Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Parenting Albanian-American Style???

Just when I thought there couldn’t be any more issues that could make me feel insecure about my parenting skills I have stumbled up on a whole new set.   Parenting books aren’t new and as a recent piece in the Washington Post reiterates, everyone has a different take on what is the best way to raise a child.  Conflicting parenting philosophies cross generational, socio-economic, and geographic boundaries and the debate can be downright testy at times.  French, Chinese, American, or Albanian, can't we just all raise our children in the way we see fit without interjecting our views on each other?

I can state with conviction that I am not someone who was born with the “mothering gene”.  In many ways parenting does not come naturally to me but thanks to my inner academic nerdiness I do my research and power through. Only time will tell but to date, I don’t think I have inflicted any lasting damage on Sidney.  As my own doctor and Sidney doctors have told me, I came into parenthood as an “older mother”.  Most days I like to think that with this age comes wisdom and life experience that helps guide my decisions.  There are other days, however, that my insecurities about my parenting skills pop up. Maybe it is because I am older that I am more aware of how my actions influence Sidney’s development.  This could be good, or it could be bad.   Only time will tell.

I’ll admit that part of the attraction of moving overseas was to escape the high pressure child raising atmosphere of the United States.  In an era when raising a child can be compared to a competitive sport I often feel overwhelmed by the unsolicited advice that pours in from what I hope are well meaning friends and family.  Opinions about breastfeeding versus formula, co-sleeping versus crying it out, and the “right” foods to be feeding Sidney only confused me and made me feel inadequate in my decisions.  The best piece of advice I have ever received came from a fellow NICU mom who told me that I needed to do what was best for me and my son and ignore the rest.  This is great advice but it is hard to ignore all the conflicting voices that came my way. My solution?  Move to Albania!  Ok, not really.......well sort of.

I naively thought I would be able to put my parenting worries behind me by moving half a world away.  With several time zones between us perhaps I would be able to ignore the tales of “when I was raising my child………….."  Now those stories arrive via email and Skype so they are easier to ignore but they are still there just the same.  Living in a small American community in Albania, however, has brought about a whole new set of challenges.   Here I find myself trapped in an American community within an Albanian world and much like the current debate over which country raises healthier, more well rounded children, my worlds are colliding.

In my experience, Albanians have a very different take on raising children than I do.  Whereas I am the mother at the playground who allows my child to fall down then pick himself up, Albanians rush to prevent the child from falling in the first place.  I let Sidney play in the dirt and (gasp) put his dirty thumb in his mouth while Albanians tsk tsk and physically remove the said thumb from his mouth.  I know to many Albanians, I'm probably viewed as being neglectful.  Kinder ones may dismiss what they view as my indifference to parenting as my being too busy to focus on my child.  This is the Albanian aspect of my world.

The American influences here just compound the matter.  Where as most of the American moms I've met here stay at home with their children, I buck the trend and work.  It is only part time but I also have responsibilities by virtue of Glenn's job.  These too keep me surprisingly busy and I find myself not having as much time with Sidney as I would like.  I don't have the time to hang out on the playground and attend play groups with the other moms.  I'm missing out on something and more importantly, so is Sidney.  Most days I convince myself that I am happier because I am working and a happier mom makes for a happier home but some days even I can't convince myself of this.  

I am lucky to have a full time nanny who loves Sidney as though he was her own child.  Sadly, most weeks she spends more waking hours with Sidney than I do.  This results in my not knowing some of the most basic things about my own son.  I still thought he loved broccoli but the nanny informed me that he stopped eating it weeks ago.  I thought Sidney loved to swing but he has apparently developed a fear of this piece of playground equipment.  The nanny knew this but I didn't.   Last week I did something I swore I would never do- instead of attending a monthly playgroup masquerading as spouse coffee, I sent Sidney with his nanny.  As I sat at my desk at the Embassy a mile away I felt the shame of not being an active part of my son's morning activity.  I wondered what the other moms must be thinking.

I tell myself that raising Sidney in a foreign country is good for him and his ability to master a foreign language at an early age will serve him well later in life.  Most days I believe this but on others, my insecurities rear their ugly heads.  When I stare hopelessly at Sidney as he speaks to me in Albanian and I just don't understand, I wonder if this really is the best thing for him.  Will he be able to communicate with children his own age when we return to the U.S.?  I tell myself that as Sidney plays in the dirt he is just being a boy and exploring his surroundings.   I try to stifle the voice in my head that questions what may be in the dirt.  When I am too tired to cook dinner and Sidney eats hotdogs for dinner I convince myself that ketchup is a vegetable.  

On a daily basis I remind myself of those words of wisdom passed on to me by that other NICU mother.  I too must do what I think is best for Sidney. If this means hotdogs for dinner after playing in the dirt, so be it.  If he spends the entire day with the nanny at least he is with someone who cares for  him and loves him.  And that is what is what is the best for all of us. 

1 comment:

  1. i just love your blog, Zosia. You are such a good writer and thoughtful observer.