Confession #122: Babies Should Wear Socks at The Beach (& other advices)
I once referred to the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” about my (now previous) life at the orphanage. The friend who I was speaking to, however, interrupted me just before I was about to compliment the thought: “You know the Bible never said that,” she said. “It was Hillary Clinton. It takes parents to raise a child.”
At first I laughed, shrugged my shoulders, and pretended I already knew that. (I had no idea who actually said the phrase first.) But it did get me thinking, especially as I became a parent myself. Villages are nice to have, but my kids need me.
Raising kids in a culture that is not your own has its challenges. Some of the challenges are obvious like language barriers, where to send them to school, fitting in with other kids, church, and helping them discover their own unique identity between cultures.
I’ve been a mom for almost four years now. Raising Haitian children in Haiti, I have learned to be a humble parent- meaning I have had to learn to accept constant advice and criticisms from my Haitian neighbors. I went through a phase of daily critiques on how I styled (or didn’t) Dalencia’s hair. My approach to health care (meaning I don’t send my kids to the doctor every time they have a runny nose or fever) has raised many of eyebrows. Barely anyone agrees with my approach towards punishment. And don’t even get me started on the days when I homeschooled!
In my early parenting years, I was often offended by others telling me how to do my job as a mom. I thought the people here were rude and had no place to openly share their opinions on how I was choosing to raise my kids. But slowly I came to accept the fact that this was just life in Haiti. It wasn’t personal; it was culture.
Then came Jake. And although he has a Haitian birth certificate, he is currently the whitest baby in town. I already get called “blan” multiple times wherever I go. Now put a white baby boy in my arms and I am like a freakin’ circus act walking down the street.
And although that is super annoying and all, it’s all the critiquing, especially from complete strangers, that gets me the most.
After being put on bed rest for 48 hours following delivery, the first two women who came to visit told me I needed to get out of bed and start working again or I would get sick.
At the beach the man cleaning out the fish tank told me Jake should never go barefoot and I needed to put socks on him.
Twice in the grocery store someone told me it was not okay to bring Jake into the A/C.
On the street I have been laughed at for using a baby carrier.
A woman told me I needed to care for Jake better when she saw his clogged eye-duct.
I’ve been instructed to never let Jake outside without a hat.
I’ve been told he cries too much which is a sign I don’t feed him enough.
And when someone caught me drinking an ice-cold beverage the other day, I was criticized for not taking care of my post-pregnancy body. (What?!?)
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Now, I’ve never raised a baby in America before, but from what I recall people don’t just walk around giving their unsolicited advice and critiques to new mothers. But in Haiti it is a totally different game. The people here aren’t trying to be rude or anything; they are just treating me as their own. And I know that. But still…socks at the beach? Come on!
In Haiti, villages really do raise children. Grandparents, extended families, neighbors, schools, churches, and orphanages all pitch in to raise the children of this country. So when a random man in the grocery store offers me parenting advice, he is just doing his part. And instead of getting offended, I now thank him and then look at Hunter and laugh. I mean, what else am I supposed to do?
Being a mom in a culture that is not your own is difficult. You have to be confident and strong or you can easily break. Often I am neither- confident or strong. But by the grace of God I am getting there…
How about you other missionary mamas? Does this happen to you?