This thought process started here.
International adoptive parents’ desire to bring as much birth culture as possible into the life of their children is nobel and respectful, but no matter how much you strive to duplicate native foods, celebrate important holidays or practice ancient dance in traditional dress, you can’t help but be missing most of the basic of basics your kids would be have been experiencing.
Although I can’t pass on subtle differences between Cambodian parenting and the more American way of doing things, I can point out some things I’ve noticed over the years I’ve lived in Seychelles to illustrate the wide range of variation in attitudes, styles and methods that parenting takes in different places.
For example, babies here are always fully dressed and never without a hat and booties. Most often the entire ensemble is made from synthetic fibers and has all the breathability of a plastic sack. With the temperature always hovering around 90F I break out in prickly heat just looking at the poor little tykes. Their mothers, however, are convinced that the kid will catch a dangerous chill if any one of the rare cooling breezes that occasionally waft over the island should happen to find them unbundled, hatless and with bare feet.
(I have wondered if this isn’t at least part of the reason that grown Seychellois react to the heat so differently from transplants. When tourists are sweating their mascara into a full Tammy Faye, my friends and neighbors are looking dry and fresh.)
I know for a fact that many Seychelloise mothers are appalled by some aspects of my parenting … just taking my babies out of the house hat- and shoe-less always brought comments when Sam and Cj were little, and slings are considered way weird. Many don’t understand at all why I bother talking to babies … kids here are seriously under-stimulated because conversations with infants are thought to be a waste of time … and think I’ve denied Cj an automatic right of the girl child because she doesn’t have pierced ears.
Note the red thing on Rocky’s forehead in the photo? That’s his mother’s cure for hiccups … any handy piece of string gets plucked, then stuck in her mouth, chewed and slobbered on, then stuck on the baby like a Third Eye. Wonder of wonders, ten, maybe fifteen minutes later the hiccups stop.
You know the white gunk that sometimes coats an infant’s tongue? Mothers in Seychelles don’t like that stuff and have a standard cure — they scrape the baby’s tongue with the tail of a dead fish. I kid you not. They’ll do that daily until the coating is gone … or they run out of fish tails.
And … if a baby is suffering with teething, all swollen gums and no eruptions, a mom will take the child to the nearest marsh, catch a small fish called a makanbale, take the living fish off the hook, rub it all over the kid’s gums, then release it to swim away with the pain and the problem.
(Both these ‘cures’ always put me in mind of the phrase, “baited breath”. Sorry about that.)
Tea is considered a proper drink for babies … regular strong black, caffeine-ladened tea … and all kids get at least one cup per day as a matter of course. Heavily sweetened with condensed milk, it takes over where breast milk leaves off.
Stewed fish heads are a popular first finger food, and babies get very good at sucking out the yummy eyes first thing to make a finger-hold through the sockets.
Babies are also rarely seen in public without their full complement of jewelry. Necklaces that have me envisioning strangulation, earrings and bracelets with dangling bits that scream, to me, “choking hazard”, are de rigueur.
Unlike kids raised in America by American parents, my kids have are subject to my style, the local style … although I’ve managed to keep Mark’s grandmother from coming at their mouths with any live fish … and vestiges of British parenting. What they don’t have is anything Cambodian in their day-to-day, so even though we’ll be visiting their birth country every few years as they grow up, it will always be strange to them, and they will always be strangers there.
Is this sad? Yes, it’s a loss. Through no choice or fault of their own, they’ve lost their chance to grow up in the country of their birth, and even if they move back to Cambodia later in life they will not live or parent like Khmers.
Is it tragic? No. It’s life, and although international adopted kids miss out on much, the fabric of their lives becomes richer for the layers of experience they enjoy when influences come from many directions.