As parents, wanting our children to grow up happy, healthy and successful are universal desires. But how we try to achieve these goals vary enormously.
In honour of the UN’s International Day of Families, we explore how the parenting experience differs around the world.
There’s a lot of hype about French parenting, as evidenced by numerous books such as “French Children Don’t Throw Food”, “French Kids Eat Everything” and “French Kids And Their Parents Are Superior In Every Way” (OK, I made up the last one).
So what’s all the fuss about and what makes the French appear to be better parents?
- French kids must eat the same meals as their parents, so you’re unlikely to see a “Children’s Menu” in French restaurants or at home. Kids are also likely to eat their veggies, which are usually served at the beginning of the meal when they are at their hungriest.
- French kids follow their parents’ schedules, not vice versa. That means none of that running yourself ragged all weekend ferrying your children around to soccer practices, piano lessons and birthday parties.
- French parents don’t tend to beat themselves up about their parenting choices, nor do they read parenting books like “Les Parents Anglo Sont Super Duper Supérieurs”
- French children are taught the importance of saying “bonjour” when they enter another person’s space. This is unlike in Anglo cultures where it’s perfectly acceptable to launch straight into a coffee order with the barista, ignore a jogger passing you by, or wordlessly plonk yourself down in front of the telly that other family members are already watching.
I might teach my kids that last one. Better yet if they announced “bonjour” before entering the room so I have time to hide the lollies and Dating Naked TV marathon.
If you thought there was enough hype about the French, there is even more about Scandinavian parenting, especially these days. Here is a brief breakdown of Scandi-style parenting.
- Scandinavian parents prioritise giving their children fresh air every day. They will even let them take naps in prams outside regardless of how cold it is. This practice apparently encourages deeper sleep and lower exposure to germs. As kids get older, unstructured messy outdoor play is encouraged. In Finnish schools, children are given frequent breaks (as little as every 45 minutes) to let children play outside.
- Swedes are not concerned about exposing kids to nudity (hello Dating Naked marathon!).
- Fathers are expected to pull their weight when it comes to parenting. This is strongly encouraged by policies such the gender equality bonus, where more parental paid leave is received if the time is split evenly between mum and dad.
Kenyans believe that it takes a village to raise a child. Your children are regarded as everyone’s children and therefore everyone’s responsibility.
With Kenya having a very child-friendly culture, the following aspects of their parenting experience makes sense.
- Pregnant women are treated like queens. Complete strangers will willingly and without hesitation offer you seats, carry your things and usher you to the front of the queue.
- Breastfeeding is very well accepted and encouraged. When your baby starts fussing in public, it’s perfectly normal for strangers to tell you to give the baby nyoyno (Swahili for breastfeeding).
- You address a female adult according to the name of her first-born child. For example, my mum would be called Mama Crew Captain. Now, as much as I treasure my individual identity, I must admit that this custom can come in handy if you’re like me and your phone address book is full of entries like “Sophiesmum”, “Lachiemum” and “Nice mum at playground”).
Japanese parenting can seem paradoxical to outsiders. On one hand, self-reliance is important and it’s common to see very young children walking to school or catching subways on their own. On the other hand, behind closed doors, mums are very attached to their young ones (often literally) and it’s normal for the whole family to sleep together until the child hits puberty.
Here are some other interesting insights into Japanese parenting.
- Oversharing is discouraged. If you think you can bond with Japanese mums on the playground by bragging about your children or complaining about what a lazy no-hoper your husband is, forget it. It’s not socially acceptable and will make other people feel super awkward.
- Japanese children are taught very early on to always think of other people and keep the peace. As a result, Japanese kids appear calm and quiet in public.
- Lunch is a big deal, with extremely high standards for children’s bento box meals. Fall short and not only might your child be taunted by his or per peers, you might also get a talking-to from the teacher.
In Thailand, children’s needs are quite central to the family, and this reflects quite heavily on their parenting culture.
- Yummy mummy-to-be is not a thing. While Thai women enjoy fashion as much as any other woman around the world, this does not extend to maternity wear. Pregnancy is not a time to be especially sexy, so simple smocks are the norm during this time.
- Date night is also not a thing. Thai parents typically go out as a family instead, and the idea of a dedicated outing with mum and dad is almost unheard of and not terribly appealing anyway.
- Thailand’s child-loving culture means that kids are well-integrated into social life and it’s normal to see huge noisy dining venues with children running around.
- Co-sleeping is common. Mothers prioritise sleeping next to their children over their husbands.
- Birthday parties, even for children, are low key affairs. In fact, some consider it disrespectful to ostentatiously celebrate the day their mothers went through so much physical pain. As such, many will focus on doing good deeds on their birthdays such as donating money to the temple.
- It is frowned upon to discipline your child in public. However, it helps that mum is not usually alone with her children when going out, instead being accompanied by her husband or her own mother.
Please note: The above observations reflect the broader culture of parenting in those countries and cannot be applied to every individual.