Pin It
Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Don’t Spank My Baby! Cross-Cultural Differences in Love and Affection

By
Don't Spank My Baby via Shutterstock

My mother-in-law tried to eat my baby once.

 

Actually, she still tries.

 

Whenever we visit my husband’s home on the Black Sea, his mom smooches and smothers our cocuklar until they slither limp from her arms.

 

Sometimes, Sevim’s grandmotherly embraces end in tears.

 

My in-laws, you see, love hard. Like most Turks they are quick to pinch a child’s cheek or swat their bottom, all in the name of love.

 

Americans, in my experience, are less effusive in their displays of physical affection.

 

Or maybe it’s just me? Perhaps I was born without the touchy-feely chip in my DNA?

 

I suspect my aversion to over-the-top PDAs is partly genetics. But I think it’s because of the culture I grew up in, too. After all, anglo New Yorkers like me aren’t known for our warm and fuzzy demeanor.

 

Whatever the cause, overt displays of physical affection aren’t my style.

 

So, imagine my discomfort when I first experienced baby love, Turkish-style.

 

On Smooches and Swats

 

In June 2003, six months after our son Ayden was born, we visited Istanbul. Relatives and neighbors crammed the three-room apartment, eager to meet the newest addition to our extended family. No one was more delighted than Muzaffer, my octogenarian father-in-law, and his wife, Sevim.

 

The reason? Although they were already grandparents to three children, they had never been blessed with a boy. Ayden was their first grandson.

 

Exhausted from jetlag and nursing, I curled up on the living room couch and watched as Muzaffer, normally gruff and taciturn, cooed and cuddled my son. Ayden was equally enthralled, giggling and smiling as his dede rolled with him on the floor.

 

Then, without warning, Muzaffer grabbed Ayden around the waist and swatted him on the bottom. Startled, Ayden gave a little yelp and then tried to wriggle out of his granddad’s reach.

 

Luften”, please, I said in my halting Turkish. “Bu bebek,” he’s only a baby.

 

But Muzaffer didn’t seem to hear me. He pulled Ayden closer and gave him a few more swats on his tush.

 

“Can you tell your dad to stop?” I pleaded with my husband, “He’s a little too rough.”

 

But Hakki just shrugged. “Oh, my dad’s just so happy and proud,” he said, “and that’s how he shows it.”

 

What’s a Mom to Do?

 

It wasn’t the first time I’d witnessed rough love. Growing up with two brothers I’d seen them toss and tumble on the den floor, ticking and poking each other to distraction.

 

“Dad,” I’d fret, “Do something! They’re hurting each other!”

 

“Oh, no, they’re not,” my father would say, “They’re just giving love taps.”

 

Move like “love lumps”, I’d mutter to myself.

 

I was thinking about my brothers and about whether I should intervene when Sevim plopped down on the floor next to Muzaffer and Ayden. She scooped Ayden up and pinched his cheek. Then, smiling, she brought her thumb and forefinger to her lips. “Yerim seni ben,” I’ll eat you up, she crooned.

 

Ayden was clearly not enjoying himself anymore, and looked at me as if to say, “Rescue me, mommy.”

 

By now I was beside myself with questions and not a little embarrassed at my apparent inability to protect my son.

 

When we got back to the U.S., would Ayden think it was normal to touch people this way? Worse, would he be upset that I hadn’t come to his rescue?

 

Should I whisk him away to another room? My gut said that’s what I should do. But I didn’t want to make a scene and risk hurting my relatives’ feelings.

 

Should I just accept my in-laws’ behavior, and my discomfort with it, as part of being in a cross-cultural marriage? Maybe I should just humor everyone and hope Ayden would soon forget these love taps?

 

In the end, fate and a full diaper intervened. When Muzaffer got a whiff, he promptly handed Ayden back to me.

 

I was off the hook, for now. Still I knew I’d have to come to terms with Turkish baby love eventually.

 

Head Bumps and Fist Pumps

 

Now seven and nine, my sons are no longer at the mercy of their Turkish grandparents’ exuberant hugs and zealous pinches. In fact, when we spent three months in Turkey this summer, they regularly dished out their own brand of “love taps”.

 

The sneak attack reverse-wedgie was their favorite way of connecting with their granddad Muzaffer.

 

“Let’s get Dede!” They’d whisper conspiratorially as Muzaffer puttered around his garden.

 

One day he was pruning the branches of a mimosa tree. He was halfway up the ladder, a rusty saw in his hand, when my kids pounced. In a flash, they tugged down his striped pajamas until his bottom was half-exposed.

 

“Cut it out!” I chided, “That’s not nice,” as my kids careened out of reach, their laughter ricocheting around the garden.

 

But Muzaffer just smiled, hitched up his pajamas, and resumed his pruning.

 

“It’s okay, mom,” Ayden blurted between fits of giggles, “Dede knows it means we love him.”

 

Question for you: How is love and affection defined in your family? Do cultural differences show up in how you and your partner express love to each other or to your children?

© 2013, Justine Ickes. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


Breastfeeding Around the World

In photos and figures

Circumcision Wars

She fought her Turkish in-laws on it--did she succeed?

Is Raising Bilingual Children Worth the Costs?

Fancy schools, international vacations, foreign language books, DVDs and tutors add up fast

6 Favorite Children’s Books about Ramadan

Our top picks for Muslim and non-Muslim kids alike

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Freelance writer and instructional designer Justine Ickes specializes in travel, culture and education. Her work has appeared in over two dozen publications, including Babble.com, the Huffington Post, Language Magazine, Litchfield Magazine, New Jersey Monthly, Scholastic’s Parent & Child., and Up! Magazine. Read Justine’s blog at www.cultureeveryday.com and browse her instructional design portfolio at www.justineickes.com. Follow her on twitter: @justineickes

Leave us a comment!

3 Comments
  1. CommentsAdele   |  Friday, 15 February 2013 at 10:43 am

    I actually love this post! I am half Turkish so everything you wrote rings very true for me. But then, I see it as very normal, having grown up with it. It never occurred to me that some people would find it odd :P My dad always bites my kids bums (not real bites obviously) and tells them he is going to eat them but they love it lol, always gets fits of giggles out of them.

    – Adele @ Mammy Made

  2. CommentsJustine Ickes   |  Friday, 15 February 2013 at 11:47 am

    Hi Adele
    Thanks for commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. You’re right – for someone who grows up with this kind of love, it’s totally normal. I think here in the U.S. we’ve gotten very sensitized to the whole issue of what is and isn’t perceived as “inappropriate touching”. But I remember when I was younger having some aunt who were very big on pinching my cheek. And, by the way, there’s bum-biting in our family too. But I just figured that would be too hard to describe in a blog post. ;-)

  3. CommentsSara   |  Friday, 07 November 2014 at 10:55 pm

    Although the article has bitter and somewhat aggressive tone, I understand Turkish expressions like “I’ll eat you” may come across as literal and odd to someone who isn’t touch feely. It’s affection though, and Turkish culture is very expressive in many expects. If it continues to offend you you should let them know. :)









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!



A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

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!
Unfortunately, the school and community are no longer there. The farm is being sold and there are tentative plans for a new iteration to be set up in Costa Ric...
From How I Moved to Thailand with my Family on Less than $1000
HI! I love your website! Just read your review of books that teach about culture and food! I can't wait to try some of the recipes you've share...
From Armenian Recipe: Apricot Tart
Please, refrain from using "western /western society" for anglosaxon countries. Western can be Mexico and Spain as well, anything on the west side of the world is western ...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
We've tried to make use of, but It doesn't works by any mean...
From African Parenting: The Sane Way to Raise Children
I'm back. Sorry, I stopped caring for this magazine for a while and forgot to discuss the meat of the matter. This article, as well as the linked article from 2011, fails to discuss cultural norms ...
From What Confused Me Most about Brits
Fascinating. I have been to Germany and met this guy who was soo rude! This article explains everything!! Since all Germans are so terribly rude it should come as no surprise that I should have met ...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
@ Josep. How could you possibly comment on how Germans treat people if you have never even been there? A three-day stay in Berlin and a one day stop-over in Frankfurt was enough for me to see the ut...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
I am trying to find a Sikh triangular Nishan Sahib flag and haven't found one. Do you know where I can find on...
From Vaisakhi Craft: Make a Flag
I have tried to buy a Sikh triagular Nishan Sahib flag and had no luck. Do you know where I can find on...
From Vaisakhi Craft: Make a Flag

More Global Parenting