Sunday, June 6, 2010

Heading home, and Spanish thoughts on childrearing

I’m heading home and I think the length of this trip was just right. We were able to do the things we wanted to do, I think we avoided overstaying our welcome, and I’m now anxious to see River.

We spent time with other children on this trip, all of whom were good kids. But those close to River’s age appeared to be more difficult. We appreciate how easy we have it and I want to see my baby to show him how much I appreciate him.

Today I asked my friend what the Spanish recommend regarding potty training and she said people are advised to get their children out of diapers when they turn 2. She thought that was too generic of a recommendation, that it doesn’t take into account the differences between children. But in general, it sounds like most Spaniards complete daytime training between 18 months and age 2.5. She said no one goes to school still wearing diapers.

Regarding dental care, they don’t make their first visit to the dentist until age 5 or 6. Our friends still put their 3-year-old to bed with a bottle (a bottle, not a sippy cup) of chocolate milk. I wouldn’t want to emulate the bottle, nor the chocolate, and we are trying to move away from milk in the bed. But I did like their lack of mania about dental care, especially since I have peers where I live urging people to bring their kids to the dentist at age 18 months or earlier. When I called the dentist, he said not to bring River until age 3, which is what I plan to do.

“I think Americans tend to be kind of manic about teeth,” said our friend’s husband. “Not just about dental hygiene, but also appearance.” They also thought it was strange, and going a bit overboard, to have hair salons (or dentists) that focus just on serving children. “There is nothing traumatic about sitting in a chair and getting a haircut,” one of them said. “Our local hair salons will cut a child’s hair for 5-7 euro. There is no need to make a big deal of something that isn’t really.” They said when they were growing up, their mothers cut their hair.

I do agree with them, but where I live, there aren’t a lot of other options. The man who cuts my hair said only a few people in the salon will agree to work with children, and they charge something exorbitant. I could take him to a cheap place, but then one is rolling dice as to the quality. I still have memories of when my mother took me for a cut at a training center for hair stylists. It’s just not worth the possibility of such mistakes.

While I liked their more relaxed attitude regarding dental care and haircuts, one Spanish practice I’m glad we don’t use is the late bedtimes. I found the evidence in the book Nurture Shock of greater hours of sleeping being related to better brain development to be convincing. Another study that found negative effects from co-sleeping, due to reduced hours of sleep achieved by both mother and child made sense to me. The kids we spent time with often didn’t nap, then they went to bed very late – 10 p.m., 11 p.m., later. When it was time to get up, they were tired and clingy. During the day they were cranky. The lack of a set routine seemed to make the bedtime routine a fight and/or a negotiation.

We weren’t so much into a routine when River was a small baby. At that time, I figured we’d follow his signs. But as he’s gotten older, he’s fallen into a routine and I think it’s a good thing for all of us. He knows what to expect, which is the same virtually every day. Since he likes most of the steps of the routine (potty with his favorite program, book, milk), there is no resistance as we go through the steps. In the process, he’s settling down. And when it comes time for bed, that’s just a natural extension of the process. He gets plenty of sleep. We get plenty of down time.

One thing I do love about the Spanish culture is the strong tie with the family. Perhaps there is a tendency to coddle and to spoil their children. But family connections are strong and children remain close to their parents well through adulthood. My ideal would be for River to be empowered and independent and for him to be well-behaved and respectful, and for him to feel so loved by his family that he wants to remain close.

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