Left: The author, Olga Mecking, when she was growing up in Germany. Right: Olga’s daughter today in the Netherlands.
Sometimes, I find myself rediscovering simple truths about life in general and parenting in particular. My latest epiphany is this: “My child is not me.”
On the contrary to all the books and articles out there that tell us that we will grow into our parents, I don’t think this is the case. I think that while our parents influence our lives, we’re still separate individuals with our own thoughts, ideas and opinions.
And never has this simple truth rung more true to me than it has when my eldest daughter started school. I’ve been very worried about sending her to school at the tender age of four. I thought back to my old school days and worried and worried. And worried some more because my experiences weren’t all that great.
But this is when I realized: my child is not me! Pretty much everything about her will be different.
I was born and raised in communist Poland and went to school shortly before Communism fell. As much as I love my country, going to school in these times wasn’t so great.
We had to learn everything by heart. Language teachers weren’t too good. Classes were huge and the teachers were strict, even to the point of giving bad grades for pretty much anything. Nobody knew anything about bilingualism, and I was even lucky to have German classes offered at my school, as bad as they were.
But my child is not me.
She goes to school in a modern, Western country and has been speaking 3 languages from birth. Her teacher is amazing and lets the children play a lot. They go outside for recess and learn letters and numbers, and they even went on a school trip. In my daughter’s school, it is normal to speak two or more languages.
As a child, I was shy and timid. My idea of a good day was, and still is, to stay at home and read a book. School proved to be too much for me at times: too loud, too big. On the other hand, I was often told to sit still, be organized, and listen when all I really wanted to do was run around.
But my child is not me.
She seems to be more of an extrovert than I ever was. She could be outside all the time, playing, jumping, swinging, playing with other children; and, she seems to enjoy school.
I even often receive photos from her teachers. Guess who of all the children in the pictures has the biggest smile? My blond beautiful daughter.
When I went to school, we were taught about computers, but seldom used them for school. We were told that learning is hard work and were given grades for our work, even for our paintings. After school, I totally stopped painting.
But my child is not me.
She thinks learning is fun and can use all the great apps for learning, and she has a great selection of books in all the languages that she’s learning. She loves getting her hands dirty with paint and uses them to paint on a large piece of paper. She paints the funniest creatures and people, and she gives them funny names.
My daughter and I both have straight blond hair. Many people tell me she looks like me. I think I have an idea who she got her willpower and stubbornness from, but my child, she’s not completely me.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Olga Mecking in the Netherlands.
Photo credit to the author.
Jennifer Burden traveled by invitation of the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign to Uganda to observe UNICEF’s Family and Child Health Days, where children are provided life-saving vaccinations. This post reflects on Day 3 of her adventure in October. She has previously reported on day 1 about UNICEF offices in Kampala, Uganda and day 2 of her trip at a UNICEF Family Health Day in Mumbende, Uganda.
On Day 3 of our Ugandan adventure we took a detour. We were scheduled to meet with the health staff who were going to be working at the Family Health Days that we were visiting on Sunday, but they were still busy preparing for Sunday. So, we found ourselves with unexpected free time. What better thing to do in Africa when your plans fall through than to visit one of Uganda’s national parks?
Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. Jennifer Burden of World Moms Blog with Jenny Eckton of the blog, Formerly Phread while in Uganda in October 2012 with Shot@Life.
Saturday’s adventure led us to Queen Elizabeth National Park, where we went on a river safari cruise on Lake Edward. We saw a multitude of hippos and buffalo, as well as, elephants, crocodiles, monkeys and beautiful birds. We hopped a riverboat and spent the entire time out on the water. I have never seen so many hippos in my life. Apparently, some had been brought to the park in the 1960s, and they’ve been expanding every since! One moment the waters would appear empty, but the next many hippo heads popping up out of the water! Babies followed their moms. They swam around together in groups. Absolutely incredible!
Culture & Signs of Extreme Poverty
The excursion was a fantastic opportunity for our delegation to get a feel of the country’s natural beauty and a great team building exercise. We were bonded going into the next Family Health Day. However, driving through the extreme poverty on the long bus ride through the country really put into perspective how much UNICEF’s efforts were needed.
We saw homes made of only big sticks and mud with reeds or tin for roofs. Although they are great “green” homes for the country’s beautiful African sun drenched days, they are unsuitable when temperatures become very cold at night and there is no running water or electricity.
Ugandan house made of mud and sticks.
Also, children were seen walking long distances in school uniforms, many alone. Women, men and children carried large yellow containers to collect water in and walked for miles home. An image that will never cease to amaze me — the site of an African woman balancing her load on her head and walking on the roadside barefoot.
Woman in Uganda walking on side of road in western Uganda.
Unfinished homes and store fronts were quite common. We were told that owners would save up for bricks and then add gradually to the structure over many years. It was not uncommon to see unfinished storefronts in use or piles of bricks that had been delivered to unfinished residences. Bricks were made of heated, dried mud.
Here is an example of a typical storefront. This one is a bicycle shop and a clothing store. Often times, the storefronts were painted by companies seeking to advertise mobile phones and other products.
Common roadside storefront in Uganda.
We were truly humbled by our trip out to western Uganda. The further we drove away from Kampala, the more common it was to see mud huts. And storefronts were everywhere, often with mothers manning them and children playing outside. Day 3 was a truly memorable day. We captured photos that changed us and that will stay in our advocacy hearts forever. This day was good for our delegation to get to know each other better and prepare for the next round of Family Health Days on Day 4.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by founder, Jennifer Burden of New Jersey, USA.
Photo credits to the author.
I have never really thought of myself as a conservative person. Not because I’m not one I probably am in the traditional sense of the word but life seems to be all about labeling people. Sorting them and stacking them into neat little sections. We are obsessed with it.
We talk to people and get to know them just enough to label them something and keep that label stuck to them regardless of whether it actually fits them or not. Sometimes we skip the getting to know all together and slap the label on based on first impressions, on the way they dress or talk or the job that they do. Some labels are good, some bad, but all have the same effect of flattening a person out till they are barely one-dimensional. So I don’t particularly like labels. And I don’t feel comfortable committing to one adjective for the rest of my life
Now as an Arab, Muslim woman from Saudi Arabia you can imagine I have been labelled many things based only on one of the afore-mentioned facts (Arab, Muslim, female and from Saudi). You can also imagine that many of these labels are not particularly nice ones. For example “oppressed” is one I have slapped on me simply by being an Arab woman. Add the other two parts (Muslim and Saudi) then that label is practically tattooed on my forehead.
If I dare to say I am not oppressed then the other label is pinned to me; “Brainwashed.” I remember when I got engaged while I was studying in London one of my professors called me into his office to ask if I was okay and if I had a choice in the matter. The fact that I was studying in London, living on my own, and that he had known me at that point for two years didn’t affect how he saw me. I was still an oppressed little Saudi girl to him.
I know people have certain preconceptions about women in Saudi and it is very difficult to convince them otherwise without them coming to see for themselves. A British woman who recently moved to Riyadh said “I have yet to meet a timid Saudi woman! I expected the women here to have no say in all that happens in their lives and homes and with their families. I was so surprised to see that they are in charge.”
I think people have a need for others to be one thing or the other. They cannot be undefinable, un-categorisable. So it always throws my more “Western” “liberal” friends (might as well join them if you can’t beat them!) through a loop when I don’t fit into the category they expect me to. They are surprised by how “conservative” I am when it comes to certain matters concerning my children. For example:
1- I don’t want my son to be in a co-ed school after the age of 12. It is not because I want to segregate him completely from women. On the contrary I want him to have, hopefully, the same female friends he has now at 10. The reason is all the co-ed schools here are international ones with a majority of ex-pat students. Our religion and culture mean that there is no dating and no premarital anything. That is why I think it is unfair to put him in an environment where dating is the norm. Kids will be having crushes, and first kisses and so on and I will then expect him not to do it. I’m not delusional, I know boys will be boys. I just don’t want to put him in an environment where everyone else is going in one direction (the more exciting, fun and hormone filed direction) and I am expecting him to go in the other.
2- I don’t want my 7-year-old girl to wear bikinis or short shorts or off the shoulder clothes. This is not because I think there’s a pervert around every corner or anything like thatay. It’s because I want her to be more modest and to grow up feeling like wearing crop tops is not okay. It may be cute at 7 but at 17, not so much. Having said that, I think people really over reacted to the pictures of Jessica Simpsons baby in a bikini last year. Had she had a picture of her in Pampers only people wouldn’t have had such an issue. She was 4 months old people. It’s cute!
3- I don’t want my daughter to take hip hop classes. Her personality is a huge factor in this because if there is music and table she can stand on she’ll be on that table dancing her little tush off. I think a lot of the dances that are taught in these classes are inappropriate and too grown up. Also, whats the cut off age for this? I don’t want my daughter to start something she really loves, get really good at it and put all her energy into it then say: Fantastic! Good job! Stop doing it now. And “professional dancer” is not a career option for her.
4- I don’t like the kids listening to songs with mature themes or words in them. I am not talking only about swear words but content that is not something a 7 or 10-year-old should be listening to. So I opt to go for the watered down versions like the songs by Kids Bop. They take all the top hits and make the lyrics child appropriate. So it’s the same songs but kid friendly! My kids love it.
5- I don’t let them watch Disney channel because I saw one of the sitcom episodes where the plot was about two girls seeing who could kiss one boy first. Not okay in my book.
So if those things slap the label conservative on me then I guess I am.
Then there are the people who are surprised by how “Western” I am in certain things about my parenting. Most of the people who label my actions “Western” are Western themselves, and what they label as (quite condescendingly) are any good parenting traits I have. They assume that because I value early bedtime and healthy diet and love to encourage my children to read and put a high emphasis on being polite and respectful to all people, that I MUST have that from studying in London. Or from having a Western nanny when I was a child. To these people I tell them to look at my mother and grandmother and they can see where I learned how to raise my children with values we already have.
I know I have gained a lot of parenting skills from books written by Western authors, but the common sense was there to begin with. I did need a book to tell me what fruits to put in my children’s morning shakes to get the healthiest option. And a book did help me learn how to help motivate my children with reward charts and such.
I have learned a lot from my little (large) collection of parenting books just as I have learned from how my grandmother raised her children into adulthood and how she respects their life and their decision and didn’t raise them to be extensions of herself but rather self-aware, resilient, independent human beings who also didn’t fit into any particular label.
I am personally uncomfortable with either label. Conservative because it is stifling and Western because it’s condescending. I am me. I have been influenced by my Islamic upbringing, my Bedouin grandmother, my British nanny, my hundreds and hundreds of books, my friends from different countries and religions and by life!
I think, because people seem to have a need to sort others out into neat groups, I will have to find a new label. Maybe “Islamic, Conservative, liberal, free-spirited, regimented, modern, temperamental, Arab, world mom”?
What do you think of the 5 points I listed earlier? Do you agree with them? Are you a “conservative” parent? Do you think you fit into a label?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mama B from Saudi Arabia. She can be found writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa.
Photo credit to _nyem_who holds a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license.