Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Parenting in Singapore

Parenting practices are incredibly dependent on culture, something I didn't realize until I lived outside the US. I remember how surprised I was in Taiwan, to see very small children (toddlers) out having dinner with their parents at 11 pm, or even later. In China, small children do not typically wear diapers: instead, they roam around with split pants (pants with a slit up the middle, which expose their genitals and bottom), and use the street as their bathroom. (This is accepted as not gross by everyone.)

Chinese cultures also have a very different attitude about independence. When I worked as a preschool teacher in Taiwan, some of my three-year-old students didn't know how to use a spoon, because their parents always fed them. (They typically had never dressed themselves either, especially if they were boys. I even had one student who had never used the toilet alone.) On the other hand, it was a rare parent who didn't beat (as in, with implements) their children: it was considered part of conscientious parenting, especially as a punishment for doing badly in school.

In Singapore, where I'm the foreigner, I often startle people with my parenting practices. For example, I am comparatively cavalier about safety: I let little R eat all sorts of possible dirty things (like toys that fell on the floor); Singaporeans will often try to intervene by offering (or even insisting) to wash them for me, because they are obsessed with cleanliness. I also give her somewhat pointed objects (like plastic straws with a point on one end) to play with; Singaporeans have often intervened to take the toy away (or in one case, to cut the pointy end off with scissors). B frequently walks around with little R riding on his head: no Singaporean would ever do this; they even take pictures, because they can't believe what they're seeing.

On the other hand, little R goes to bed every night at 8 pm (or earlier): like Taiwan, little Singaporean babies frequently are awake and out in the world late at night (and everywhere: there is no concept here of "inappropriate" places to bring a baby, unless you are talking about a brothel or bar).

This is one reason I think more Americans ought to travel: it's hard to get too worked up about other people's parenting choices, once you realize how arbitrary and culturally specific they are.

1 comment:

  1. That is so true, if I were to raise a child here in Sweden I know I would be given some dirty looks for sure! One thing they do that drives me crazy is leave the baby outside in their stroller like on a backyard patio while everyone else is inside the house. I am sure it is fine but it just seems neglectful to me.