Amidst all this discussion whether or not American kids are brats or French parents are better I had started falling back into an old pattern of thought; that other cultures are ‘better’ than mine.
I took Emma to the library the other day. When I walked in there were two Korean moms with their toddler aged children playing at the train table. By the time I had sat my large pregnant body down and turned around Emma had jacked a train from the one of the Korean children. I moved over and corrected Emma, I started to take the toy and gave up when she protested. (Pathetic, I know. But I get tripped up on this one, because I just told her not to take a toy from a child and then I’m doing it to her, I know that it’s different, but I think she sees it that way. And I really, really didn't want her to throw a temper tantrum in the library.) I meekly smiled at the mom, all the while telling myself that she was judging me as a another weak American parent with a bratty child. The mom distracted her child away from the table, which was a good move, but only furthered to sink me into the mire of guessing at her thoughts.
A few moments later I looked up and the same mom was wrestling a train away from the grip of her toddler. Straight up two handed tug of war. I smiled as I looked at my own American ‘terrible two.’ I guess toddlers are toddlers. We all come into this world selfish and need to learn how to share, no matter what our race or nationality.
We’ve been potty training for the past three weeks. Yep, it’s taking that long. Yes, my daughter is ready, she shows all the signs of readiness; she can make a pincher with her fingers and go up on tippy toe. She was NOT interested in learning, for several months she actually ran away from the little potty screaming. So we waited until we got her to willingly sit on it and we were ready. If anything we may have waited too long. In this three weeks of struggle I have had several other mothers say that in European countries they train their children far before we do. I again marched down the thought path of ‘other cultures are better than mine.’
I think one thing we have to be careful about is plucking parts of other cultures out willy nilly. Culture is a whole being, things exist within a culture among a framework of understandings and behaviors. Yes, Europeans may potty train their children earlier than we do, but one thing to remember about Americans is that we prize our personal possessions very highly. We are also among the more germaphobic cultures, this probably has to do with ambiguity avoidance. Americans are among the WORST when it comes to dealing with ambiguity. So for us dealing with months on end of accidents is stressful and distasteful.
Doubt me on the ambiguity avoidance? Here’s how we train our children to believe that they will know everything that is going to happen to them. A few Saturdays ago I took Emma to the library and there was an entire one hour activity going on teaching children what to expect when you go to the dentist. An hour? On the dentist? I think a short conversation about what is going to happen is a good idea, it’s quite an odd thing really, to go sit in this big chair and let all these people poke around in your mouth. I do like to give Emma warnings on things and tell her what we’re doing or where we’re going, because she has no control over any of it,
‘Time to change your diaper,’ I say.
‘No I don’t want to change my diaper!’ She screams. And you know what? It happens anyway.
An hour class on visiting the dentist seems a bit much to me. All this does is teach your child that they will know exactly what will happen to them everywhere they go. That message is not only untrue but weakens their ability to roll with the punches.
I think we can learn from the French about parenting techniques and I think we should turn a mirror back on ourselves. Why are our kids incapable of sitting in a restaurant and theirs are? One thing that has rang in my mind from reading the article on French parenting, the author said that her French friends don’t have to jump off the phone because their children interrupt them or throw temper tantrums, almost every time in the past week that I have been on the phone with a friend Emma has blown it up and I’ve had to hang up. So now I get to sit back and think about what I am not doing well, and why she is doing that.
No culture gets everything right and no culture is superior to another. I think looking at each other and learning from each other is the best thing we can do.