Learning that it really does take a village…

It may just be me but I find that the general thoughts on parenting in the States is kept between the parents. You don’t normally involve yourself in how a stranger chooses how to parent their child–duh unless you’re on the internet. You silently judge a parent that is on the phone when they’re at the park with their kids or give them the “should you really be doing that?” look when they give into their screaming toddler at the check out line. Social protocol dictates that when in public there should be no touching, no grabbing, no scolding of other peoples children and definitely not picking them up to comfort them. I’m talking the child could literally fall and break it’s head and you know that your main job in that moment is to NOT DO ANYTHING.

However, in Uruguay things are a little different. People reach out and kiss random babies or play peek-a-boo with them at the check out line. Older ladies are always sure to give you their two cents about how to comb curly hair or how often they should be taking naps. Sure in the States you get a random person here or there that will do the same thing but that’s not the norm. My mother taught me never to interact with another persons baby no matter how cute or irresistibly chunky. If I wanted to express my adoration for said child I should simply smile at the mother and say, “Your son and/or daughter is beautiful” and go about my business. Based on that I know that I probably give off putting looks whenever someone tries to touch Paloma while we’re at the grocery store but I don’t mean anything by it. I’m just not USED to it. I’d rather someone be nice to my baby than look at them as if she were a rabid dog.

As I mentioned in another post Paloma and I have been going to CAIF once a week. It’s been great for her to run around and get crazy while I get to be around other moms. It never fails that at least once a meeting our cultural parenting differences are brought up and I really start to notice that while I may speak the language I really am a fish out of water here. The differences in individual parenting are irrelevant because let’s be honest, no two women or men are going to parent exactly alike. But the differences of raising your child in a community is remarkable.

Last week at CAIF, PJ was running around and fell on another moms foot. Instead of getting annoyed the mom just laughed and started bouncing PJ up and down before I got the chance to shoo PJ away from her. After about ten seconds of feeling weird I ended up shooing her away anyway but not because I didn’t want this woman bouncing my kid but I didn’t want my kid to eventually become a nuisance. The woman was like, “Oh no don’t! She wasn’t bothering!” but my anxiety levels had already risen. Another little girl had fallen and bumped her head while her mom had her back turned. My first instinct was to get the moms attention but everyone else carried and comforted the child. The mom didn’t even flinch when she noticed, just stared and smiled at her daughter telling her everything would be okay. If that would have been PJ I’m pretty sure I would have grabbed her and comforted her, smiled at those trying to see if she’s okay, and been not-so-secretly annoyed.

Those two experiences got me thinking and reflecting on how my view on parenting was conditioned. Is it really bad for your child to feel loved and cared for by non-relatives? To view strangers as potential friends as opposed to potentially harming serial killers? Yes, teaching your children the importance of not going off with strangers is important–hello, haven’t you seen Criminal Minds?–but isn’t instilling that fear and apprehension just as damaging in the long run? Isn’t there something wrong with me that my instinct wasn’t to comfort a weeping child, but rather run far away from it?

I grew up in a neighborhood where I only knew one neighbor. I’m talking about my grandparents owned the house we lived in, when they passed we moved in, and the neighbors we did have had all been living there before my grandparents moved in. Sure we waved hello and goodbye but other than that there was no communication. We didn’t have a neighborhood watch and we didn’t have block parties. Our one unspoken rule was keep to yourself. That’s not the kind of life I want for my children. Since I moved to Uruguay I have gotten to know more people in our town than I did in my 20 years in my childhood home. I know my butcher, my water delivery man, and the woman who owns the pañaleria (diaper store).

I don’t think that my acknowledging that there is something wrong in the way that I view these things means it’s going to change overnight. I’m looking forward to seeing how living here and being a mother causes me to grow. Hopefully I can develop friendships with the mothers at CAIF and be able to experience their children grow up, allow them to experience my daughter growing, and further building this community I have joined.

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CAIF: Who, what, where, and why?

So much has happened the past month that I don’t even know where to start. The construction on our house is almost done. Right now we’re waiting for the floors and kitchen to be installed and we should be done. I’ll make sure to post pictures once everything is done.

Last week PJ and I started going to CAIF. Now I’m sure you guys, like me, are wondering what exactly CAIF is.

CAIF is a government run daycare that employs psychologists to work with parents on ideal parenting techniques. They start off with pregnancy classes to prepare for arrival of baby. Once baby comes they go to a Mommy and Me class once a week (what PJ and I are doing now). At two years old the child can start attending CAIF for either four or eight hours a day without their parent. All of this with little to no cost to the parents.

In order to get into the CAIF Carlos and I had to fill out a questionnaire along with an interview with the head psychologist to assess our views on parenting. The questionnaire was filled with questions you might expect such as what is your highest level of education and what do you do for a living. But it also had questions I thought were odd such as what type of roofing material does our house have and do we have well water or are supplied by the water company. The interview was filled with even stranger questions. But I think what surprised me the most during the interview was when they asked us our views on discipline and hitting our child. I’m aware that there are parents that use violence as a way to instill discipline, however I never thought it would be an issue when dealing with a bunch of one-year olds.

Playing with a new friend! This was her first day.

We had our interview in November 2014. The CAIF runs the same as schools, open in February and close in December. But like I said, once your child turns two you get free childcare until they start school at age four. Who can really complain?

PJ and I started going last week and so far so good! We’re there for about two hours every Tuesday and it’s divided into play time, craft time, guided discussion, and snack time. Paloma has had a lot of fun running around and playing with other kids. She’s one of the older ones by about two or three months but it’s so strange to see the developmental difference between a one year old and Paloma at 16 months. She LOVES climbing the fake stairs they have and staring at herself in the mirror.

Childcare is such an issue all over the world and I LOVE that Uruguay has addressed this issue by providing free childcare to parents in need. I remember when I was pregnant and living in the States I had this internal debate on what I would do about childcare. What I would spend on childcare and what I would make from work did not make financial sense. However we really couldn’t live without my income. Luckily we’re not in a position now where childcare is a necessity but it’s good to know it’s available whenever needed.

Can always count on PJ to steal the balls.
Paloma enjoying CAIF too much to pause for a picture.