11/23/10

Babies Around the World

Ever since I saw the movie “Babies” a little while ago, I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a short, wordless documentary about 4 babies growing up in different parts of the world, from birth to age 1. It’s visually stunning, and of course the babies are cute, but that’s not what struck me most.

Rather, it’s how differently babies are raised in other cultures. There’s Ponijao in Namibia, who rolls around in the dirt naked and has to put up with livestock drinking his bathwater. Then there’s Bayar, a little moon-faced boy in Mongolia whose mother births him with little fanfare and then hops on the back of a motorbike for the bumpy ride back to their yurt. The life of Mari in Tokyo isn’t drastically different from her counterpart Hattie’s in San Francisco, with their diapers and strollers and baby music classes.

But the scene that had the most impact for me was one with Hattie and her mother. The baby has become a toddler, with all the behaviors that go along with that—namely, fussing and swatting at her mother. So the mom—obviously an educated, upper-middle class woman in her 30’s, I’d say—does what many moms I know would do. She turns and takes a book off the shelf, titled “No Hitting.”

Isn’t that so AMERICAN? We can fix any parenting problem with the right book! Let’s consult 6 experts and then mirror correct behaviors for our offspring! Better yet, let’s take our baby to a child psychologist so we can understand the emotional causes of her hitting! Perhaps it’s because our peaceful, lute-accompanied water birth went awry and we needed a C-section?

OK, I’m mocking. But you have to admit it’s a little funny, especially in comparison to the mother in Africa who, when her children are fighting, distracts them with a wild dog or her own hair. The Mongolian baby is left alone constantly, either swaddled up to his eyeballs in yards of fabric or tied to a bed post. (Yes! He was literally tied to a bed post by his waist while his mother was outside tending the sheep or something. And he seemed perfectly happy.)

We American moms pour so much time and energy and angst into parenting. We debate the pros and cons of disposable vs. cloth diapers and when and how to potty train, while in the rest of the world babies are crawling around bare-bummed. The African mom, when her newborn poops, WIPES HIS BUTT ON HER KNEE and then scrapes it off with an old corn cob! No organic wipes, no wipe warmer, no Diaper Genie, no antibacterial soap. Can you imagine??

Now, I’m not going to chuck all our educational toys and books and diapers and let my baby crawl shoeless all over a rusty metal drum in the middle of a field of horned cattle. (Not that that makes the Mongolian woman a bad mom; let’s not be judgy.) But it is a good reminder that maybe we don’t need all the stuff we think we do to raise a child. Little Ponijao in Africa seemed pretty darn happy to me.

So, tell me, readers in America and around the world, what parenting differences do you notice where you live?

14 comments:

Adrienne Gomer said…

I watched that movie recently too and I couldn't help but laugh at the San Francisco and Tokyo moms because in comparison to the rest of the babies, their lives seemed so ridiculous. Our silly little westernized lives are so pampered and spoiled.

Krista said…

Hm… that's interesting. I'm not sure I'd want to switch with the other mothers, but it does help to put things into perspective. Perhaps we all need to learn to trust our gut a little bit more instead of running to the nearest bookself. I'm sure I certainly do.

Loukia said…

Well as a Canadian, we're pretty much the same as Americans, only with colder winters and stuff. 😉
There are definitely things I do that are Greek, though, from the singing, to the foods, to the speaking Greek to my boys, and just being close to my family. I really want to see this movie! I think I'll b eweepy the entire time. Also, I never ever read any baby books except for Dr. Spock for the first few weeks after my son was born. It is all about instinct, I think. We don't need to read a book about how to raise our babies, you know?

Kristen said…

Long time reader but infrequent commenter… I did want to say that I was similarly struck by that movie. It made the things we do here seem so anal. Also, that we complicate life unnecessarily. The simpler African life life possibly seemed happier. I mean I guess if you have a dirt floor you don't worry about it getting dirty. So much simpler than carpet or hardwoods. Since I have only ever lived in USA I can't compare the parenting differences from other places but it seems similar to compare the parenting of other "times". I know my mother certainly points the differences out to me almost daily. Everyone always assumes that there is only one right way to do things but I think that maybe the real right way is what works best for any given person in their given situation. Environment and culture are big factors. The stuff that Mongolian baby was up to would probably be considered child abuse here, but that might be the norm there and his mother probably has his best interest at heart. If she tried to raise him the way we raise children here she would probably be considered strange or lazy or who knows what. I think that when we are trying our best and loving our children that we always are best for them, regardless of place or time. All that said that my other opinion on the movie was that they seemed to pick an awfully crunchy granola lady for the American. I don't know if she would really represent the "average" American mom. So it makes me wonder if the other cultures were average moms as well or if some other African mom(if she hypothetically had a tv) was like " WTF? Did she just wipe poop off her leg with corn??". Thanks for the great blog. Your boys are such cuties.

tineroche said…

I just came back from Germany and it became once again clear to me that here in America we really do analyze and worry about everything way too much. We think every little thing we as Mom's or Dad's do wrong will hurt our children and psychologically scar them for the rest of their lives. So we run to the next child psychologist to find out what we can do better. In reality I believe that as long as the children are taking care off, emotionally, psychologically and physically they will turn out just fine. We need to stop, once again, to analyze everything and just follow our 'gut-instinct' just like the Mom's in Africa who don't have books or psychologists and just do what they know and what they feel is right.

Baby Girl Names said…

I liked this movie a lot.. I m planning to watching it next week too 🙂

Mom2Miles said…

Thank you all for weighing in! I loved reading your comments. How interesting to get different perspectives from Greeks, Germans, etc.

Kristen, thanks for "de-lurking"! I thought the same thing about the crunchy American mom. I don't know about you, but I don't go nude hot-tubbing with my baby!

Jenny Rae Armstrong said…

I haven't seen the movie, but I lived in Africa for a large chunk of my childhood, and can tell you that mothers there were MUCH more relaxed. Why? Because in Africa raising children is a collaborative effort, shared by older siblings, the extended family, and the tribe, instead of a competative sport.:-)

That's not to say their parenting style is better, but something to keep in mind is whether we are actually looking out for the best interests of our children, or the best interests of our own ego. Dressing toddlers in fancy clothes is a prime example–if they'd rather run around half-naked, why should we care? Especially since it makes for happier babies and less work for mommies. 😛

Angie Mizzell said…

I've wanted to see this documentary and write a post about it, but you said what I think I would want to say (only better.) When I saw the creator on Oprah, I recall him saying the one thing all these babies had in common– all their basic needs were met. We are so blessed in America, but I think it's a blessing and a curse–all this fighting over the "right" way to do it!

feleighpe said…

I love that you just mentioned the nude hot-tubbing with the baby! Hee Hee! I was really peeved by the fact that they found the "Earth is our Mother and we should take care of her" family and represented them as the typical American family. I love that Hattie is trying to escape in that scene!
This is a great commentary on this movie. After seeing Babies, I knew I was "trying" too hard with all my reading and worrying to be the perfect mom. Thanks for posting this. I'm reminded again to just chill out.

Kimberly said…

I love that so many people had the same reaction as I did! I saw this on my first date with my husband post-baby. I definitely agree that the San Francisco mom does not represent most American moms I know. She seemed ridiculous to me.
The Namibian mom became a role model to me in small ways after I saw the movie…I had spent a lot of time wondering why my little three month old wasn't sleeping better and what I could do to "fix" that and after seeing the movie I thought "I bet the Namibian mom doesn't agonize over why her baby isn't sleeping. She just does whatever it takes to comfort her child." We have access to so much information and it's not always a bad thing at all, but sometimes I think we moms need the reminder to just go with the flow.

Crysi said…

My twins are obsessed with Babies. I've watched it more times than I can count and have the whole movie memorize. By far the happiest baby in the entire movie is Ponijao and I never would have imagined that. Talk about true attachment parenting, but I do cringe when her mom wipes the poop on her knee. Ick.

Have you read the parent interviews on the focus features website? I highly recommend them.

Genevieve said…

I loved that movie. It was so captivating which is a lot to say when you consider that there is no dialogue in the movie! What struck me the most was that by a year or so, all the babies were at the same place(or really close to being the same) developmentally. How neat is that? No need for special baby music classes or fancy toys, by about a year old, they are walking, saying mama and playing. Awesome 🙂

Baby Names said…

Thank you for sharing very thought provoking article. I found it very interesting.Thanks

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