March 06, 2010

More on Motherhood

We spent the day on the beach; Some Dutch moms and their children. The beach was – as predicted – empty. Summer doesn’t start before June 21. But we, sun-craving Dutchies from the far north, have experience with summers in Holland that are colder that most spring days in Lebanon. Okay, so it was a bit windy. But the sun was out, and so were we. The wind had carried massive amounts of driftwood on the beach, and other odds and ends. Perfect building material for children, and so our kids - bare feet - crawled around and over this gigantic heap of bamboo sticks, shoes, plastic containers, lighters, bits and pieces of textile, springs of an old mattress, broken glass, rope and planks of wood with rusty nails 5-inch long sticking out of them, pulling out stuff to build a tent.

This created a conversation on how the Lebanese perceive us, Dutch, as mothers.
In general we are seen as rather unfriendly beings with our children. Or actually, all children. We are severe, and we discipline too much. And when we discipline, we discipline all children involved, whether they are our own or not. This, in general, does not go down well, we’ve noticed.

One of us, who does all kinds of fun-activities with her children, and who likes to involve the neighborhood children of mothers who cannot be bothered to get out of bed as well, was told by one of the play-dates of her daughter that ‘she did not really love children.’ Why? Because the house rules apply to everyone, even the guests. We do not feed our children whenever they want, but rather at set times, and if they’re hungry at two, when they refused to eat their lunch at one, well, than it is tough going until six. That is perceived as being unfriendly.

Another view is that we are careless. How can you let your child run around barefoot on a garbage belt with rusty nails sticking out of wood? Granted, that is a bit of a scary thing. But worse-case scenario is that you’ve got to run to the ER for a tetanus shot and stitches. But if you keep running after them and protecting them, they’ll never learn to look out for themselves.
It is not so much an issue within the household, as it is with the extended family and the outside. The cultural differences are not that big, but they do exist.

And so we grappled with this topic for a while, on an empty beach, totally ignoring our kids who had a ball between the rusty nails and the broken class. I hope they will remember this day on the beach, when they built this gigantic tent.


Robert said...

"In general we are seen as rather unfriendly beings with our children. Or actually, all children. We are severe, and we discipline too much."

I read a travel book on Syria & Lebanon last year in preparation for a visit to Beirut, and it said that Syrian parents were very indulgent with their children. This was also given as the reason a visitor may perceive the children of Syria as being unusually happy.

I was only in Beirut three days and so didn't get much opportunity to observe these sort of things, but from what you write about Lebanese parents and their levels of discipline compared to North Europeans it would seem to be the case that the guide book was correct.

Anonymous said...

I always thought the Lebanese over disciplined and over controlled and over hovered, whereas the Europeans were more laissez faire with their children. I wouldn't say that Lebanese children are over indulged though, I would argue quite the opposite... except when it comes to food. I was raised by two lebanese parents and one time, I said in public that I was hungry... my parents were HUMILIATED and guilt ridden that they would let me go hungry. Every adult present jumped up to find me food. Needless to say I never again said that I was hungry out loud.
I normally agree with most observations you make of the Lebanese, but the whole leaving children to their accord all together was a little odd to me. If they stepped on a nail is one thing, but what if they stepped on a needle?

Back to agreeing with you. Right on with the not letting them look out for themselves. I still get the same treatment with food and laundry and general wellbeing every time I go back home from both my parents. They're elderly and still wash my clothes and feed me (whether I want it or not) endlessly.

Francine said...

@Sietske: I guess the socks and shoes got off later?

Anyway, my mom (Dutch) was exactly the same and, hell, I learned.
I stepped onto a very large rusty nail that got right through my toe, got to the hospital, got tetanus shots and antibiotics and the rest of the summer was a dread because I was not allowed to swim, only sometimes "after hours" float with my foot in the air tightly packed in a plastic bag.
Later my mom told me how lucky I got that my toe survived due to the infection that usually follows such dirty encounter.
But hey, I indeed remember that day!

btw, I also remember the bottles of white spirit readily available to wash off the tar that was usually lying around the beach. Hope this is better now.

Ginette said...

Thanks for that insight - will remember! I´m getting some looks of mothers, who are followed by their maids trying to catch the kids, when I am carrying and breastfeeding my baby!
Yes, I love him and I care for him...