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.