There are few things that are as universal as parenting. But for a person raising a child in a different Country from the one they were born and raised in, this can be an interesting experience. I had the opportunity to give birth and raise my kids during their early years in the US and boy, was parenting a hodgepodge of things!
Birthing classes: Even before the birth of the child, the parents get together and attend birthing classes. They learn ways to cope with the labor process like Lamaze breathing etc. The husbands are coached on how to help the wife in the delivery room, how to diaper and swaddle a newborn, among other things. While in the US, many men just accept it is a given that they will be in the delivery room whether they attend classes or not, in India most hospitals do not even allow the husband to be in the delivery room.
Sleep separately: In the US, the norm is to do up the nursery and have the baby sleep separately in its own room from birth. A lot of effort goes into choosing the interior décor for the nursery depending on whether it is a boy or a girl. Kids are expected to stay in their rooms from birth. In India, as we all know, co-sleeping used to be the norm and still is in most places. However, now with more global exposure to western ways of life, Indian parents who are more affluent and have space in their homes are also going the ‘nursery’ way.
Food instructions: In the US, it is a strict no-no, for a child to be given honey during the first year of its life because of the risk of botulism – a severe kind of food poisoning that can be caused by the bacteria in honey. However, in some Indian cultures, it is customary for kids to be given honey from the day they are born. In India, if a child has constipation, grandma would immediately advise that a lot of bananas be given. In the US, the minute the child has diarrhea, they ask you to follow the BRAT diet – Banana, rice, apple, and toast.
Have the child eat on its own: It is such an Indian thing to “feed your kid”. It used to be a tradition to carry them on your hips and walk around, show them the sun and the moon, distract them, and feed them. In the US, kids are plonked on the high chair and left to feed themselves. Yes, it is messy at first, but soon children get the hang of it and become efficient at eating.
Schedules: In the US, it is believed that scheduling kids are critical for smooth parenting. Children have to be fed at the same time every day, put down for a nap at the same time, and bedtimes are to be strictly maintained. It is believed that enforcing these schedules set predictable patterns in children. But In India, there is hardly any predictability in schedules.
BedTimes: Bedtimes are early in America. Children could be put to bed as early as 6 pm and there are a lot of books that tell you how to get your kids early to bed. Parents believe that children have to be in bed early so that they can get in enough hours of sleep. Indian kids stay up late! In most homes Indian kids sleep when they sleep; there is no real set ritual or procedure to put them to bed.
More planning, less flying: ‘By the seat of your pants’ that is. The whole parenting project from the time you see your positive on the HPT is planned. That is a lot of order, structure, and advice on how things should be done. Summer camps get filled up by December of the previous year. Vacations are planned months in advance or even a year in advance. Activities for children are planned well ahead and even daycare schedules are given for a whole year. In India, we largely fly by the seat of our pants. Things will get done when they get done
Emphasis on sport: A lot of emphases are given to sport right from when children are small. From the time children can start toddling around, organized activities are a big part of their lives. From swimming to baseball and football, sport is considered an important part of the kid’s life and parents spend a lot of time driving their kids to various sporting and extracurricular activities. Sport is yet to take that kind of a central role in India.
Emphasis on independence: There is a lot of emphasis on kids being independent in the US. Early on, children are coached to eat, sleep, and wear their clothes independently. Once they grow up a little, they are expected to do chores around the house according to their age and ability. Children are expected to progressively get more and more independent until they move out of the house at about 18 years of age. In the summer vacations, older kids are expected to make some pocket money doing odd jobs around the neighborhood or get small jobs at the malls to make money for their personal spending. If kids stay beyond adulthood in the parents’ house they are also expected to pitch in with home expenses or even a portion of the rent. As we all know, Indian parents would not dream of charging kids for staying with them; however, the payback is in other forms. There is no such thing as a free lunch.