Mei-Ling Hopgood’s How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between) is a fascinating drive-by glimpse of parenting in other cultures.
At present, I don’t exactly typify American parenting or own the accessories that go along with it: my babies sleep with me through toddlerhood, I have never fed my babies formula or infant cereal, I purposefully start my babies out sleeping on the their tummies, breastfeed through toddlerhood, and don’t get upset when my one-year-old is still nursing (and not “sleeping through”) at night. My now two-year-old has never used or owned a crib, a swing or bouncer, a bottle or pacifier (other than a few pacis he’s hijacked from others), or an infant carseat (no worries-we used a convertible safe from 6 pounds and up). The list could go on, but I’ll probably scare (American) people if I do. 😉
While many of my practices of parenting have evolved from combining a growing knowledge of infant development (including a Biblical framework of such) with trying to read and understand each of my individual children, I’ve also realized that by looking outside of my normative, culturally specific parenting “mandates,” I’m able to see that the black and white we often impose on our own parenting culture isn’t necessarily a true requirement for raising a healthy baby, as much as we want people to believe or attempt to scare them into practicing.
sometimes often, it’s the opposite! 🙂 And thus, as a lover of anthropology, sociology, and biology specifically applied to parenting, I found this book absolutely fascinating. While it does differ in both approach and dogmatism from a book such as Bringing Up Bebe, it certainly doesn’t qualify as an academic-level cultural parenting survey; nor is it as scientific as a book like Our Babies, Ourselves. It is filled with a lot of research and resources, and is a great way to whet one’s appetite for more in-depth studies of parenting and child development within specific cultures.
Looking at parenting through the lens of another culture is a good way to highlight what aspects of our own parenting practices are cultural; but it is also to see what practices are, to some degree, instinctively human, and common across many cultures (although some may be lacking within cultures here and there, including our own, at times).
Hopgood is herself a parent, with a rather large amount of multi-culturalism mixed in among both her immediate and extended family. That is the springboard for this conversation, but it extends far beyond the realm of her personal experience. The author uses comprehensive research along with the anecdotal experiences of a number of acquaintances and family members to dissect some of the key parenting practices of a rather diverse cultural smorgasbord: from Argentina, to the overly-referenced French parenting, to Kenya, Lebanon, Tibet, and many other countries.
Of course, the lens through which we view all other cultures (and how we read this book) depends greatly upon the place in which we ourselves our standing. As C.S. Lewis poignantly inserted this bit of wisdom into The Magician’s Nephew, ““What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” This is true for the reader and author alike.
If you’ve never considered how parenting differs around the world and learned to appreciate such differences, this is a great introduction; yet, if you are already fascinated by cultural diversity and cross-pollinating that to parenting, you’ll also find this book a helpful resource and fascinating read.
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