Editor’s Note – Parenting

January 2006

Naomi Ishisaka

Copyright ColorsNW Magazine

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
– James Baldwin (1924-1987)

“We want freedom from the white man rather than to be integrated. We don’t want any part of the establishment, we want to be free to raise our children in our religion, in our ways, to be able to hunt and fish and live in peace. We don’t want power, we don’t want to be congressmen, or bankers….we want to be ourselves. We want to have our heritage, because we are the owners of this land and because we belong here.”
– Grand Council of American Indians (1927)

Parenting in the United States is already more difficult than in most other industrialized countries. Unlike Europe, which mandates parental leave for men and women – with countries such as Sweden offering 15 months of paid parental leave – parents in the U.S. have no such provision, only the right not to be fired for taking family leave. In most European countries, generous leave programs are coupled with free public child care as well, as free education extending through graduate school in Scandinavian countries.

For parents of color in the U.S., the lack of social and government support is further complicated by a culture that, for all its purported diversity, does not incorporate a plurality of cultural traditions and values into its “master narrative” of conventional wisdom around parenting. The parenting industry, with its many thousands of books, magazines, experts, TV shows, toys and private child-care facilities, still largely approaches child-raising from a white, middle-class, Western perspective. Worse, the accepted norms are rarely questioned, with no one asking why children, for example, should be fed rice cereal as a first food when most cultures around the world take a different approach. In addition, “new” trends such as attachment parenting fail to acknowledge their roots in non-Western cultures, past and present.

What this means for parents of color is that an already challenging experience can end up even more so, as few if any resources available resonate with our cultural experience or backgrounds. So-called “experts” reject our thousands of years of cultural traditions and practices, sometimes engendering unhealthy results. The roller-coaster ride of the baby-formula versus breast-feeding debate over the past 50 years is one such example.

To help broaden the discussion, a group of social scientists and pediatricians gathered a decade ago to establish the field of ethnopediatrics, a discipline that brings together anthropology and pediatrics to look across cultures at parenting practices around the world. What those in the ethnopediatric field have discovered, unsurprisingly for parents of color, is that U.S. parenting “norms” are culturally biased and that it would be wise for American parents to open their minds to other cross-cultural approaches. In this issue, we take a look at this often-unexplored field to better understand how parents of color can be validated in their approaches while at the same time find culturally appropriate ways to grow and change, and raise healthy and well-adjusted children.

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