People worry about traveling with kids or going abroad with kids but I think that if you want to truly experience another culture, kids give you a quick and easy entry point. It’s amazing how quickly you can get integrated into local life when you have kids. Kids force you to start living (as opposed to visiting or observing) in a new place quickly – going to school, finding childcare, finding a home, a community, activities – all become crucial with kids and all these obviously really integrate you into local life quickly. After only 2 weeks here, I feel like we have a community at school, a community through our nanny and her family and have made a few inroads towards friendships with a few Colombians and with other expats. School has been a huge entry point because there are so many activities that revolve around it – the weekly new parents training (eight hours every Saturday for four weeks), the weekly study groups, the monthly parents’ meetings. This week is going to be full of school activities.
So yesterday was yet another culture clash during the Waldorf new parents’ training. We were learning about Anthroposophy (the philosophy that Waldorf education is based on) and one of the mothers asked if it was alright to smack your kids on the hands. One of the senior staff at the school answered that it was important to question herself and her motivations. Is this action coming from love or fear? And based on the answer, each person decides. He then added that he personally didn’t hit his kids (well once) but that every person has to decide for themselves what’s right. I was triggered and really concerned. I spoke up to say that I really disagreed, that violence breeds more violence and that hitting your kids just teaches them that it’s OK to hit or use force when you are bigger or in a position of power. I did give the staff person (and myself since I suddenly felt conscious of being the center of attention with my less than perfect Spanish and strong emotions on this topic) a way out by saying that maybe these are cultural differences. The staff person jumped in to say that yes, these are cultural differences, that there is a wide spectrum in Colombia between the parents who never use corporal punishment and the parents who use it all the time. He also assured me, after I asked, that the teachers don’t have the right to hit kids at school and that they never, ever do this.
The conversation moved on but I was still upset. He was speaking at a training about Waldorf methodologies to parents who were looking to him for guidance. Rudolf Steiner came up with the philosophy that is the basis for Waldorf schools as a reaction to what was happening in Europe about a hundred years ago – WWI, the violence he saw all around him and the industrial revolution. The philosophy was about creating a type of schooling that would raise kids who would create a more peaceful world. There is a lot more to it of course and much more than I am qualified to get into but the bottom line is that I am sure that Steiner would tell parents that hitting your children does not help promote a peaceful world. So for this staff person to be saying under the Waldorf umbrella that it’s every parent’s choice to look within themselves to their motivations, didn’t sit well with me. Obviously, I have strong feelings on this and some things are just right or wrong and in my world, hitting your kids is wrong (not that I haven’t been tempted on many occasions).
So I went to talk to this staff peron about this during break and he said that parents always ask him what they should do and want yes or no answers. And he is trying to get them to think for themselves. This is why he presented the whole discussion on love and fear because if this woman thinks about her motivations, she will see that she shouldn’t hit her child. He also went on to tell me that Colombia is a very violent culture with a lot of people not realizing what they are even doing but repeating it, generation after generation. To me that just underscored the importance of educating people. I wasn’t really sure that this woman was getting the message from his answer, sometimes a simple “It’s not Ok to hit” gets the message across. But maybe that’s my black or white gringo mentality.
On a different note, I have to confess that I have often been embarrassed by my kids’ behavior here. Their pickiness with food, interrupting adult conversations, their emotional reactions when they don’t get their way. My kids always seemed relatively well-behaved in the American context or at least nothing unusual. But here, they really come across as spoiled compared to many Colombian children who eat what they are given, say thank you, don’t interrupt the adults and are generally well-behaved. When I mentioned this to Ana Maria, she said “well many children get hit when they misbehave so they learn quickly.” So we are back to that.