parenting around the world

morocco
sweden
more to come...

Whenever possible I will rotate stories about parenting in other countries. I think it is interesting to see what parenting is like, the trends and fads, the customs and traditions of other places. Some ideas are a world apart, and some may seem just the same as your feelings, but it’s always fun to compare and contrast your parenting with that of others. And who knows you may come up with some new ideas about your approach to parenting.

It’s fun to see what people are doing around the world. There are no statistics to report (if you know of any, please tell me about them!) but it seems as though there is a baby-BOOM going on out there and on my recent trips to Sweden, Iceland, Italy and Switzerland there are kids popping up (and out) everywhere! This baby boom is causing theatres to add movie viewings just for new moms with kids, just about any restaurant you go to these days you will find booster seats (and with the new no-smoking laws it’s even better), and just about every museum has a children’s room for painting and playing. I think it’s great! The world outside our homes is not just for grown ups anymore and children love seeing the wide, wide world out there!

Along with the baby boom, the range in age of parents out there is interesting too. Maybe I notice it more because I am a new mom at 40. But I see more and more moms and dads in their forties, pregnant or with young children. I have three friends, at my age, that are now pregnant, and I can’t help but wonder if we will be different parents, because of our age, than those that had children younger. I personally think that I have shorter patience than if I was younger, and there is something about just wanting to be at home with my son…but maybe that is just being a parent at any age.

If you have any special stories or theories about this age “phenomenon”, or about parenting in other countries, please send me an email so that we can share each other’s ideas.

Send an email to me at: carina@nonchalantmom.com and I will post them on the website.

 

 


focus country – sweden  (country mouse)

I would like to focus on a country that I am familiar with so that brings us to Sweden. Both of my parents immigrated to USA from Sweden in the 1950’s. As children we spent our summers in Sweden and those are some of the fondest memories of my childhood, not for anything in particular, but the lives of my cousins seemed so different than ours, and it was really fascinating to us.

We had great fun swimming in the lakes, riding bikes, and celebrating midsummer. One summer I remember we planted a whole field of potatoes, and believe it or not that was a great memory as well. My Aunt and Uncle still live on the farm that my mother grew up on. They are such an inspiration to me because they plant their own garden, grow their own wheat for baking their bread, and they have lamb on the farm in which they slaughter two each year and share the meat with their family. They use the skins of the lamb to make items for their home, so as not to waste anything. Canning their own vegetables and fruit makes their farming last into winter. They bottle their own “saft”, which is made from the fruit, to drink throughout the year instead of soft drinks.

Today, my cousin shares this farming value with her children. She currently has a farm with 50 ewes and many lamb. She is making her own feta cheese and selling to the public (which is organic). When I asked her “why cheese?” she said “it seemed interesting to make a product out of grass”, she went on to say that “other people have just problems with the grass and we look at it as a resource.” They live off their land much in the way that her parents had when she was growing up, ecology just runs in the family.

I wanted to get some ideas on how parenting is different in Sweden as opposed to the United States, but my cousin was quick to point out that her kids are not interested in the farm. They eat all meals together as a family and they bike together, but the kids have their own sports commitments…sounds a little familiar don’t you think. Their home duties are related to the house and not the farm. I was surprised to hear this but then again as my cousin said, “at 13 I was not that into the farm either”, that came later in life. I hope it’s true! Her attitude pointed out the casual approach that the Swede’s tend to take with parenting. There are no fancy parenting tricks here, just plain and simple love, caring and respect for each other.


focus city – sweden
(city mouse)

Another half of our relatives are living the city life in Stockholm, Sweden. Just as it is here in the United States, the city life is very different than my cousins in the country. Life in Stockholm is full of the contrasts that exist in any big city, the pressures from peers to raise your children under the watchful eye of just about everyone around you, and all of the excellent support networks that exist in big cities. I remember getting very specific parenting suggestions from random people sitting next to me on the subway train in New York City while pregnant. Well it’s just the same in the cities of other countries, so while my ‘country mouse’ cousin gave me a couple sentences on her parenting ideas, my city mouse cousin prepared a very thorough and well thought out curriculum on parenting in Sweden. I will publish it as she wrote it, because it’s full of the passionate language of a perfectly fluent-in-English Swede, and it’s packed with delightful and eyebrow raising information on parenting.KIDS AND PARENTING IN SWEDEN

foods
To begin with it is really important and usual with breastfeeding in Sweden. During all your pregnancy and also when giving birth, all medical people you meet will go on and on about the importance of breastfeeding. As for me, when giving birth to my second child they would all ask, "How long did you breastfeed your first?" and the more months the more they will say "oh bravo!” Though I think there is a moral standard at around 9-12 months where most people stop, and if someone would breastfeed after that it would be found a little bit peculiar instead. It is OK to breastfeed pretty much everywhere these days, but now and then there will be a café or so that won’t allow it and it is usual it will be a debate in a newspaper because they call it segregation. I breastfeed everywhere if needed.

I would guess that 95% of all kids get formula in a bottle each morning and night. From 1 year until 4-5 years of age.

The recommendation of introducing babyfood is 4-6 months because that is a stage where the baby is very curious about new flavors they say.

My kids eat just about everything. I think because we love food in our family and always served and let them try a lot of what we eat. Actually my 4-year old said the other day that "Mmmm, mom we have to have sushi for lunch" and when we found a sushi bar it was next to McDonalds (he is very aware of the happy meal with toys and all)...but he didn’t even mention the McDonalds, he ordered 5 pieces of mixed sushi and finished it all...I was very satisfied to see this. But in our every day food we also serve them the typical favorite foods of Swedish kids: thin pancakes with jam, meatballs and pasta, fish fingers etc. I do not really worry actively about organics, but if there is a choice in front of me in the store I will choose the ecological. In Sweden most dinners are prepared at home, take-out or so is not the family typical dinner as I imagine in the states many times? I never force my kids to eat up, as long as they taste I’ll respect if they don’t like it or if they are full - actually I believe strongly that it is therefore they love food and try a lot. Positive feelings around eating is important I think.

maternity
In Sweden the government pays 360 days off work and it is a law for the employer to give the parent the time off and guarantee an equal job when going back to work again. Though the maximum monthly pay the government gives doesn’t really equal your ordinary salary if you have an ok paid job, I almost lost about 40% of the usual income per month! Since a few years the 360 days are equally split between the mother and father, however the parents can just send in a paper where the father can give his days to the mother instead BUT 30 days are solely for the father and can’t be handed over, this to try to activate the fathers in the parenting more. Oh, and when the baby is born the father automatically can stay home for the first 2 weeks to help out the settling in. Though since the man usually earns higher salary the loss of the usual income would be too big so it doesn’t always work. My husband has not taken leave because of income loss, but most of my friends right now will have the father staying home the last 6 months with the child anyway because they find it worth it.

Many families chose to stretch the 360 days, because there is a choice where you can say for example "I’ll take out 75% amount per month instead", which means the value will be added in days in the end giving another extra few months to stay home. About 1 year and a couple of months is the most usual though. I stayed at home 1 year and three months with Ludvig and this time with Lea I’ll stay home 1 year and 1 month and then go back working 50-75% so that I can pick them up earlier each day and have Fridays off in the beginning. Lea will be the youngest baby...which gives me a bad feeling of course. But it also depends on what month the baby is born since it is in the autumn it is easy to find free daycare spaces for kids (cause the 5-year olds move out of daycare then). It is impossible to find a free space in for example January, (So if I wait for Lea to turn another 2 months old, maybe there won’t be daycare space left). Ludvig was born in June so it was perfect to start in September the following year. A lot of planning and considering!

activities
Ludvig is not in any activities. It has grown popular in Sweden lately with activities starting already when they are just 3 months (baby-swimming is really usual here). But they say it is more to activate and keep the mom busy during the year home, than it is for the baby’s sake? I have always taken it is easy with activities because they are in such a busy environment all day at daycare and I think they should just come home and rest, have some quietness, learn to not stress and just talk, think and just play free. Last year Ludvig tried theatre school one hour on Fridays, but I found he was just confused with more new kids/groups/rules/teachers so I let him quit. Talking to other moms they had the same experience with their kids weather it was ballet or swimming or whatever. They’re too young!

daycare
Since about 5 years there is a governmental maximum rate per month, right now 840 SEK per child (About 90 dollars). That includes everything with foods and fruits and activities they do. The usual is 4-5 kids per teacher which is too much and heavily debated. Usual open from 7 until 17.30 or so. We go to a private daycare but the governmental law for rate still applies. The parents are the "board" of the daycare and we meet regularly to discuss everything from economics, foods, activities, toys, themes, books, teachers...when you’re busy it is a burden but it is really good that we have the control and say of the quality of everything. There are 16 children aged 1-5.

Other hot topics in Sweden right now is the role of grandparents. The grandparents today are so busy with their own schedules of careers, traveling, hobbies such as golf and meeting friends. This was not how it was when we were small and before that they say. Some say it is good for the grandparents but some studies say that the bands and emotional security was really needed for the children’s best. Especially when seeing where the world is going, the old type of family bonds are needed.

The complete toy hysteria is also debated a lot. Us parents try to comfort our guilt of working too much and being tired at home, with giving the kids more and more things instead of time and attention. Sad but true!

Allergy and cancerous risks in the baby products such as shampoos, crèmes etc is also hot topic. Last week they tested the 50 most used such as wipeys, crèmes and only 3 of them passed (!). In one hand you get worried on the other hand there is always alarms everywhere and they change from time to time and unfortunately the modern human being just turns on a shield and think "well, isn’t everything dangerous in the end". I myself am skeptic and think if I change to another product they’ll find something more dangerous with that next year and so on...

Right now it is a baby boom in Sweden and there are magazines, TV-shows etc. for the modern mom/parent. Some accuse some people of seeing the baby as the latest trendy accessory!


focus country – morocco

Julie Ann Klear, who was born in Germany and raised in Ohio and New York City, is co-founder of Zid Zid Kids. She writes to us from Marrakech, Morocco where she has lived since 2002 with her Moroccan American husband, daughter Noor 4 1/2 and son Zak 2 1/2.

Although it was her decision to make this move she is aware of being spiritually, mentally and physically a long way from home in a country where her traditions “stick out like a sore thumb”.
For inspiration she draws on a small group of female friends who are older than her and have lived in Marrakech for quite some time. These women have helped Julie find the balance between the influence of the Moroccan culture and the need to make a place of her own.

Having had her first child in the U.S. and her second in Marrakech, Julie is uniquely qualified to comment on the differences in these two cultures approaches to maternity.
“We Americans are very spoiled…. In the USA you get rewarded with all kinds of pampering. There are baby showers, girlfriend bonding time and constant questions from friends.” She sites the access to parenting classes, books, websites and pediatricians as being unique to women pregnant in America. In contrast, the Moroccan cultural tendency is towards privacy. Pregnant women are rarely seen on the streets and their pregnancy is unlikely to come up as a topic of conversation. Women cover their bodies and are careful where they go when they do go out. Signs of the “evil eye” are used to ward off evil.

Upon closer inspection, Julie has realized that these women are well cared for by their mothers, sisters and grandmothers, but privately in their own homes. “To dispel my prenatal misconceptions further, I had a wonderful Moroccan gynecologist who had the most sophisticated methods and equipment in his office. Trained in Paris, he had better equipment than what I had in Cambridge. I had a sonogram at every visit and an extremely thorough examination every few weeks. He was wonderful in the delivery room, which was a private clinic here in town, and he was accompanied by a wonderful French Midwife named Marie Sange. My second pregnancy happened without a single hiccup and childbirth was a smooth and as easy as you could image. Zak was a born a healthy baby boy. My husband and I shared a bottle of champagne in the quiet, clean room directly afterward, called my parents back in Toledo, Ohio and our old good friend Dr. Michel Cohen in New York City to give them the good news.”

Despite the great care Julie received, she notes that many well to do Moroccan women as well as Western women leave to give birth in New York or Canada, giving their children dual citizenship before returning home.

mothers in morocco
“Morocco as a whole is made up of an incredibly diverse web of methodologies for raising a family.
Julie has noticed several unique styles of mothering and comments:

-There are contemporary and stylish Moroccan working moms who do many things a western mom would do, like work full time outside the home and take her child to ballet class on Wednesdays. These children normally attend a French or American School and will aim to continue their studies abroad.

-There are some Moroccan women who cover themselves entirely from head to toe in traditional Islamic dress, are devote Muslims and almost never leave the home except to walk their children to school. They stay close to the home and are very good, strict, obedient mothers. Their children normally attend an Arabic School. These children grow up to be the community’s middle class, with a good education behind them and strong family and religious values.

-There are women who come from the countryside, Berbers, who are the indigenous people of the country. You will find them wearing simple clothing and most without a formal education. They have very little, and yet, you will find them very happy. These mothers will carry their children on their backs until age 3 or so while either tending the sheep, working in the field or in the home. Most of these children do not go to school or if they are lucky, will have someone in the village teach them to read and write.

-Then there are rare women here, like me, American women, European women who look at life differently and break away from certain molds and choose a place like this to raise their families for diverse reasons. Our children tend to be multi-lingual, well traveled, and well educated.

“As a woman here and amongst my friends, I would say we are woman who have decided to chart our own paths; make choices based on our intuition and creative senses, not on what society or the community expects of us. A common trait that I share with my female ex-pat friends is that we tend to be bold, be scared of very little and look for alternatives to offer our children.”

noor + zak's school
The children attend a French school that starts at 12 months. As play dates, mommy and me classes and libraries are not available, Julie and her husband have placed their children in the school environment earlier than they would have in the USA. The children are taught in French by Moroccan women, some who wear traditional dress, and they are the only American family enrolled in the school.

Noor and Zak speak French, Moroccan and English fluently as do most Moroccans. The children learn to read and write in both French and Arabic at school.

playing
In the beginning Julie struggled with what was “missing” in Marrakech. Without resources such as libraries, open grass filled parks, museums with art classes, play dates, what does an American mom do?

“This is something I struggled with at the very beginning of my stay in Morocco. But after some long heartfelt thinking, I asked myself, ‘Am I not an artist, an educator and resourceful American weaned on Martha Stewart and Sesame Street and the rest?’ After tearing out my hair over things that were not there and would not be any time soon, I started to look, actually look around me for what I did have and what I could offer my children.”

To take matters into her own hands he has turned her home into a private Montessori environment, made her own children’s library filled with 100 English books as well as a few in French and Arabic and she turned the city into a playground by exploring Marrakech with her children. In a beautiful park she and her children have discovered old equipment to play on amongst the Palm and Fig trees, roses and other exotic plants. Noor and Zak climb on and lead the horses and camels that wait for tourists under the Palms. The children also enjoy working in the local Carpenter’s Woodshop much to the delight of the carpenters. Her family also enjoys frequent trips to the countryside, the Atlantic Ocean and even the Sahara Desert.

“With this amazing world, culture and colors at our fingertips, play dates and the neighborhood park began to pale in comparison and fade away,” Julie concludes.

eating + nutrition
Julie notes that eating right was actually one of the reasons she and her family came to Marrakech. People as a whole eat very well, as there is an emphasis on fresh home cooked meals enjoyed together. Time is set aside for a mid-day meal by the closing of schools and work from about noon to 2 each day, so families can gather to enjoy good food and companionship. Everyone can unwind while eating fresh vegetables, home made bread and delicious fruits.

Every Friday, which is the Muslim holy day, an enormous platter of couscous is served family style and topped with 7 vegetables. This meal takes 4-5 hours to create and Julie hopes to learn how to make what she calls “a cultural labor of love”.

“As a result of home made food served to us everyday, we not only eat well, but have the chance to connect with our children AND teach them to sit for a meal and eat a healthy meal. This is a major lesson I know for a fact would be lost on us if we were still in Cambridge, MA. Our hectic schedules simply don’t allow for this on a daily basis.”

healthcare
Healthcare is much harder to come by in Marrakech with many people not having the means or the money to visit a doctor. Julie and her family are fortunate to know many doctors in the area and the children are attended to by an extremely caring pediatrician.

religion + holidays
Muslim Holidays and Official State Holidays are celebrated with reserve and dignity and focus on spending time with family and friends.

Islam is the dominant religion in the country and although Julie and her family do not practice this religion or the Catholicism of her own background or the Muslim of her husbands’, they find ways to integrate discussions about God and the different types of prayer, worship and holidays that surround them.

family
“Being close as a family unit was one of the driving forces of returning to this country as a place to raise our children. I have found that I can’t stay put and need to be exploring a new culture or challenge almost at all times. Along side this need, I also have a constant desire to be doing something creative. For me, I see life as one big art project. I need to have my hands in something creative. Because my husband, a creative too, has been longing for a way to return to his home country, we felt that relocating to Morocco would be the best fit, in terms of the quality of our work and home life. We have been able to melt the 2 together to make something that is unique to our family, our individual needs, our business needs.”

valuable lessons i have learned
“Don’t lose site of yourself and who you are while living in a foreign country. If no one around you speaks your language, prepares food the same way or plays the same games, it is no reason to stop believing in who you are and the place you came from. On the contrary, it is essential to carry on your personal rituals with more gusto and energy in order to be heard. Additionally, you need to embrace the world in front of you and make it your own.

You can find a balance in other worlds outside your own and learn a great deal in the process.”