Nine months ago my family drove over the Mexican border at Nogales in search of a year long adventure. And what we got was so much more.
The following are five key difference in parenting norms that touched me deeply, and I’ll be carrying them home with me, along with my stash of colorful hand embroidered textiles.
Excited to hit the road.
1. There’s no such thing as other people’s children.
“Eh güera—cuidado,” be careful, I hear a man shout as he reaches out to stop my 4 year old daughter. I turn confused, I thought she was on the far side of me, but now I see her stepping down into a busy street, scooter in hand.
I drop my market bags, and scoop my daughter up, turning to face the man sharpening knives on the large, stone wheel attached to his bicycle.
“Thank you,” I breath out with genuine gratitude. It took her less than a second to exit my protective gaze and move into the street.
Scenarios like this are common. It’s not unusual for other adults to offer direction to your children. Even if you’re right beside them, the advice is generally given directly to your child, not you. The first few times I encountered this I got defensive, feeling that I was somehow not doing my job as a parent, and those around me where having to pick up my slack.
After several months here however, I realized that, unlike North America, raising children is viewed as a communal effort. There seems to be an unspoken code that it is the duty of all grown ups to look out the younger, more vulnerable, members of society. I decided to focus on the positive, and now find it refreshing I don’t bear the entire burden of responsibility alone.
The sense of community, is one of my favorite things about Mexican culture. One that I hope my children carry with them for life.
My little güera
2. Sugar is nice, but it’s better with spice. You’re never too young for flavor.
Chili sauce isn’t just for tacos. In the market you’ll see colorful bags of fresh cut mango, jicama, melons and more, with a generous squeeze of fresh lime juice, then sprinkled with bright red chili powder. And apparently you’re never to young to appreciate the added heat. My children discovered that the hard way.
At a friend’s birthday celebration, my 4 and 6-year old leaped in with excitement when the piñata burst open and spilled it’s sugary treasures to the ground. They worked quickly to beat the other children, scooping up as many treats as they could. A few licks in, my daughter looked as if she’d been kicked in the face. Even the lollipops aren’t spared from the chili craze. Needless to say, our bags full of candy were left behind.
Taking that piñata to town!
3. Kids can handle the D-word.
Death is not a dirty word whispered in hushed tones only in grown up circles.
As Americans we tend to shield our children for weighty concepts such as the passing of life, but the Mexicans include even the youngest members of their family in the Dia de los Muertos festivities. Schools all organize a comparsa for each classroom, and the children march through the streets dancing and singing through their elaborately painted faces.
While the name Dia de los muertos suggest that it’s a day to honor the dead, we learned it is a week long celebration.
The cemeteries fill with life as a carnival type atmosphere moves in, complete with amusement park rides, games and vendors selling everything from fresh cut flowers to funnel cake. Bands play live music and individual musicians offer to serenade the deceased with their favorite songs for a fee.
Altars are erected all over the city—in restaurants, offices, public parks, any where there’s sufficient space really. Platters laden with the late loved one’s favorite comidas are tucked between the blooms of marigolds and celosias. The person’s memory is not only honored, but celebrated.
Death is part of life, no need to hide the truth from our children. While we lose people we love, we don’t forget them. A far cry from the “Disnified” Halloween parties we share with our kids back home.
The kids were my favorite part of the Dia de los Muertos festivities.
4. There’s no such thing as a Kid’s table
Children are part of the social fabric in Mexico. In my country of citizenship, I often feel uncomfortable and judged by childless people around me, be it waiting in the line at the grocery store, or out for a nice dinner.
In the States, is seems the consensus is that other people should never have to be inconvenienced by a child (or an elderly or disabled person for that matter) who can’t keep up with the pace of a healthy well bodied adult.
While I think twice about where I take my children and hover over their every move in California, I never worry about that here. Youngsters are welcome everywhere including weddings and upscale restaurants.
One of my favorite restaurant’s takes it a step further, and offers a bounce house and a team of nannies to entertain your child.
Taken at one of my favorite rooftop bars in Oaxaca. Children welcome at anytime day or night and they even provide blankets for when it gets cold.
5. Everything is a family event
This speaks to the point above. Whether its a trip to the market, or a night out on the town, I have yet to feel out of place with my children in tow here in Mexico. While I might prefer a routine grocery run alone, so I can linger over the delicious moles and abundance of fresh produce, I don’t cringe in fear if my child shouts or does some normal kid move.
This phenomena does motivate me to make my big box store runs during the week, because Saturdays mean family shopping day. And while I love the spirit of togetherness, the American in me grumbles about trying to maneuver my cart around a family of seven laughing and milling around the aisles.
Mexico’s love for their country’s children is apparent— children are truly a mark of achievement here.
The best thing I have taken from the Mexicans, is that while children are indeed precious, they are capable of much more than we give them credit for, from more responsibility and independence, to a more sophisticated palette. To put it simply—children are but little people.