I broke a lot of rules when I was pregnant that first time.
First rule? I leaned against a doorway before my Indonesian friend shouted at me to keep moving. After all, I wouldn’t want to have a difficult labor and have the baby get stuck (which, incidentally, he did, requiring a vacuum delivery after two hours of pushing).
Second rule? I attended a funeral, despite the fact that it could have invited spirits to enter my womb and bother my baby, my friends believed. But I just couldn’t miss the funeral of one of my first Indonesian friends—sweet Yuli, who died in a motorcycle wreck at age 22.
Third? I travelled, several times, in cars, airplanes, boats. Also, tempting spirits to harm my unborn baby, according to local belief.
I’m sure I broke several more, and continue to break the local customs with how I rear my kids. I let them sleep in their own room. I let them try eating by themselves, with their own hands or utensils from a young age. And I don’t bundle them in blankets and hats and long sleeves to protect them against the winds…in this daily 88 degree humid heat.
I break many more American customs. I deliver my babies overseas. I put my son in a preschool where he has to speak a foreign language. I live in a place that most Americans fear and assume is full of all kinds of crazy dangers, and simply no place for kids.
All this rule-breaking has taught me some good lessons about motherhood.
Lesson #1: Don’t worry about pleasing other people when it comes to your kids.
There are many ways of doing life, of teaching kids, of making a family. Someone somewhere in the world will think what you do is weird. So, I aim to stop worrying about what others think as I try to do what’s best for my own family.
Lesson #2: Sometimes listen to others’ experienced advice.
On the flip side, I knew almost nothing about having kids when I started this whole thing four years ago. And I’ve learned techniques from many cultures—from my American friends, from my Indonesian neighbors. It doesn’t hurt to listen to what others’ experiences are. Take the ideas that work and leave the rest.
Lesson #3: Don’t do it alone.
Even with all the cultural differences out there in rearing kids; realities like sleepless nights, headstrong toddlers, and parent-child bond have a way of breaking down those differences. Mothers are everywhere. They share many of the same struggles. They have a passion for their children in common. And they are usually excited to meet with other mothers.
Lesson #4: Let motherhood unite us.
One thing that surprised me and continues to surprise me about motherhood is how many “stances” there are. Pro-breastfeeding vs. formula feeding. Attachment parenting vs. non-attachment. Home-schooling vs. public school vs. private school. Everyone believes they’re right and the others are wrong. Fingers point and tongues cluck.
Meanwhile mothers everywhere struggle with isolation, with loneliness.
When you live in a culture not your own, where the issues are far more extreme (believing that evil spirits will snatch your children in the night, struggles with life-threatening diarrhea in young children because of unsanitary conditions, whether or not to put a head covering on your 5-year-old little girl), many of these other issues fall away.
And when you’re like me, doing this motherhood thing on the other side of the world from everything familiar, you learn to use motherhood as a way to bring you closer to people. And you figure out that mothers everywhere care deeply for their children—and they don’t seem so different after all.
photo credit, Tripp Flythe