Monday, February 13, 2012

Cultural observations around parenting, maybe?

Of course by now everyone's seen the latest Wall Street Journal article about how French culture's parenting is SUPERIOR to Americans.  Seriously, WSJ, didn't that get old last time?  Then again Tiger Mom and French expat mom are probably laughing their way to the bank, as people snap up copies of their books. Those sensationalist titles bug the crap out of me.

I mentioned previously that we have an anonymous forum for parenting questions at work.  It's a great idea for people who might be too timid to post a question to the 1000+ people on the list, or for things you'd rather not have attached to your name.

One of the questions/responses that I read last week has been bothering me so much I need to write about it and get it out of my system.  (I've changed some of the small details just to anonymize it further, though I have no idea who had the original question.)

The query came from a parent who works full time and his/her two toddlers are in daycare.  S/he has about 3 hours with the kids after daycare pickup to get home, eat, spend quality time and get ready for bed.  S/he treasures this time with her kids and laments that it's not enough. 

The issue is with Grandma, who randomly picks the kids up from daycare and takes them out to shop, to McDonalds, and often doesn't return them before bedtime because "they were having too much fun and didn't want to go home yet".  This happens at least weekly.  Parent is frustrated by the loss of  precious evening time with the kids, the delayed bedtimes, the junk food, and the randomness.  (Presumably Grandma alerts the parent before she picks up, so they don't have a wasted trip to daycare and don't freak out that the kids are gone.)

Her question was how to approach this with Grandma, who obviously means well.

So my first response to this was "yikes, what a tricky situation".  I totally sympathize with this parent, who genuinely misses the kids while s/he is at work.  I can't imagine working full-time and then also having to regularly deal with this kind of random schedule disruption.  I also wouldn't want my toddler to be eating at McD's on a regular basis, but that's minor.  I see that it's rough - obviously having a close relationship with a grandparent is such a gift, and how great is it that Grandma wants to spend that much time with little kids after a long day at work herself? 

I started reading the responses from my (also anonymous) colleagues, and I could not believe my eyes. 

80% were variations of these:
  • Parent should be happy to get some alone time
  • Grandparents deserve respect and to spoil grandchildren whenever, however, and wherever they want
  • Parent will be sorry when s/he gets old and her own kids don't let her see her grandkids (I wish I were kidding)
  • Get over yourself, parent, not everyone has grandparents alive/nearby/engaged
I was really confused at this point and went back to re-read the original question, because I had no idea what was going on - did these people read a completely different post than I did? 

And then it struck me.  I work at a company with a high proportion of folks from Asian cultures, specifically Chinese and Indian.  I don't know anything about Chinese culture, but I know a lot about Indian culture.  So I can only assume these answers are true to the culture these folks were raised in - that elders always know best, and deserve deference and gratitude no matter what.

I was also really irritated by the way many of the answers were phrased - they were so judgmental, antagonistic, and preachy.  I mean, this parent is reaching out anonymously for advice with a problem she is having trouble tackling.  Can we get a little compassion up in here?  And really, the parent doesn't want alone time - she wants that precious time with her babies at night.  Why did alone time even come up at all??

And then of course, there's the fact that I *completely* disagree because the responses essentially amounted to "She's the Grandma, her needs are the most important, suck it up".  Mind you, I don't think s/he needs to put the smack down and remove Grandma from the daycare pickup list. 

But I do think s/he can handle this gently - maybe pick a day just for Grandma-toddler evening so that it's more predictable and get agreement from Grandma to bring them back by bedtime (or a little earlier for parent snuggle time).  Or make arrangements for the kids to spend lots of time with Grandma on weekends.

But I keep coming back to the fact that 80% of the responses see no problem with the scenario and basically dismiss the original questioner.  Really? 

Lay it on me, peeps.  What do you think?  Asian friends, did I correctly interpret this as a cultural difference?


  1. I can't address the cultural thing, but I would definitely ask my mom or MIL to knock off the late nights. Tactfully, of course. I think your suggestion of scheduling the "Grandma evenings" is a really good one. I feel bad for the person who got smacked down by the community responses...

  2. An, I can't really address the cultural thing, either. However, I know that I would start out tactfully. e.g. "Please have the kids home by 6 so I we can stick to our normal mealtime/bedtime/whatever." If that didn't work, I would have to bring the hammer (removal from list); some people don't respond very well to polite. Grandma can be re-added to the list when Grandma agrees to respect parental authority. It's all fine and dandy for grandparents to spoil grandchildren, provided those spoilings are infrequent. When they occur multiple times a week, they go from grandparents being indulgent to grandparents undermining parents.

  3. I think people who do not have their parents around (locally) sometimes have a very different idea of what they would actually do (vs. what they would tell you to do) than people who do. I thought having a grandparent within 5 miles would be fantastic, but it is fraught with these kinds of scenarios that require management. No, the kids can't have ... (insert: soda, all that dessert, every toy they ask for, no bedtime, no boundaries, 1 million articles of clothing). It may be less cultural and more experiential. I think people have a good idea of what it would be like to have their parents or in-laws nearby, but in the end, you don't know until it happens. And grandparents are NOT the same as they were as parents. They don't need to be and they don't want to be. On the other hand, it is a good experience for kids to occasionally experience other parenting personalities. Is the occasional late bedtime ok? How often? Maybe it's not so horrible after all. Anyway, everyone has their own special version of parenting trouble...sometimes it is parenting your parents.

  4. Based on the post, I can gather these two facts:
    1. An 'estimated' high % of the employees are of Asian origin.

    2. About 80% of the responses seemed judgmental, antagonist and preachy.
    Sorry, but can't connect the two in my algorithmic thinking. I'd be surprised if a bunch of Indians took time off to respond to a co-workers' issue, even. (Wouldn't they be decoding a complex computer program or something before the Chinese did it,instead? LOL)

    Jokes aside, Judgmental and Preachy people come in all skin colors. Anyone who has ever tried posting a question on Yahoo! answers would know this very well. So, I don't think it has to do with culture. About the lady who asked for her colleagues suggestions, she got just that. Its an open forum and I'm sure she knew she wasn't seeking the advice of a counselor or such.

    Finally, if I were to post a response to her, I would say, " Close your eyes, relax and ask yourself what you think you could and therefore should, do." Answers, more often than not, lie within us. The reason I say this, is because I think, the problem isn't the mommy time with kids, the gramma time, nor the schedule, none of those. I think, the problem is in the line of communication between Gramma and Mom. She was more comfortable with sharing her concerns to a bunch of strangers, in a forum that seems quite open to individual interpretations instead of chatting it out with her Mom? My $0.02.

  5. @bryce - I hadn't framed this in the view of undermining the parents. Interesting thought.

    @Jasmine - I think you are ABSOLUTELY right about people and their wishful thinking vs. what they would *actually* do. And that's definitely not cultural, I don't think.

    @Mom with a Dot - thanks for your input. First, I don't know if it was the parent's mother or mother-in-law, which I think changes the dynamic somewhat. It also depends on whether they have a good/close relationship to begin with because this is a tricky subject.

    Of course the answer has to come from within, but are you faulting the questioner for asking for other's advice (completely anonymously) on a tricky personal situation? The forum is designed exactly for stuff like this - when you want a "gut check" from people who don't know you personally.

    And I do think that this is a step up from Yahoo answers. We are work colleagues, and in general the tone of our parenting lists is supportive.

    I wasn't suggesting that Asian culture was the reason for being preachy/judgmental, just that some of the responses were so (for example the one about how her own kids were going to grow up and never let her see her grandkids - who says stuff like that??).

  6. I agree with what @Jasmine said: "I think people who do not have their parents around (locally) sometimes have a very different idea of what they would actually do (vs. what they would tell you to do) than people who do." Yep.

    On Ask Moxie, @hedra once posted an excellent (as always) comment about "The Role Of The Grandparent," and how to go about having the discussion - worth searching for in @Moxie's archives.

    If after talking it over and setting boundaries, Grandma still persists, a more severe and potentially relationship-ending step would be to take Grandma off the daycare's list of approved pickup people for the kids. Only as a last resort of course.

    Why not see if Grandma wants to spend some mornings with the kids and take them to daycare afterwards, and let the parents pick them up and have their 3 hours with them in the evening?

  7. @ Anandi - No, am not faulting her. Only wondering if she chose the right forum. Considering she was looking for suggestions on how to make it a soft landing for Grandma. Too bad, the responses were way off the real issue.

  8. I don't have kids, but can understand the randomness issue. I like schedules (I am a proj mgr afterall) and I like people to stick to schedules. I understand that kids, especially young ones need those schedules. I think your approach, as always, seems gentle enough to not ruffle feathers, and it becomes a win/win for everyone. I wish my grandparents had lived around us as kids, so I can appreciate that need. But the parents are the "rulers" of the roost in my opinion. They are the one's responsible for raising a child. And us outsiders should try to support the parents and their needs/schedule as much as we can.

    Now...remember, I don't have kids and it's easy to be a sideline parent.

  9. Hm... All I can say is that there are definite benefits from living several states away from the grandparents.

    But yeah, it should be easy to address politely without problem... it's not like there's no solution. There's plenty of time in the week for Grandma.

    No idea on cultural differences.


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