Tag Archives: Christine Gross-Loh

Food is Meant to be Enjoyed: Parenting Without Borders, Part 3

It’s been almost five months since I wrote a post in this series. In fact, I looked back at the first three posts in this series and noticed that there was a rather large lag between some of the posts (Intro to Part 1 = 3+ months; Part 1 to Part 2 = ~1 month; Part 2 to Part 3 = ~5 months). I wonder if we can consider this some kind of metaphor for how it can be with parents who try to cross some things off their to do list. Anyway, my hope is that I’ll be able to post a few more parts of this series in the next month and a bit. Let’s have a quick refresher on the first three parts.

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Chapter 3, we’ll take a closer look at the different ways that children around the world eat.

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One of the first things that struck me about this chapter was the aspect of neuromarketing. I’ve written about this in the past. From the book:

Food manufacturers spend enormous amounts of money to market their product to even the youngest eaters. The labels are brightly colored and appealing, and the foods are advertised directly to children on TV and the Internet. Supermarkets often put these kid-friendly foods at a child’s eye level so a child will be more likely to take them off the shelves and put them in the grocery cart when a parent’s back is turned.

Somehow, this seems… wrong. I totally understand the idea of free choice, free markets, and all that it encompasses, but is it really in our collective best interest to be pumping our kids full of sugar? More importantly, is it really in our collective best interest to allow an industry to surreptitiously convince our children that the foods they should be eating are found in the dry good aisle, rather than the produce section? Again, I totally understand that some folks are adamant about letting the ‘market’ correct failures, but it seems to me that in certain areas (healthcare being another one), there should be a bit more regulatory oversight.

On that note, I a little while back, I had what I thought was an interesting idea that incorporate some of the principles of Nudge:

The idea: a marketing campaign in which we tell people that, when they get unhealthy, their spouse or their kids will have to pay for it.

Circling back to the chapter, here’s another bit that I found startling:

It’s not just what kids eat, but how much. In the past thirty years, portion sizes have grown astronomically: a cookie today is 700 percent bigger than it was in the 1970s.

Seven hundred percent! That’s incredible. And that reminds me of one of the anecdotes I talked about when I wrote about how I stopped eating dessert:

There’s a story that I remember being told about Kate Hudson. I tried to find it just now, but Hudson recently mentioned something about a story in France that has similar keywords to the search I ran and so I’m not able to find it. It may or may not be true, but let’s just say that it is. When Hudson was young, her mother (Goldie Hawn), taught her an important lesson when it came to dessert: only take one bite. That is, when you’re served a piece of pie or a piece of cake, it’s not necessary to eat the entire piece. Instead, just take one bite of the dessert to “enjoy” the taste of the dessert and let that be it.

Can you imagine a sugar-starved kid only having one bite of their cake and leaving the rest? The stereotypical child that I’m imagining — of course — couldn’t do that, but I wonder if we move back to smaller portions (and smaller plates!) and teach our little ones about the importance of moderation, might this venture be a bit easier?

Before we close out this post, I wanted to share a couple of bits from the chapter about how food socialization of children in other parts of the world. In Japan, for instance, food is part of the education system. In the earlier grades, kids are learning about all the different uses for soybeans and by the time their in middle school, they’re already learning the basics of how to cook. I think most folks know that the school calendar is different in Japan (longer school days and longer school year), which allows for time for other learning. Rather than strictly focusing on academic instruction, Japanese students receive an education fit for the ‘whole’ of the person.

You might also find Sweden’s way of doing things refreshing — kids get to pick what they want to eat. The small catch is, the fridge is stocked with only healthy/good choices. In this way, a child in Sweden will never make the ‘wrong’ choice.

Eating in South Korea is similar to eating in Japan. One of the things I didn’t mention about Japan, but that is very important in South Korea, is that the family eats together. Everyone is eating the same things and there’s a real emphasis on a shared eating experience.

Moving west to France and Italy — food is meant to be enjoyed. A quick example from France:

School lunch in France is a class in itself. Children get one and a half to two hours to eat a leisurely, three-course lunch, followed by a recess. A typical menu for preschoolers in Versailles has children eating sliced radish and corn salad with vinaigrette dressing and black olive garnish, roasted guinea fowl, sautéed Provençal vegetables, and wheat berries, Saint-Paulin cheese, vanilla flan, and wafers.

I suspect that the meal above probably sounds better than what you had for lunch and probably sounds better than what you’re going to be having for dinner tonight.

Buy Less Stuff: Parenting Without Borders, Part 2

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Chapter 2, we’ll explore “stuff.” That is, all the things we buy when we have kids.

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You can probably imagine the stereotypical parents walking to their car in the parking lot — trying to carry all their new baby purchases. We’ve certainly seen this stereotype in movies, but I bet you also know some parents (maybe it’s you?) who went out and bought. Everything. Baby-related. Ever. Created. How many times have you used that thing in the corner? Or what about that *special cloth* on the shelf?

I feel pretty fortunate in that the course I mentioned in the introduction, “Bringing Baby Home,” spent some time talking about the things that some parents think they “must have” versus the things that are “nice to have.” In the second chapter of this book, Gross-Loh also goes into detail about the stuff we buy when we become parents. In the US, actually:

The average American family gains 30% more possessions with the arrival of each child.

Whoa! You could probably argue that Americans probably already have too many possessions (before bringing in a new person into the family) and then to add 30% more to that! Sheesh. Here’s another important passage:

American parent seek meaning in their lives and find purpose by making a career out of priming their children for success. Today, instead of being told we should wear high heels and pearls while vacuuming the house, we worry that by not buying something for our child that will help foster his unique interests, he won’t live up to his potential. UPenn sociologist argues that the way we spend money on our children reflects our commitment to the idea that we should do whatever it takes to help each child cultivate his individual talents.

When you couch the consumerism like that, it doesn’t sound as bad, does it? Parents are just trying to right by their child. One last small reflection of the American culture found in this chapter:

In the US, there are more shopping centers than high schools.

There’s probably more to that statistics than what’s on its face, but it does sound a bit startling to think that there are more shopping centers that high schools.

As you might expect, this rampant consumerism doesn’t exist in other parts of the world. For instance, in Japan, children often have far fewer things. More importantly, it’s part of their culture. Gross-Loh shared an analogy of one child being jealous of his friends because they had no family car (while this child did) because riding buses/trains seemed far more fun by the way the child’s friends described it. We could also probably talk about the size of Japanese homes versus the size of American homes. As you might expect, homes in Japan are smaller and as a result, have far less room to store stuff.

There are also examples from France where parents are employing a “delayed gratification” with their children in that children don’t always get what they want. The idea behind this is that the child then gains the satisfaction from waiting. That might be a tall order for some parents.

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Overall, the message from this chapter is that we don’t need as much stuff for our kids as we think we do. Of course, given the culture of consumerism, it’s easier said than done for some. Regardless, some of the research shared in this chapter points to the fact that having fewer toys  or “simpler, open-ended playthings” are better for the development of children. Given that parents are only trying to do what’s best for their children, telling them that research shows that “less is more” might make it a bit easier to swallow.

 

Babies Aren’t Meant to Sleep Alone: Parenting Without Borders, Part 1

In July, I began working on a series about the book Parenting Without Borders. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be able to write the second post in that series until about 4 months later. To refresh your memory:

Christine Gross-Loh exposes culturally determined norms we have about “good parenting,” and asks, Are there parenting strategies other countries are getting right that we are not?

With that out of the way, let’s get straight to Chapter 1 — Sleep.

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Without a doubt, sleep is probably one of the most controversial topics when it comes to parenting, in part because if the baby/toddler isn’t sleeping, it usually means that Mamma/Dadda aren’t sleeping and when everyone’s not sleeping… it can be a recipe for disaster. Easing back on the hyperbole, when the parents aren’t sleeping, it makes it harder for them to patient with their young ones, which is usually what’s required most of the time.

In this chapter, I was struck by the range of methods that parents around the world use when it comes to sleep. For instance, it’s probably no surprise to you that in North America, it’s common for the baby/toddler to have their own room and for them to sleep on their own. But, would you believe that across the world, North America stands as an outlier int this regard? That is, it’s far more common for parents in the “rest” of the world to sleep with their baby (this is what’s known as co-sleeping).

For many of the cultures that co-sleep with their baby, they believe it fosters a sense of independence. That may seem counterintuitive at first, but think about it for a moment. If we put the baby in the other room and it needs comforting, it’s not able to get that when it wants. However, if we’re co-sleeping with the baby and it needs comfort, that need is able to be met instantly. Research bears this out, too. Gross-Loh discussed a study that showed children who co-slept with their parents (from birth) later became more independent and self-reliant (than their sleeping alone counterparts).

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The big theme from this chapter is busting the myth that the baby has to sleep in its own room (for its own good). Science seems to support the idea that co-sleeping is better for the baby (and for the parents), but breaking through that cultural norm would be tough for lots of parents. I’ll leave you with one last bit from the chapter that even I bristled at, initially:

In Scandinavia, it’s customary for babies to take their naps outdoors despite the cold winters. (The Finnish government assures new mothers, “Many babies sleep better outdoors in the fresh air than in the bedroom. Sleeping outdoors is not dangerous for a baby.”) Babies are bundled up and left in prams [strollers] on terraces or outside of stores to sleep.

Can you imagine walking down the sidewalk in New York, Michigan, or Minnesota, in the dead of winter to see three or four strollers parked outside with sleeping babies in them!?

Parenting “Truths” are Culturally-Based: Parenting Without Borders, Introduction

It’s been some time since my last series (almost a year and a half ago) and even longer since the last time I did a series about a book. I’ve definitely read a number of books since then, but one that I’ve recently, I wanted to explore a bit more in-depth, so I thought I’d write a few posts about it in a series.

As you already know, I became a parent last year and as many parents do when making this transition, I was interesting in reading about this new stage of life. I’m aware that there are plenty of books on parenting out there, but I wasn’t interested in reading them all. Luckily for me, during one of my “Bringing Baby Home” classes, the teacher talked about this very thing. Given her experience teaching the course, recommendations from other parents, and her own personal experience, she suggested that the two best books we could read were:

  • The Wonder Weeks: How to Stimulate Your Baby’s Mental Development and Help Him Turn His 10 Predictable, Great, Fussy Phases into Magical Leaps Forward

As the title of this post suggests, we’ll be exploring “Parenting Without Borders.” Part of that’s because the topics within the book are so juicy and part of that’s because my little guy is already beyond the “10 leaps” from The Wonder Weeks. I will say, though, if you’re about to have a young one or you’ve just had a young one, The Wonder Weeks did wonders when helping me to understand why my little guy might have been fussier at times. This is really important because it helps you, as a parent, to understand a little better the things that your baby/toddler might be experiencing. There’s also a Wonder Weeks website.

So, what’s Parenting Without Borders, you ask?

Christine Gross-Loh exposes culturally determined norms we have about “good parenting,” and asks, Are there parenting strategies other countries are getting right that we are not?

The only word that I take issue there is “right,” but that gives you an idea of the kind of material we’re going to be exploring in this series. Let’s get right to the introduction of the book.

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Right away, Gross-Loh paints a picture of her childhood. Born to two immigrants of the US (via South Korea), she was always given lots of space to do her own thing, but she knew that her parents were worried that they were doing right by her. Her folks would meet with other Korean families to discuss schools, among other things.

Before Gross-Loh had kids, there were things that she “knew” before her kids were born:

They would eat no junk food, watch no violent TV. If my children were raised peacefully, they would never show interest in weapons or war. I would be attentive to them and watchful of their feelings. I would be an accepting, protective parent to give them a secure base.

[…]

I’d been taught it was important to put our kids’ needs first, to give them lots of choice, to praise them to make them feel confident. My American friends and I sought out the right classes, toys, and books to foster our young children’s development, helped oversee their relationships and disagreements with other children, went to bat for them with their teachers and coaches, and guided what they did in their free time.

I think that’s probably a pretty accurate description of how many parents want to be.

But as my own children attended local Japanese schools and we spent time with Japanese families, I saw children raised in a very different way who were clearly thriving — just as much — and sometimes more — than our own. Moms in Japan were surprised by how uptight I was about allowing sweets and were startled by how I monitored what my kids were allowed to watch on TV and the way I tried to stay on top of their behavior. My Japanese friends, unlike me, left their children on their own to figure out their relationships with other kids. But despite how lax these Japanese moms seemed to me, I was constantly surprised by how mature and well-adjusted their children were, how capable, and how pleasant. These were kids being raised in ways that the American parents I knew might look at as simultaneously too permissive and too strict, yet they were clearly thriving.

Which leads us to the most important sentence from the introduction [Emphasis Added]:

It was during that time that I realized something that would change me completely: The parenting assumptions I’d held to be utterly and universally true were culturally based.

And this is why I’m writing a series on this book. There is so much value to be had in exploring the “truths” of different cultures, especially as it relates to shaping (or not shaping?) our young ones.