Pin It
Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Parenting: A Horse of Many Colors

By
parenting/ Milos Dukic

As a nanny, I get to watch parenting. Being in people’s homes and caring for their children is necessarily intimate. Up close everyone’s eccentricities are magnified, so I get a good view. Each job and new family brings a different set of expectations and assumptions about what ideal parenting should be. I also came into the field with my own set of ideas based on how I was raised. Success in the job, however, meant being flexible about my personal parenting ideals and caregiving techniques. When I taught in a Montessori classroom, I let tiny infants feed themselves. I’ve also spoon fed a two year old when that was the family’s custom. Most parents are pretty clear on their version being the right one and as a nanny it’s my job to respect that they know what is best for their individual child. I am lucky to have never worked for anyone I thought was a bad parent. I have never felt like I couldn’t follow the lead set out for me. That has not stopped me however from making observations about parenting culture and all its variety.

The poor and the rich parent differently, as do the old and the young. How one parents is owed to class, race, education, geography, religious affiliation and political orientation, along with other cultural factors. The parents I work for as a nanny for the most part represent only a small corner of the parenting culture pie and even amongst themselves there has been quite the spectrum. American parenting culture is by no means a monolith. Like our history, our parenting reflects the melting pot that America has always been. And similarly to how many folks feeling disengaged from any personal (ethnic or religious) traditions seek to create their own, parenting is often a process of cherry picking among an overwhelming plethora of information. Each family creates its own tiny culture, blending the things that make them who they are with the conscious choices they make directed at being better versions of themselves.

At the same time none of us exist in a vacuum. So much of what we do as parents is cultural, but as Franz Fanon explained culture often only makes itself clear in contrast with someone else. Only when we take notice of the difference between ourselves and others, do we also take notice of our own practices and beliefs. While visiting Spain I was shocked to see babies being walked in prams on the street at one am. Here when a parent tells me their kid is up till ten I’m surprised. In Asia, confusion overtook me when I noticed that infants went without diapers on eighteen hour bus rides, seemingly only going with everyone else when we stopped along the road. Up until then I had never questioned that the method of potty training I knew, M&M’s as incentive and all, was the way to go. I had honestly never thought there was much difference in approach possible. Watching other people parent has made me aware of the context from which my parents made their choices and interested me in the options I have for the future.

I have come to believe that there is no “right” parenting even if many experts offer conflicting theories stating as much. Parents end up feeling insecure and judgmental of each other where that myth exists. In parenting, we strive to create kids who will become happy people, who can successfully navigate the world. Many different choices can all end up at the same destination. We endow children with our particular perspectives and then at a certain point they all meet up in school and argue it out amongst themselves. My lesbian parents carefully taught me that families come in many variations but the rest of my kindergarten class seemed especially sure that only one mom and one dad could count. They were speaking from the cultural context in which they were being raised, as I was. Theirs was just really clearly different. I have turned out a functional and compassionate individual and I would bet that most of the people I went to school with despite denying my family’s legitimacy in elementary school are nice enough citizens of the world. I think I could handle waiting in line at the grocery store with most of them.

Acknowledgment that there is a wide swath of diversity within acceptable approaches and that the difference often results as a consequence of varied cultures is an important insight I have gained in the field. Being aware of the cultural aspect of parenting has given me a different way to look at the parents I have interacted with. I look at everybody and their follies with a combination of amusement, academic interest and sympathy. Maybe that is what allows me a measure of compassionate detachment that is ever so helpful to the job.

© 2010 – 2013, Kellen Kaiser. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


An Islamic Perspective on Child-Rearing and Discipline

Does Islam's reputation for severity and harshness apply to how Muslims raise children?

Primary School Privilege

Time outs due to whistling versus school's out due to poverty

Ten Reasons Parents Should Read Multicultural Books to Kids

Why it's critical all parents read books that reflect diversity

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Kellen has watched other people parent for years. She has worked as a babysitter, infant teacher, nanny and in continuing education and quality improvement for childcare providers. She aspires to be a foster parent someday.

Leave us a comment!









Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!



Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.
Hi Kim! I am so glad that this article was useful for you and made you feel validated as a parent. It's not often in this judgmental world of parenting we get that, right?! That's the main reason...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
I love reading your work. I can olny imagine what it would be like to have such beautiful customs and true community. I understand why it is so very very important to keep these traditions alive. Be...
From No Kids Allowed: How Kenyan Weddings are Changing
Your mother in-law seems somewhat reasonable. Many Chinese Mother In-laws are not. In their scenario, they would be number 1 to the child and you would be number two. Many want to have a bond closer...
From How My Chinese Mother-in-Law Replaced my Husband
I think Konstantina is actually responding to what is probably more familiar/praised/or preferred socially as well. I was an English teacher in Poland with a distinct accent. I struggled to get Engl...
From Should I Worry about My Child’s Accent in Her Foreign Language?
Noor Kids' title "First Time Fasting" is another great rea...
From 6 Favorite Children’s Books about Ramadan
This article was shared in a community I run to connect globetrotting parents and everyone LOVED it. You should join us! We all relate to your experience. Many of us, including me, are in the same b...
From Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get
Please help: I Love my wife and my son. I am also EXTREMELY involved as a dad. I had to move to china ( in a tiny tiny town) where I am the only foreigner so that my wife can take over the family bu...
From How My Chinese Mother-in-Law Replaced my Husband
Thanks for writing this!! My baby is 7 months, and I love having her sleep in my room. I don't mention it too often to people who have had kids because they seem a little judgy on it. So tonight I...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
Honestly, it looks like the author married into a very backward and old fashioned family. Not stimulating children's curiosity, differences between boys and girls, and women slaving in the house, wh...
From French versus Italian Parenting in One Multicultural Family

More Other People's Parenting