Parenting in a Foreign Culture

You might remember that I invited Siena’s teacher for a home visit before school started. Well, here is the fall-out from that. I saw the school director and she said to me something like, “You need to be firmer with your children. I heard from the teacher that Siena told you that her rain boots were small and that you needed to get her another pair. She didn’t even say, please Mom, can you get me another pair of boots? I know that you are home a lot and they are used to having you there, but you might want to be less indulgent in your parenting.”

Wow, where do I begin? I guess by first saying that I do realize that our kids could use better manners and have less sense of entitlement. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to live abroad with them. They are pretty well behaved and not spoiled by US standards, but with Ukrainian parents and Argentine in-laws, I have been very aware over the years that raising polite, appreciative, well-mannered and obedient children, as defined by most cultures of the world, is not an American strength. (Sorry to all of you who take offense to this opinion of mine. But really, try taking your kids to a restaurant in Paris and see if they can behave in a way that won’t have the wait staff and other patrons give you incredibly dirty looks.) We are, however, really good at raising independent, creative, and self-confident kids, if it’s any consolation. I, personally, I think it is well worth the trade-off. But does it need to be a trade-off?

That’s one thing I have been thinking about: how to raise independent, creative and well-mannered children. The other pieces that I have been thinking about, especially given the cultural differences we are living are: 1) the difference in boundaries/keeping confidences here and 2) our American sense of material entitlement.

On the entitlement front, my kids have no trouble saying “please”, begging or whining when they want a new toy or sweets or they want to do something that they don’t usually get to do, like watch a movie or stay up past bedtime. They do however pretty much take it for granted that they will get the clothes and the shoes they need. This is just what happens in their life – their shoes get too small, they get new ones. They probably wouldn’t even think to ask for them and say please. And I also didn’t think much about Siena’s request that day. It seemed very normal to me. I was actually just happy that Siena gave me some advance warning that her rain boots were getting tight, rather than wait until they are too small and then just refuse to put them on one day.

As for the boundaries, I am continually blown away by what I consider to be a lack of discretion here. I can’t imagine our teacher in Boston: 1) telling me how to parent so directly; 2) telling the school director something that happened on our home visit without talking to me about it first; 3) even if she did tell our school director, I can’t imagine the school director bringing it up to me. Gossip and not keeping confidences is frowned upon in our culture. Not so much here. I have had the school director tell me personal things/judgments/gossip about the teachers and the teachers tell me personal things/judgments/gossip about other parents. I have also had friends tell me very personal things about other friends. And as for butting into each other’s business, don’t even get me started!

Vivre la difference! Meanwhile, I am trying to sort it out for myself and our family. Which cultural differences might we want to adopt? Gratitude and appreciation of the bounty in our life, for one. Good manners, for another. And which cultural differences do I not care for? Gossip and not minding your own business tops the list. The lack of punctuality and follow-through is another. I suppose that’s the beauty of living in different cultures. Taking the best and leaving the rest. Or is that a very American, consumerist sentiment?

This entry was posted in Life in Colombia, parenting in Colombia, School stuff and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Parenting in a Foreign Culture

  1. Lisa says:

    Great post. Love your writing! And love these questions.

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