Parents from around the world have universal feelings of love, affection and hope for their children, but cultural values and expectations can color how these emotions are communicated. Making broad-sweeping generalizations about a particular culture's parenting style is a mistake, though, because many factors, including family traditions, personality and personal circumstances, affect parenting. Nonetheless, learning about cultural differences in parenting can illuminate the things you're doing right in your home, and offer some positive alternatives for those things you'd like to change.
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Attachment and Independence
Cultural norms play a large role in determining the level of attachment parents and children feel. For example, Pamela Druckerman, author of "Raising Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting," notes that French parents encourage more independence in their children than American parents. French children, for example, attend summer camps starting as early as age 6. Most American parents cringe at the thought of sending young children away with strangers. American parents subscribing to the attachment theory of child development may co-sleep with babies and children, and practice baby wearing. Many European parents would consider these habits odd or confining.
How much control parents exert over children can also be influenced by culture. In traditional Chinese culture, for example, parents place emphasis on respect for authority, devotion to parents and high achievement, according to the Francis McClelland Institute in Tucson, Arizona. Children are expected to put family first and remain obedient to parents. Physical punishment is an acceptable means of achieving these goals. Many American parents adapt an authoritative parenting style, which blends setting limits with providing support.
Family Structure and Care
In the U.S., the nuclear family is considered the ideal structure for raising children, but in many parts of the world, extended family and community members take a much larger role in child care and parenting, according to Meredith Small, author of "Kids: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Raise Children." Small, an anthropologist and expert on cultural variations in parenting, has discovered many surprising benefits to a communal approach to child-rearing. Additionally, parents vary in who they go to for parenting wisdom. In many traditional cultures, parents learn how to parent from their elders. In the U.S., parents are more likely to rely on the opinions of experts.
Cultural norms can significantly impact which values parents deem important and how they share those values with children. Most Europeans, for example, take a fairly relaxed view of alcohol and sex, while giving low priority to religion. Asian and Middle Eastern parents usually encourage traditional values of morality and virtue. When it comes to parental values, the U.S. is truly a melting pot, with parental views ranging from highly conservative to permissive.
Health and Care
Even ideas about health, nutrition and basic hygiene are often influenced by culture. In the United States, for example, Asian and Latino women are more likely to breastfeed and for longer periods than white or African-American women, according to the Early Head Start National Resource Center. Pasta, a staple in Italy, is viewed by many American moms as a starchy, simple carbohydrate with limited nutrition.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- Raising Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting; Pamela Druckerman
- Frances McClelland Institute: Cultural Differences in Parenting Practices: What Asian American Families Can Teach Us
- Kids: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Raise Our Children; Meredith Small
- Early Head Start National Resource Center: Social, Historical, Cultural: Factors Impacting Breastfeeding
- Zero to Three: Cultural Influences on Parenting