I’m not going to say that my experiences are the same as all of those traveling and living abroad with kids, but I do think that perhaps some of you might be able to identify with me.
My level of flexibility had to go from novice to yogi overnight. In La Paz it is very difficult to find healthy foods for your kids…people are eating ice cream and lollipops at 9am, and there is evidence of this consumption all over the playground. This has been incredibly difficult for Amelia, as it seems to her that her parents are cruel and are withholding the best things in life from her. I have definitely had to relax in the “healthy eating” department as people love to give her treats, and I have had to be creative in the kitchen to provide nutritious meals for my family.
In the developed world we are sleep obsessed. We have sleep consultants, we schedule when our kids sleep and it is our goal to get our kids to sleep through the night as quickly as possible. One of the questions I heard the most after Amelia was born was, “Does she sleep through the night?”. Nobody asks me that here. Kids are not scheduled…in fact, I don’t think children even have naps. They sleep when they are tired which ends up being on the bus, or in their parents arms wherever they may be at that moment. I seriously see kids sleeping everywhere here. Also, kids don’t have a scheduled bedtime. They are up very late, but seem to function just fine. Many do not understand our scheduled sleep routines and I have had to relax a bit in this department as well.
I did not think that a 2 year old would have a difficult time adjusting to another culture…I was wrong. We went through a month or more of difficult transition, with Amelia missing her friends and really not liking the attention she receives here. I wasn’t prepared for the difficulties facing an introverted child in a country where kids don’t get the luxury to be so. Children are passed around from day one, and get used to many hands and many faces. On numerous occasions I have had to decline the outstretched arms of a vendor at the market who wants to hold Amelia (as she desperately clings to me). The people are so sweet here and love our blonde little girl, but unfortunately she does not reciprocate their affection. The other day, Amelia and I were walking down the street and a woman walked up, picked Amelia up, swung her around and said, “You are an airplane” in Spanish. Amelia’s stunned expression said it all. Just as quickly as it began, it was over and Amelia was back on the ground asking, “What happened?”. If this had been 2 months ago, her reaction just wouldn’t have been as impassive. She has developed coping mechanisms, and has adapted to the way that things are done here. That’s not to say that she has accepted the attention she receives, but we’ve come miles from where we started.
I am perhaps the one who still needs to change. I think of the big, open fields in our cities, our spacious yards, our public libraries, recreational activities and I feel like parenting is easier at home. I miss the consistent friends for Amelia, and I feel like I’m not able to provide her with what she needs…but this is only my conception of her actual needs. Truly, all of the things I have listed are luxuries that are a part of our daily lives at home…things that I took for granted. I am aware that we are now at our halfway point in our adventure and culture shock is more a reality now then it was at the beginning of our trip. I am trying to seize everyday.
Just to be clear, this is not a criticism of how other cultures (specifically this one) parent…not in the least. Bolivians deeply care for their children and more often than not, provide safe and loving homes for them. Weekends are for families. It says something positive about the family construct when you see teenage girls still holding their mother’s hands. This is more a reflection on the difficulties of culture change and how that has affected me, my child, and my ideas of parenting. Ultimately, it has been such a positive experience, and being stretched and challenged in the way one does things can’t ever be bad!