How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm (Review and Giveaway)
As a new parent, still finding my way, I’m drawn to stories from other parents. I think I am looking for some commonality in our experience. I want to read stories that make me think, “That’s how I feel, too!” I also want to read stories that might enlighten me to a different way of understanding my child and motherhood.
Mei-Ling Hopgood’s new book, How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, is full of these types of stories. On the surface, this book is about cultural differences in parenting practices around the world. But by the end of the book, I was left with a feeling of kinship with parents around the world. I might have gleaned a few new parenting ideas from this book, but more importantly, it broadened my perspective of the many wonderfully different ways to raise a child.
I first heard of this book through a cool blog I discovered recently, Ms. Mary Mack. Created by the fabulous Nicole Blades, Ms. Mary Mack “takes an anthropological approach to motherhood.” A couple of months ago, Ms. Mary Mack hosted an interview with Mei-Ling Hopgood about what she learned from writing the book. I was intrigued and actually won a copy of her book through that post. Lucky me! I enjoyed this book so much that I wanted to review it myself and share it with you. (Nicole and I have also talked about exchanging guest posts, so stay tuned for more from her. In the meantime, definitely check out her blog, especially her Global Mamas series if you want to hear more cross-cultural parenting stories.)
How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm is Hopgood’s exploration of parenting practices from around the globe. Hopgood herself was adopted from Taiwan and raised in Detroit. Her first child, Sofia, was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Buenos Aires figures prominently in the first chapter of the book “How Buenos Aires Children Go to Bed Late.”
I started reading this book in the midst of my research for my series of blog posts on infant sleep, so of course I was immediately interested in this chapter. Hopgood explains that in Buenos Aires, it is not uncommon to see babies and toddlers enjoying dinner with their families at a café at 10 PM, to be dancing at a multi-generational party at midnight, or to be conked out on two chairs pushed together at a wedding reception at 2 AM. This flew in the face of everything I was reading about infant sleep. All of the sleep experts said that routines were critical and early bedtimes essential to avoiding an overtired state. In fact, I had found these things to be true as well, and I hold our 7 PM bedtime routine to be fairly sacred. And yet – somehow, these Argentinean babies seem to do OK. They sleep a little later in the morning and after a wild weekend of late dinners and parties, they catch up on sleep during the week.
Hopgood doesn’t just describe her observations on parenting in different cultures. She also consults the experts, talking with pediatricians, professors, and anthropologists, and the book includes a rich bibliography of science and cultural commentary. In her research she seeks to understand WHY each parenting practice works within the culture. Her chapter on Argentinean sleep practices includes the opinions of Richard Ferber (“As long as they’re getting enough sleep, it doesn’t make too much difference.”) and James McKenna (“Your child being valued enough by you and integrated in your life is more valuable than enforcing a rigid sleep routine.”) I also fell in love with a quote she included from a paper by Oskar Jenni and Bonnie O’Connor: “The large diversity of children’s sleep behaviors among societies and cultures may in fact indicate that an ‘optimal cultural standard’ does not exist.”
To give you an idea of the other parenting practices covered in Eskimos, here are some of my favorite chapters:
How the French Teach Their Children to Love Healthy Food. I personally can’t get enough of the French and their food.
How the Chinese Potty Train Early. This chapter was fascinating to me and covered everything from elimination communication to all the reasons to wait on potty training. It was helpful to read about early potty training in the Chinese cultural context and to think about the pitfalls of attempting it in a culture where it is frowned upon (and worse to a child – shameful) to poop on the street, no matter your age.
How Aka Pygmies Are the Best Fathers in the World. Aka infants spend almost as much time with their fathers as their mothers. It’s a cultural expectation. Hopgood writes:
“A group of men gather around a campfire, talking trash, sipping palm wine, and holding their infants in their arms. If a dad tries to get his baby to suckle on his nipple to calm her while the mother is away foraging for the day’s meal, the other guys don’t bat an eye.”
How the Japanese Let Their Children Fight. As long as nobody really gets injured, they figure that children will learn to solve their own conflicts and at the same time, “value the pleasure and pain of being a member of a community.”
Parenting is by design meant to raise a child to be a member of a particular culture. In that context, it is obvious that we wouldn’t parent in the same way around the world. Yet, our conversations about parenting become competitive and judgmental so quickly these days. When Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe came out a few months ago, the parenting buzz debated whether French or American parents are better. Eskimos argues that there is no “better.” Different, sure, but not necessarily better.
How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm is a book full of stories of good parents and happy babies from around the world. It might open your eyes and encourage you to consider parenting a bit differently. Or it might just make you worry less about whether you are parenting the “right” way and get on with parenting from your heart. Surely that is what parents have been doing around the world, for several million years. Eskimos is an especially great read for new parents and parents-to-be. It will leave you thinking, “I can do this.” And throughout the book, Hopgood’s first-hand stories of motherhood make for intimate and engaging narrative.
Mei-Ling Hopgood and Algonquin Press have generously offered to give away 3 copies of Eskimos to ScienceofMom readers in the U.S. Apologies to our international readers – seems a bit ironic to exclude you from a giveaway for a cross-cultural book, I know. I’ll run the giveaway for a week and draw three winners on April 25, 2012.
To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below with a thought (any thought) on parenting across cultures. Do you have any experience with traveling to other countries with your children? Do you have a parenting tip that you have picked up from another culture? What do you think we do well in our culture? Or not so well? What is a universal challenge for parents around the world?