'There's no one perfect way to raise a child'

Mar 19, 2013, 10:23 IST | Soma Das

The proverb 'It takes a village to raise a child' still holds true if you consider the world as a global village, believes author Mei-Ling Hopgood. In her latest book, How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, she shares diverse parenting techniques practiced around the world peppered with expert talk and anecdotes

If parenting, at times, seems like a maze with too many dos and don’ts and an information overkill, make the most of it. In her book, How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, author Mei-Ling Hopgood discovers techniques which different cultures apply while raising their children.

Illustration/Amit Bandre.

From potty training to making your kids work from an early age, the book discusses various methods, their pros and cons and the author’s personal application of the methods while raising her daughter Sophie. Excerpts from an interview with Hopgood:

How did you get the idea to write this book?
I got the idea when I was pregnant with my first child, and I was living in Buenos Aires. The kids stayed up so much later than in the US and people were so respectful of pregnant women. I was already intrigued by the cultural difference and similarities, having such an international family. There was a lot of research on parenting in different cultures, but few books written for public consumption.

Is there any particular message that you are trying to convey through this book?
It’s a sampling of interesting beliefs and practices that people have about parenting. I hope parents take away useful tidbits and tips as they take on the everyday adventure of parenthood. But most importantly, I hope people get the sense that there are many ways in the world to raise a healthy and happy child, rather than one perfect way.

What research and travel were involved since the book is exhaustive and filled with examples?
I travelled some, and reflected on the travels I’d already done. I dug into the extensive academic and scholarly research, interviewed those experts and parents on-the-ground in other places. These days the world is a much smaller place thanks to Skype and the Internet. I also used reporters in places where I couldn’t reach.

What challenges did you face while writing this book?
Picking the most interesting practices — there were so many, and also finding the time with two little ones to do the work! I also felt some pressure to be prescriptive because that is the tone that most parenting books take. Parenting is challenging and it’s easy to try to look for one-stop “right” answers to problems. But that’s just not what I learned and concluded in most cases.

There is a deluge of parenting websites and books nowadays; what would be your advise to readers?
Parenting is not an exact science. Humans have been adapting the way that they parent forever, inventing and evolving baby carriers, adapting children into the hunt and the growing and giving of food, to including children in chores, farming and hunting. We can take the knowledge of the past as well as any new adaptations and suggestions to figure out what works for our families in today’s environment.

With the world becoming smaller due to globalisation, how can parenting benefit with access to information from across the world?
It’s good and bad. Sometimes, people are too quick to emulate Western practices and values that have evolved based on Western realities or the commercialisation of parenthood. There are advances in health and development of children that can help parents in remote places, and yet there are also things that conflict with the traditional values of society.

Is it good that we are potty training our children later, and using diapers longer? Was it good that many societies went to formula instead of breastfeeding? Is it good that a young person living in the bushes of Africa can now learn about technology and imagine a different future or that their children might now want a Mattel toy versus hand-made traditional toys that they might have once used? There are upsides and downsides.


> How the French teach their children to love healthy food
...I took to heart what I was hearing from French families: If you value your food and food time, then your child will. If eating is simply something you have to do, between everything else you have to cram in your day, that is probably how your child will think as well. ...“When kids get involved with their eating process and taste freshly grown veggies that they have watered and cared for, it changes mind-sets and creates adventures in eating,” says Dietician Kindy Peaslee.

> How Chinese parents potty-train early
Chinese parents don’t actually obsess about their child’s bowels. As Kelly Dombroski, a mother from New Zealand puts it, many Chinese are managing waste rather than training a child. It’s about learning to read your child and teaching him to communicate needs. It’s not a task or even a goal but simply something that is done with gentle patience and persistence.

> How the Tibetans cherish pregnancy
...Tibetan Buddhists put great emphasis on the mental and spiritual state of a mother-to-be. For Tibetans, pregnancy can be a highly spiritual time, laden with tradition and ritual. Women are urged to constantly meditate and pray, think positive thoughts and do good deeds.
...Birth is not merely an isolated and special occasion but part of the cycle of birth, death and the state between called bardo. A baby is not conceived but is invited into the womb and the karma of the mother, father and assuming spirit must be in harmony.

> How the Japanese allow their children to fight
Non-intervention was not a policy but a tool. The teacher did not stop the girls’ tussling. She told the researchers: “If I think a fight such as this one is unlikely to result in anybody getting hurt, I stay back and wait and observe. I want the children to learn to be strong enough to handle such small quarrels. I want them to have the power to endure. If it’s not dangerous, I welcome their fighting.”

(Extracted with permission from Macmillan)

Parenting on Screen

While Hollywood often presents diverse takes on this, we’ve found a few that struck a chord across ages, themes and stereotypes.

> The Breakfast Club (1985)
> Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

> Parenthood (1989)
> Cheaper by the Dozen (2003)

> Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
> Parental Guidance (2012)

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, Mei-Ling Hopgood, Macmillan, Rs 499. Available at leading book stores.

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