Monday, January 30, 2006

Cultural Differences for Baby

People who are not familiar with the thoughts and ideas of American Southerners would have a hard time understanding why my husband and I feel that we are from different cultures. I grew up in the Deep South in the heart of the Bible Belt where everyone went to church on Sunday and then came home for a wonderful home-cooked meal with extended family all around. My husband grew up in the Midwest, in a suburb outside one of the nation's largest cities with highly educated parents and very little in the way of community. They kept to themselves, and the children learned that they should take care of themselves first and foremost.

I realize even in writing those sentences that I sound biased. There were definitely downsides to growing up where I did. Primarily it was difficult to become anyone other than the person constructed by societal norms. Still, I believe that the culture in which I was raised has distinctive benefits that I want my son to have.

If you are experiencing these types of cultural divides, then I want to share with you what my husband and I have done to make sure that we are giving our son what we consider to be the best of both worlds.

Before our son was even an inkling on the horizon, we talked about our expectations when raising children. Although that seemed to be an obvious discussion for us, few people have it. We talked about the major issues, yes, but we also looked at our own families. What did we like? What did we want to do differently?

Well, one of the things that was very important to me was that our child say ma'am and sir, which is a long-forgotten manner in my husband's world. It is an oddity to him, something quaint that delineates one of the few Southern traits or dialectical patterns that I have left after seven years living far from home. My husband thinks it unnecessary to use those words to indicate respect, but he acquiesced because it is such as huge issue for me. There were others, such as my husband's preference that our children play soccer and not baseball, at least when they are young enough for us to make those decisions unilaterally.

I want my son to know about the South - the good and the bad. With extensive training in American history, I am prepared to provide that atmosphere to my son. My husband and I are still nomadic, but we will be settling down in a year. Where, you ask? Well, so have our families. The cultural tug-of-war extends to them because they are all fighting for the right to teach our son to be Southern or American (yes, I use those terms on purpose). The answer is Atlanta - the not-that-Southern city in the South. We will live where we can enjoy the culture and diversity that we crave and still hold on to roots that I cannot allow to be pulled up, however far my life may have taken me.

Cultural differences are something that you and your partner have to discuss. It is rare that one would want to deny completely the existence of one's cultural heritage. There are precious few ideologies that come to mind without any good parts. Even the most offensive of cultures has something good. Many cultures that seem degrading to women, for instance, have a built-in system of respect that should be emulated. There are ways to find what is good about a culture and pass it on.

When you are trying to find that goodness to help raise your baby to believe in the power and integrity of two systems, even if those systems seem antithetical, it is important to work hard at compromise. Write down five lessons you want your child to get from your culture. Have your partner do the same. This list is your jumping off point for making your marriage work and your baby a happy, more diverse one. Your baby deserves to know about all of his or her heritage, and it is your job to teach those lessons. Be sure that you are comfortable with yourself so that you can teach your baby to do the same.


By Julia Mercer

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