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- Family and parenting look very different in the US and in indigenous cultures, according to an NPR article.
- For example, while many Americans believe that a stay-at-home parent should raise the kids, in indigenous cultures, the whole family and community pitches in.
- It’s worth taking a look at how parenting is done in other cultures, if only to realize that you have more options than what you see in the Western, industrialized world.
Over on NPR, Michaeleen Doucleff has published an article about the myths surrounding parenting in the US.
Doucleff explains why a lot of parenting “advice” is based on outdated observations or shoddy research, and argues for widening the lens to include parenting strategies from other parts of the world.
Here are just three of the Western childrearing techniques she calls out, and what people in indigenous cultures do instead:
Western parents segregate kids from adults, instead of teaching them to be adults
Doucleff read the book “The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings” and learned that, in the West, “kids have their own special foods, their own times to go to sleep, their own activities on the weekends. Kids go to school. Parents go to work. “
On the other hand, “in many indigenous cultures, children are immersed in the adult world early on, and they acquire great skills from the experience. They learn to socialize, to do household chores, cook food and master a family’s business.”
Italy and France aren’t examples of the indigenous cultures Lancy and Doucleff are referring to – but Italian and French parents do use this strategy to some extent. As Olivia Young reported for Business Insider, Italian kids drink wine at dinner from an early age and French kids eat the same type of meals that adults eat.
They try to control kids, instead of work with them
Western parents tend to “boss kids around,” Doucleff writes. The Maya and other indigenous cultures, on the other hand, try to collaborate with their children, and guide them.
One expert told Doucleff that some Mayan languages don’t even have a word for “control.”
They keep mom in a ‘box’ instead of getting her help
Many Westerners still subscribe to the belief that a stay-at-home mom (or dad) is better for kids’ development than a parent who works outside the home.
But this is a relatively new development in Western culture, Doucleff writes – and almost unheard of in indigenous cultures. Doucleff learned from Lancy’s book that, “for hundreds of thousands of years, kids have been brought up with a slew of people – grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, the neighbors.” Anthropologists call these people “alloparents” (“allo” means “other”).
Even in cultures that aren’t indigenous, parents often receive support from other members of the community.
In China, parents get help from grandparents, as Jamie Friedlander reported for Business Insider. In fact, grandparents often live with their children and grandchildren. Meanwhile, Young reported that, in The Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya, it’s not unusual for mothers to share breast milk with other people’s children.
Doucleff’s observations recall those of Bruce Feiler, in a New York Times article about how millennial parents are turning to the internet for parenting advice, as opposed to friends, family, or neighbors. This phenomenon could be partly a result of the fact that parents today are more isolated than they were in the past.
As one expert told Feiler, “Google is the new grandparent, the new neighbor, the new nanny.”