I had the most fascinating discussions this week about parenting. I helped in Jacob’s classroom yesterday and then joined him for lunch. Since Gina is away for a week holiday Ashlyn came along. My Chinese friend Zoey was in the classroom as well yesterday so we sat together with our kids at lunch. Jacob sat with his lunch box on my right. I bought a little yogurt cup for Ashlyn and since she’s too short to sit and eat I placed her on my left and held my arm around her waist while she ate her yogurt. With my right hand I cut and ate my chimichanga. Nothing special and I would bet every American mother could picture the scene as normal.
After a bit, Zoey commented how amazing that was. “Huh?” was my very intelligent response. “She can feed herself?” I looked at Ashlyn to confirm what she meant. “Yes,” I said, still not sure I understood. Then she told me they spoon feed their kids until they are quite old. As in 7 years old. I’m sure my face must have had shock and horror. “WHAT?!?!?!” Regaining my composure I asked, “Why?” Basically I gathered it was because they needed it because they didn’t know how. My smarty pants self wanted to say that’s because you won’t let them. Hehe. It’s just not what I was taught was normal.
My neighbor, Chinese-Singaporean, has her helper follow her 5 year old around the yard as he plays and she spoon feeds him. At first I took this as beyond ridiculous and bordering on abusive to the helper to make her appease a child in that way so he could be so lazy. Imagine my surprise when, after months of seeing the helper do it, I saw the mother do it. I was floored. It must be cultural. It wasn’t a make the helper do it thing, it was a someone must feed the child kind of thing. Wow!
Then I went to a coffee later this week with two other moms, one Malay and the other Indian. The Malay mother said she had been strongly spoken to about helping her child. Mom and child both seem to have a serious separation anxiety producing crying fits on a daily basis, frankly it’s a bit nuts because he’s fit as a fiddle as soon as she’s gone from sight. So she was asked by staff about feeding him and told he needs to physically lift a spoon with food on the spoon and put it in HIS OWN mouth. The Indian mother concurred she had had the very same experience the year before.
She shared her experience about how letting her son do that had turned meal time into a happy time, as she put it, “he had such JOY in meal time” after he became independent. The two moms talked over other issues I hadn’t ever thought of. They felt putting a TV on during meals or providing a game or some coloring sheet and crayons was vital to meal time because the kids were so bored they got naughty and always were in trouble. They had to do something to keep the kids minds and or hands out of trouble.
All this has been so fascinating to me. On this one, I’m choosing the Western way. And in the end, I think the new mom will see how much better it is. She already tells her own kid, “See, Jacob can put his own pants/shirt/shoes on.” And other things like that. I LOVE that my kids are independent. I’m a bit more than most, expecting my 4 year old to be able to take the trash to the road and wash his own plate and put it in the dishwasher, but wherever a parent may fall on the spectrum I bet we could all expect a bit more – if we take the time to lovingly teach them how to do the things they are capable of doing.