Tag Archives: parenting

Mini United Nations of Parenting

Only a couple more days to the Families in Global Transition conference in Washington DC and my excitement levels are already up in the attic and threatening to break through the roof!  If you don’t know about the FIGT organisation and its annual conferences, here is the link:  http://www.figt.org/2011_conference

My talk will be about how to combine and harmonize different parenting styles when you are a bicultural family living in a third or even fourth culture.  For instance, what happens when the grandparents come to help out with the childcare but have quite different values from the parents, the children and the society they are currently living in?  In an ideal world, we would be able to choose the best bits of each culture and its approach to discipline, education, self-esteem and communication strategies.  But in real life, things can get messy, overwhelming, even openly hostile.

Are there any parenting universals?  Is it possible to simultaneously hold different values, even contradictory ones? Does this lead to cynicism or is the the opportunity to create something completely new, a global tradition?

I have borrowed liberally from my own family’s examples and from friends who are in similar situations.  I’ve created a pleasing taxonomy of parenting issues (which I expect will be demolished by the audience, because all taxonomies are reductionist and a little too neat for their own good).  I have lots of stories to share and hope to hear many more and learn from them.  And, in the process, I have realised that the issue is far too complex and there is too much material there for just one talk or one article. 

Uh-oh, I know that ‘ruminating cow’ feeling (as I used to call it in my teens whenever I was about to come up with an idea): I can feel a book coming on!

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It takes a global village to raise a child

Traditional mountain village, Romania

Romanian village, from aboutromania.com

The title of today’s blog is a good example of globalism. The origin of the saying ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’ is disputed – generally attributed to ‘Africa’ (as if a whole continent would have the same proverb), it has also been claimed as a Native American Indian proverb, and it was recently popularised by Hillary Clinton, as well as being the title of a book by Jane Cowen-Fletcher.  Regardless of its origin (which can probably be ascribed to more than one source), we can all understand its sentiments and wish we could recreate that village for our own children.

Certainly, when I was a child and spending the whole summer in my grandmother’s village in the Sub-Carpathians of Romania, my cousins and I roamed freely throughout the village.  Everyone knew us, ‘the daughter of the son of the wife of So-and-So’, and my Gran would get regular status updates of our whereabouts and activities, as good as anything that Yahoo or Facebook can offer nowadays.  All of this was detrimental to our fruit-stealing ventures in the church orchard, but it allowed us to fish and swim, climb and hike, taste honey fresh from the hives and dried prunes fresh from the ovens, while hearing fascinating gossip and stories of war-time bravery.

Those idyllic villages have gone.  Yet even as we move between the big cities of the world, we would like to build new, safe villages for our own children.  Except these villages will be ‘communities of the mind’ rather than have real physical presence.  What do I mean?  Well, imagine the following scenario.  Country A national (who is, however, a third culture kid and grew up in 3 different countries) meets Country B Dad in Britain – they marry, have children, live for a while in Countries C and D.  Then come back to Britain, perhaps with the grandparents coming over to help out with childcare for extended periods of time…  What parenting advice, style, values are that family going to adopt?  Can they create a ‘best practices village’ scenario, choosing the most promising approaches from each culture and what really resonates with them personally? 

So what is it to be?  A village replete with a rich variety of rituals, colourful people, diverse stories, curiosity and transparency?  Or will those poor children be confused and overwhelmed by the conflicting attitudes and pressures?  When is choice too much choice?  And when do we start building walls around our village in an effort to protect it?

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