Cross-Cultural Parenting and Re-thinking Cultural Norms


If you’ve followed along here recently then you definitely know that I have a baby on the brain. And it’s true our Baby Girl is coming soon and her pending arrival has opened up a whole new host of feelings. My heart is thrilled and beyond excited to meet her and learn how to be her mom. I waver back and forth between feeling calm, like the timing couldn’t be better, to panicking and making frantic lists of things we have to buy or get done before she comes.

I hear motherhood has a quick learning curve. And lately I have been fascinated by how cultures and mom’s around the world learn how raise their children. I never planned on living in a country different than the one I grew up in or raising my children bilingually. I am like a sponge soaking up information, noticing how moms care for their babies, respond to a cry or don’t, and realizing how different our cultural upbringing shapes how we think about parenting and kids.

I’ve been reading books on this topic. I find myself nodding along when moms describe things that other cultures do and how our first response if often to raise an eyebrow, give a stink eye and judge. But how there is often something to learn, maybe first and foremost about our own cultural values. I just downloaded and started I reading this book: How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between) thanks to my friend, Sarah, who is also raising a bilingual daughter. And I loved French Kids Eat Everything and I even put this book: Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent on my registry because it looks so interesting to me.

{I am kinda counting on hours and hours of breastfeeding time to read. Is this totally unrealistic? just tell me now…}


A few days ago an article I wrote appeared on InCultureParent, a great online resource and link for parents anywhere.

This quote by Nicholas Day, author of Baby Meets World, influenced the whole piece:

“every society has what it intuitively believes to be the right way to raise a child.”

Here’s an except from the article:

In a few short months I will be a first time mom. So, like any U.S. mom-to-be, I have been doing my reading; bits of BabyWise and Attachment Parenting, WebMD and my favorite mommy blogs are always open on my browser. I mean what new mom doesn’t want to have the Happiest Baby on the Block? I am a firm believer that our U.S. culture convinces us if we read and plan ahead of time then we will be better parents. And yet somehow I know nothing in these books or websites will totally prepare me for the birth of our first baby.

Read the rest here.


Have you ever thought about how much of your own ideas about parenting and raising kids are influenced by our culture? And I wonder if even two US parents, bring their own sub-cultural expectations into raising kids? Thoughts? Do share.

{photo: taken in 2007 without permission of these two moms… If I were to re-take it I would probably ask their permission first and their names and how how old her baby is : ) }

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4 thoughts on “Cross-Cultural Parenting and Re-thinking Cultural Norms

  1. Michelle, I just stumbled upon the full-length article,
    which led me to this blog entry, and from there into the archives
    of your blog. What a pleasure. My husband and I are about to depart
    for our 18th trip to Guatemala, this time finally bringing home the
    little girl we have been adopting since her birth in 2007. All that
    time, as the case has been in and out of courts and sat on many
    desks gathering dust, we have been co-parenting with a lovely
    fostermother, an 80-something Guatemalan woman who lives in San
    Lucas. We speak on the phone every other day, and visit every few
    months. The experience has been life-changing. We are parents to
    three biological children (7, 6, 11 months) but as someone who
    stayed single into her 30s, I have always felt called to adopt. We
    began adopting our daughter in the midst of having our other
    children and, when we were told by agencies in the US that
    infertility was a prerequisite, we decided to consider Guatemala.
    Unluckily, Guatemala shut down adoptions with the US just months
    after we had initiated our process and accepted the referral of our
    daughter and weeks before we would have had that process finalized.
    The story of what happened to the “pipeline” cases is convoluted
    and sad, but we are blessed to be welcoming our daughter home later
    this month. During the process, we have learned a lot about what
    you can and cannot control when it comes to parenting. Our children
    here did not watch TV before the age of 4, and then only in 30
    minute increments. Our daughter in Guatemala lives in a house where
    the TV is almost always on. She is just as smart, attentive and
    inquisitive as our other children. The children here would laugh if
    I handed them a Coke, but it is our daughter’s favorite drink.
    Sure, she has had a cavity or two, but they have been filled and we
    don’t lose any sleep over it. Though her fostermother and I go back
    and forth about layering from time to time (We live in sweltering
    Texas and barefeet and tanktops are the cultural norm.) I am well
    aware of how little some of the details of parenting matter. It has
    been an honor to coparent across cultures and generations with our
    daughter’s fostermother. Indeed, on the 21st of this month, we are
    having our daughter baptized in Guatemala, with her fostermother as
    her godmother, to acknowledge their lifelong bond. Our parenting of
    all of our children has been influenced by this experience. Many
    blessings to you and your husband as you embark on the adventure of
    raising children. Enjoy that beautiful baby girl and make time to
    laugh with each other about all of the changes she will bring! All
    best wishes for health and happiness,

  2. Wow, Maggie. What a beautiful story of commitment, love and cultures. Congrats on your adoption! Your daughter is lucky to have you and her godmother in her life! I’ve already had to relinquish the fact that even though I will prob never buy soda for our house, Im sure my in-laws will give it my daughter at their house 🙂 what can you do?!? If you guys are ever in the Antigua area during your next trip please let me know!

  3. Hi Michelle-

    I just stumbled across your blog. You should check out this book- Developing Destinies: A Mayan Midwife and Town- if you haven’t already. It outlines a lot of child rearing practices in Guatemelan culture both in previous generations and now. It also outlines practices of US European moms, making both approaches explicit.

    Happy reading. And best wishes for your new baby.

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