I’d like to think of myself as a good mother. Maybe even an awesome one! Yet, sometimes, I feel like I am not doing enough for my kids. I try to balance being fun and firm. Playing, running, rolling on the floor with my sons. To teach them about being creative and saying please, sharing, helping out, and cleaning up toys. Putting a stop to the screams and the tantrums. But sometimes, I can’t help feeling like I don’t stimulate them enough, that I don’t put enough veggies into their lunches and suppers. That they still have too much energy after a full day of walking around the city, therefore I must not be able to control them.
Here in Brazil, the child is king (or queen if you have a daughter). A child who runs, screams, drops food, pulls tablecloths, pushes his face up against the glass and touches everything he sees is a happy free child, the ideal. If your kid does any of these things, you need not worry about being an unworthy mother, all of these things are normal for children, they are just being kids, and you can’t blame them for that! It has been wonderful as a mother to have your kids grow up in a society were they are allowed to be such free spirits. At Thibault’s school, the teachers and the principal reassure parents not too worry, that they will never let your child cry. Every month they print up the menu for snacktime for the month ahead. However, if they serve a snack, for example, and the child doesn’t ‘appreciate it’ then they will find something else. If he still doesn’t like the snack, then they will search for something else that he is sure to like, searching until the child is happy, no tears, no sobs, a content child. I don’t quite understand why the school goes through all that trouble of deciding on a snack menu and printing it up if they don’t even really follow it, but rather give the child whatever he feels like. But then again, what do I know.
On occasion though, and even in public, I dare to let my kids cry, throw tantrums and even go as far as *discipline* them. Often, I get weird looks from Brazilians (who NEVER discipline their kids in public!) when I am at the supermarket, for example. Sometimes, my sons will cry because they are, say, hungry and we technically still have 30 or 40 minutes before lunch. Often I will tell them that they need not worry, I know they are hungry, I feel their pain, that we will eat soon, just not right now. Or they don’t want to sit in the shopping cart anymore, or they want the candy displayed at the register, or a number of other things that make them scream and cry. Several people will come up to my child and try to sooth them in a soft voice. Some make comments like “don’t you see he just wants to be held?”. One woman once offered to take my son in her arms while I empty my cart while a supermarket employee offered to empty the cart for me while I hold my son! Others will want to offer them a cookie or other snack to appease what I think is awful behavior. If I attempt to discipline them and not give into their whims, I am immediately considered an unworthy, indignant and unfeeling mother. Other mothers, men, woman, cashiers will look harshly at me, blaming me for making my child cry.
Recently I found out, through talking with other brazilian mums at school, that their children don’t really have bedtimes. That they are allowed to go to bed when they are tired, even if that means at 10:30 or 11pm and they are allowed to wake up in the middle of the night if they get hungry. Both my sons, aged 8 months and 2 years old go to bed at bedtime (which happens to be around 7:30/8pm), sleep though their night and my eldest will even go back to sleep when we tell him that 5:30 am, or even 6:30 am is too early to wake up. I like having a schedule and routine and I think the kids benefit from it. Am I an indignant mother, am I thwarting my children’s creativity by demanding them to follow a schedule, am I hindering their free spirit? or am I doing good by instilling tolerance and patience and teaching them that they can’t have everything their little hearts desire?
In a few days we will be returning to France and I am apprehensive to the welcome we will receive. For, in France, contrary to Brazilian methods, children are to be seen and not heard. In some places they are not even to be seen and are better left at home. And the french don’t sugar coat their mentality or worry about hurting the children’s feelings or making the parents feel bad. Maitre d’s will sigh heavily if you arrive at their restaurant’s door with a stroller. Often they will say the restaurant is full or reserved even though we all know that isn’t true. Other times they’ll let you in, seat you, but never acknowledge your child, assume he has already eaten, and frown when he does not sit still with his hands crossed on his lap. Here in Brazil, I am an indignant mother because I impede my child’s natural carefree spirit by disciplining too much; In France, I am an indignant mother because I let my child be too free and unruly and don’t discipline enough!
Every country has their advantages and disadvantages. But somehow, I think I would prefer to raise my kids in a society were people are so open to children and their natural child behaviors than in a society that frowns upon children because of their child-like behaviors. We have three more days to take advantage of the conveniences of being parents of two small boys here; wish me luck as a mother of two in Paris where there are no changing tables, no help with strollers, and no friendly smiles from even other mothers!