A couple of years back, PhD in Parenting posted on 10 Things All New Parents Should Know. I thought her advice was really helpful and I even sent the link to a newly pregnant friend just last week.
As I pondered PhD in Parenting's post, I thought of my own globetrotter version. People tend to rely on their relatives, friends and doctors for advice on coping with parenting questions. Not all the information they get is accurate and some of it is harmful. So here is my top 6 list ('cause 10 would be way too long!) of what all parents trying to raise their children in a global culture should know:
6 Things Every Globetrotter Parent Should Know:
1. Baby care norms differ radically from one continent and even country to the next one.
Moreover, what's considered the norm where YOU live is not necessarily the objectively right way.
My favourite example: In Canada and the States, the health industry tells us not to share a bed with our infant, because it can lead to smothering, SIDS, baby falling off the bed, etc.
Yet, here in Madagascar, most moms sleep with their baby. They don't do cribs here. And I don't ever hear or read about any babies dying of SIDS or getting smothered here. Funny that.
The point is, never assume that information from doctors and well-meaning friends where you live right or even mostly right. Indeed, there are a lot of things not right about modern conventional western parenting ideas. Babies have not always drunk cow's milk (whether or not adapted into formula), and still don't in many places in the world. Newborns are not wired to sleep in little cages far away from their moms, and don't in many (most) places in the world. Most baby boys in the world do not get the tips of their penises cut off. The list goes on...
2. Contrary to what many "granola" mamas seems to think, Europeans are not necessarily more into "natural family living" than North Americans. If you've ever been on the discussion forums of mothering.com, you'll know what I mean. "I wish I lived in Europe. The breastfeeding rate is much higher there. And everyone gives birth with a midwife. And you get one year's maternity leave!"
Allow me to set the record straight about Europe:
Europe is not a monolith. When you hear granola moms going on about how much more enlightened Europeans are, they're usually talking about Scandinavians. The Dutch and the Germans are nearly as "crunchy" but only in certain respects. Maternity leave is only about 12 to 16 weeks long in Germany, for example.
As for the French, well, don't be surprised to see a French maman smoking and drinking during pregnancy, formula feeding by choice (40 percent do) and sending her baby to daycare at the age of three months without so much as wincing because "baby needs to learn to become autonomous".
The Italians have a higher neonatal breastfeeding rate but 90 percent have weaned by the time baby is four months old. Italians typically start baby on solids consisting of pasta and parmesan cheese at the age of four months.
As for the midwives, they are a highly medicalized profession in Europe. In France, they even have to attend medical school for a year. Most European midwives will not allow you to birth in anything but the gynecological position, i.e., lying flat on your back with your legs in stirrups so that they can perform a routine episiotomy. You might as well have an OB.
And forget about home birth (except in the Netherlands, and the home birth rate is dropping there). The home birth rates in European countries hover at around one percent.
4. Bilingualism is not an automatic fact resulting from a parent who speaks another language. It takes work. Yep. The fact that you speak English or Spanish or French does not automatically mean that your little one will grow up speaking it. In fact, your child will need about 24 hours per week of exposure to your language in order to speak it like a native.
5. There are NO required vaccines for international travel - other than yellow fever in some countries in central Africa. Polio is not a required vaccine for travel in any part of the world, neither is the vaccine against typhoid, tuberculosis, or any other disease.
6. A global child starts with the parents who have a global mindset. Children learn from the attitudes of their parents. Open-minded parents who are interested in learning about other cultures, who are willing to try speaking the foreign language that they're a little rusty in, and who like meeting and talking to people from other parts of the world are more likely to have children with a similar mindset.
On the other hand, it's hard to expect a child to be interested in learning French or Spanish when the parent won't even consider watching a foreign film.