I was Facetiming with a friend a few weeks ago. We have children of similar ages and were talking about what challenges we were facing with each and figuring out what to do about things. Somewhere in the conversation, she brought up something that her own mom had said, “Children don’t realize as they grow up that they are also watching their parents grow up.”
I so appreciated that nugget of wisdom from a generation up. I’ve reflected on it and also given myself some grace for the standards I tend to hold myself to or imagine others hold me to.
Many times I am still figuring things out… mulling over things, praying, researching for solutions, and praying that what I do is the right thing! Not to mention, trying to set examples and be patient… Again, I appreciated the grace of her statement!
Anyway, I came across an article about the difference between Japanese and Western parenting styles not too long ago. Nothing was particularly new to me, but the way they presented shed some new light on areas that I can clearly see fit into other aspects of the culture.
One of the things that I had noticed when I moved to Japan with an 8-month-old and started making mom friends was that they always seemed to be prepared for all eventualities with minimal baggage. They always had wipes at their fingertips, snacks for their kids, snacks for mine, a cup and straw with tea, plastic bags for diapers, plastic bags for spare trash and a number of other handy goods.
I was amazed. Meanwhile, I had a monster of a bag, had to dig for everything, felt unprepared with snacks only for one and was always missing something.
Now, if you know me, you know that I’m a person that prepares. But it took a while to match this level of preparedness in my new context. I’m now way better!
The aforementioned article goes into the 2 types of parenting– proximal and distal. Let me just quote them: “the proximal parenting style is associated with consistent and prolonged body contact between the mother and child, while the distal parenting style’s emphasis is more on eye contact and communication through facial expression and words.”
Proximal is more Japanese. They proactively meet the needs of their child which inevitably leads to a child having a higher level of self-regulation. When a child is misbehaving, the parent feeds back to the child how their behavior is affecting others, which definitely promotes group-mindedness.
Distal Parenting is more Western. Distal parenting tends to encourage more self-expression and independence. Western parents tend to focus more on rules: compliance and consistency.
I’m not promoting one over the other. I’ve seen the value of the Japanese way of parenting (those kids, with few exceptions, are SO well behaved on trains!). Japanese parents have commented that they wish they could do certain parenting things the way we do them, like moving them to their own rooms at 6 months or so. Both styles have their advantages and disadvantages– they’re just different.
I guess where my reflection comes in is that I am a mom with a Western background raising my kids in a completely different setting, and how to promote the good things of each culture, creating an atmosphere and understanding for them to maneuver between and function in both worlds.
In other words: I need to help bridge the gap for my kids between both sides of our front door.
For example, I recognize that self-assertiveness and thinking outside the box is a necessary and valued skill that you are brought up with in America. While there will be a range of that according to personality, you see this innate skill across the board in America– you get that in school with so many creative projects, language arts, debates, etc.
The focus here in Japanese society and education is to cultivate community and groups that work toward a group’s objective. You bend yourself to the group. Typically, children/youth don’t raise their hands to question or comment on what is being presented (that’s not to say that they don’t question it in their minds)… you go with what those above you point to. When opinions are expressed, it’s done privately and, to a Western mind, you might have to dig out what is actually being said.
So, how to navigate that?
I’m not sure!
We pray. I read and research. Again, spend a lot of time mulling things over.
Not to mention, there are layers of culture we are still learning about here… so there’s that on one hand, and on the other hand we evaluate our own upbringing and cultural values and what to keep and what to adapt.
Like I said, I’m grateful for the grace of the statement that recognizes that I’m still figuring things out– I’m still “growing up” and learning everyday.
Praying our kiddos will grow up full of grace and tenacity as well!