Friday, July 18, 2014

Parenting in a new culture

So now I'm a parent.... in Indonesia. And the biggest stressor in my life is still raising two littles, rather than cultural adjustment. It's interesting trying to figure out this parenting thing in a new culture. I was very relieved when Judah's little four year old friend Khansa from across the street threw a total fit and was dragged back to her house by her Dad. It was the first time I've seen a kid here throw a fit! I have felt like Indonesian kiddos rarely fuss, and our toddler is super fussy, so.... that's fun. 

Perhaps the biggest cultural stress for me is actually the way Javanese comment constantly on your kids and parenting. It's partly just the way they make small talk. They comment constantly on your state of being at the moment - what's in your hand, the child you're holding, the direction you seem to be heading, where you're coming from. In the US we talk about plans for the day, what you'll be doing or at how work is. My teachers have discouraged us from asking people what they will do that day, "They don't have plans. They are not like you Americans. They will do things that day but they don't have a plan like you. And you don't ask what they are going to do at work, because you already know. They are going to work. Nothing more." Such a different mentality than the West!

In any case, because they comment on my being at the moment and I am usually out with one or both kiddos, my neighbors comment constantly on my kids. In the US we take those comments very personally, as criticism. I'm less likely to be offended but very likely to be insecure, especially since I generally feel like I don't know what I'm doing anyways! I am, however, fully soaked in the Western medical perspective that we get sick when we are exposed to germs, and therefore that my kids are sick because they are exposed to new germs. Everyone here is absolutely convinced that both of my kids have been pathetically sick this week because:

1) I do not cover them up, they are too cold. "Masuk angin" or "the wind has entered" them. Elly regularly wears onesies (it's regularly 80-90 degrees and very humid), and even though I've taken to putting her in pants and then long sleeves to assuage their worries, they still worry about her lack of socks or a hat. I just cannot win!

2) We take walks at night. They're clearly getting cold and .... masuk angin. Poor kids, their parents should keep them inside!

3) It was really windy out for a couple of days, which clearly caused a lot of sickness, but then we took our kids out in it without being fully covered so.... masuk angin.

4) I give the kids baths (though not often enough - kids here are bathed at least twice a day), but afterwards I don't put on this warming oil stuff that is ubiquitous here. Minyak telon. It's not so different than the essential oils movement in the US (insert my skeptical face here) but includes an oil that has a slight warming like icy-hot does. So - it warms the body. As soon as Elly got sick our child-minder starting putting minyak telon on her all the time. Because... masuk angin.

I tried to explain to my child minder and a neighbor that in the US we believe that the kids get  sick from being exposed to new...... they jump in, nod sympathetically, and say, "Yes, they have been exposed to new temperatures and are still getting used to the weather here." I mentioned that we would keep our kids inside to keep them from exposing other kids or being exposed when a sickness is going around, and they looked at me blankly. But then I posted about this on facebook and had friends living around the world say that it's the same where they are... so maybe the US is missing something?

I seriously can't go out with a kid without having their lack of appropriate attire being commented on. So, I am trying to understand that here people parent in community rather than as individuals, and I should be unoffended. I am also dressing Elly in longer clothes and making Judah wear shoes outside of our gate (going barefoot is NOT okay here, that's a Papuan thing, and we are not in Papua yet).

My mom helped prepare me for some of the communal parenting mentality, particularly the way they will sweep Elly away, walk off with her, and I'm not supposed to worry! It's great in some ways. They really care for kids here, and so unlike some other cultures, we never fear for our kids safety when they are with Indonesians. Or at least, we don't need to! I am trying to appreciate instead of worry. When we're shopping with two kids and a store employee takes Elly to the other side of the store, just be incredibly thankful that I am able to shop.  When we are eating and the restaurant owners take Elly to the kitchen, just be thankful I can eat in peace. And in the past couple of days, when two neighbors took Elly and told me to go home and get things done and pick her up later, I had to tell myself to treat it like a free babysitter/grandma, and just take advantage of it. I AM thankful! It's also SO DIFFERENT than what is okay in the US.

As for fussiness, well, I have no solution. At three and a half Judah is excessively fussy and other than just continuing to discipline and guide him, I am at a loss! I'll take tips from any culture for that one! Thing is, I can't discipline him publicly, it's very inappropriate. Our child-minder is also not likely to discipline - kids are pampered until ... well, I'm not sure what age. In any case, it means the hours we are all at home together are pretty intensive in boundary and rule setting and enforcing to try to counter the times when we're out or he is watched by our helper. Thus... the hours we are at home are exhausting for me.

It's the end game, right? It IS worth it because this stage will end and it will result in a more mature and disciplined child, right?

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