactly what American parenting style is like. But I grew up in a far different parenting style than what I see around here, and yes the way I was raised is pretty much the way the author of that article describe as the French way.

The one paragraph that stroke me the most in this whole article is this one:

Yet the French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren't at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this. "For me, the evenings are for the parents," one Parisian mother told me. "My daughter can be with us if she wants, but it's adult time." French parents want their kids to be stimulated, but not all the time. While some American toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training, French kids are—by design—toddling around by themselves.

That pretty much sum up how I see things should be, and pretty much like the difference she noticed, I notice the same here, Indian parents nowadays want their kids to be stimulated all the time, and in many families I have seen that a baby or toddler is rarely left to play on his own, they are the family pet, they are constantly played with, carried around, stuffed with food, some parents obsessively try to get their 2 years old to recite all the rainbow colours and the alphabet, toys that make it to the Indian markets are all coming with brags about how educative they are, and what progress the child is expected to do with them. Playschools boasts an impressive list of achievements and academics, claim their imported soft play area is specifically designed to scientifically enhance a child’s development (and yes I read that one on a school leaflet). And if it wasn’t enough you have the bragging moms at the playground rubbing into the nose of all the others that their kids can count up to whatever, and knows all the States and possibly their capital city. The older the kiddo get the more achievements are expected. the tuition classes, dance classes, sport classes all pile up in the extra-curricular activity time, and it’s not unusual to hear or see a 7 year old kid up past 10 pm to study some more and be up at 5 the next morning to catch the school bus at 6-7am and cross the entire city to be at the top school. The mother of the child is of course expected to be at the child’s service, making sure enough food goes into the tummy round the clock and that a piping hot freshly cooked lunch will be sent along with the kid in a tiffin box.

A far cry from what I grew up with:

- Bedtime until the age of 10 was 8pm, no if, no buts no negotiations, I was allowed to watch the family movie on Friday night and that was it. After the age of 10 I was allowed to stay up until 9pm, but once dinner’s been off the table (at 7pm) I was to stay in my room and do a quiet activity of my choice: Finishing homework, reading, painting. Absolutely no TV, no music, no video games, no computer time (though that one was simple I had no computer until I was 14, and then it was such a crappy one that it wasn’t worth it)

- After school my time was left free for me to manage as I grew older. Elementary school was finishing at 4pm (6 hours of school a day in Switzerland, with a 2 hour lunch break in between so that kids could go home and eat home cooked food). The catch of that freedom was that by the time dinner was on the table at 6.30pm  I was to be done with my homeworks so my parents could check them, fortunately the school system made sure that homework time never exceeded more than one hour a day, and the homework were given for the whole week so that the child can if they want do more on a certain day and less on another, what mattered to the teacher was that the whole homework load was completed by Friday.
My parents while still checking the homework in the evening, didn’t really push us to do it diligently…why? Because they wanted us to learn the simple cause and effect principle, the school was strict about that, no homework done on Friday = detention which meant stay after school to finish doing them in a classroom…not fun. So much so I learned early that first detention wasn’t fun, then that if one day I finished my homework in 30 minutes I could do a little more from one of the other days and finish my load a day or two in advance and get more freedom later.

- After meal times is parent’s quiet time, so after lunch and after dinner, I was to just stay out of their hair, discussion time was meal time, and yes we were encouraged to discuss ANY topic and my parents would answer truthfully making sure that depending the topic the words and content would be still age appropriate, but they weren’t going to say something like “Once you get married you’ll know how” when we asked “How do you make babies” or refuse to answer a question about “What is murder exactly” my dad was a jail officer, so he had lots of stories about crime, criminals and what is in the law and what is not. No taboo in my family, and believe it or not I built a lot of my GK around the dinning table rather than in school, my parents loved to read and learn, and figured out the best way to pass their interest to us was to first leave a lot of books around the house, and then talk about them.

- Saturday morning and afternoon was chores day, fun individual activities and shopping, Sunday was FAMILY day, capitalised, it was a de facto no TV day past the morning cartoons (over at 10am) provided it was a rainy day, if it was a Sunny day we were out of the house early, in Winter to go skiing, in Summer to go Sailing, in the Spring to go cycling, in the Fall to go hiking. The rainy Sundays were cultural days, going to a national heritage site, or a museum, and when back home from that it was board game time, and boy we had an impressive collection, enough to fit a whole wardrobe I kid you not. All these activities might have had an educative side, but my parents never pushed it on us that way, beside if we wanted to play hungry hippos on board game time, then be it, my parents would not push trivial pursuit because it was more intellectually challenging, the focus was on having fun as a family during a specific time dedicated to that.

But back to cultural differences shall we? It is clear from the article and from snippets of my childhood life that the French way put as much value on the time of the parents than the one of the children, there is some balance they achieved that apparently the American do not (no proof here I’ll take the words of the author) and yes a sense of individuality that I see missing from the desi model. The desi mom breathe and live for the people around her, they all come first: kids, in-laws, husband, their needs are all more important than hers. And the urban progressive woman is struggling with this notion more than ever, tied between what she wants and what the society still want her to do.
As a woman in an intercultural relationship myself I feel the pull too, the deep inside me would want a more “French style” parenting, the realistic me see that it’s not possible because it takes two parents to grasp the notion, DH never grew in that pattern, and it takes a society that support it to do it. So Ishita grows up in yet another blended system, one that will define her the way my upbringing defined my childhood.
What is clear to me, is that while I haven’t enforced bedtimes as strictly  as my parents, I can’t see myself hovering above her the whole time, and sure need and deserve and indulge in my me time. So when her school has started announcing the admission being open for nursery 2 weeks ago I was the only parent to openly plan to put her in the afternoon batch : 12pm to 2.30pm. My reasoning being that the mornings are all spent preparing tiffins, having to supervise the maid, taking shower and whatnot that i don’t want to have to ship DD to school to still have the maid to watch over. Nope mind you school time is ME time. A few of the other ladies in the school are toying about the afternoon batch but are concerned that their kid will not have lunch at the right time at home, or might not nap at the same old schedule so are willing to bypass their own craving for peace and quiet so that their kid doesn’t get to deal with too much of a change in their schedule.

As I said two different approach to child raising, but where I will not venture is to go as far as saying that  one model is superior to the next the way the author of that article said. because it all boils down to what works for one person.
And contrary to what certain Indian stereotypes about western women, the fact I don’t raise my children the desi way doesn’t make me less family oriented, or them superior. 

3 comments

  1. Hi Cyn, I loved your post, I too was bought up exactly same was as you in Australia. When I was raising my two older teenagers, I fell into the pressure of having to shuffle my kids from one sporting activity to another, day in, day out! Until one day I said enough!!!!

    With my little one Amrik, I have decided that he can choose one outside school activity that he might like to do and stick with just one. And if that activity requires ridiculous amounts of money or time, then he will have to pick another one.

    I just want to get back to the basics, enjoying the beach, morning tea with friends and their kids and spending time at the park.

    Australia has fantastic outdoor weather and their is a lot of free things to do, so when we go back to Oz, I'm going to take advantage of all those things.

    I really enjoyed reading your post and was interested to see how other people have been raised in other countries around the world.

    Nicky Singh.

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  2. Hi Nicky, good to see you here and thanks for taking the time to comment.

    I actually miss the outdoor activity thing here, the climate is far too harsh most of the year in Mumbai to just be out all day long, it was better in Bangalore, but people just seem not to want to be outdoor much in this country.

    Growing up my sister and I had a 2 extra curricular activity limit, one of them had to be a sport activity, the other could be what we wanted, in all cases the activities were to be within my parent's budget, then it had to be within a reasonable distance, as my mom didn't drive. as we grew older we were going to our activities alone, I think I was 8 or 9 when I used to walk to my gymnastics class after school. the 3rd condition was that if we picked something and we didn't like it after a month we were stuck doing it until the duration of class was over, generally that meant a school year, only then were we allowed to pick something else.

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  3. There are a lot of economics related and not cultural thing in this sort of parenting/lifestyle.
    India has a lower GDP than most countries and around 70% of the population is poor by international standards. To stay above the said 70%.. to make a decent living most children has to struggle through the rigorous education and extra curriculars. I myself don't remember having a single weekend free from studying in my entire childhood. We were pushed hard by our parents and they in turn were pushed hard by their parents. It was just a necessity.. or else one was doomed to live in slums quite literally. Unlike developed countries people here do not receive unemployment benefits/food coupons etc. They only have themselves to fend for. Hence the fierce competition.

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