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young children cont.

Mothering as translating ...

As our children begin to explore the outside world, whether this means playing with neighborhood children at their homes, or attending pre-school, or encountering other adults and children on buses or on playgrounds, we are called upon as our babies become children to provide a frame of meaning in understanding the world outside our doors. Their brains are developing and absorbing enormous amounts of subtle information. We are their translators - perhaps interpreting literally from one language to another about what the neighbors say to them or what the children say to others at a doctor's office - but most definitely interpeting cultural messages: which, if any, television programs, or Barbies, or junk food. Do they say 'thank you' and 'hello and goodbye'.  Do we encourage them to 'push back when pushed' or 'look down when spoken to' or 'look the adult in the eye when spoken to'.

This translator role is subtle and extraordinarily challenging, and is enacted in thousands of daily encounters whether we are aware of it or not.  Even when we try to withhold judgement, we will by gesture and facial expression, be conveying SOMETHING to our child. Even when we think we are trying to obey the rules of our new culture so that our child will not be misunderstood, we will find ourselves in tears at times or frustrated or unbearably sad at watching our child become something different from what we were ourselves growing up in our home. Many things in the new culture we can take aboard, embrace. Some things may clash absolutely with our home values. Politicians might insist: If you live in Spain, you must speak Spanish and become a Spanish person'. "Well, maybe we live in Spain but don't WANT to become Spanish in all things. Maybe in some things, yes. But maybe in others, no."

It is the interplay between the individual and the group.

Some cultures tolerate or even welcome more eccentricity than others, more diversity than others. Other cultures are more local and suspicious of divergence - yet offer great kindness and often, interestingly, very highly developed local traditions and rituals. We have to find our own special path through this maze.

In Germany, for example, a strong mainstream feeling is that in a group situation children should be left alone to engage in conflicts and fights. I have heard otherwise educated and ecologically-aware parents say, only half-joking: "No intervention unless there is blood or bruises". The parents' intentions are good though unreflected. Germany is saturated with cultural worries about the meaning of authority stemming from the Nazi years (the grandparents of today's young children were traumatized children during the war, which means that today's 30- and 40-year-old parents were raised by those children traumatized by the war, thus today's children are still affected by the waves of changing social mores.) German generations since the war have tried in their way to reject oppressive authority by being either absolutely anti-authoritarian (especially in the 1970s and 1980s) or so afraid of their own authority that they seek to evade responsibility with their own children. This shows itself in fears of being too overprotective with children and a belief that valuable lessons about themselves are learned best without any intervention by adults. Other cultures teach that it is the adults' job to provide role models for children in their care: learning conflict resolution skills that do not always lead to physical altercation is one aspect to this.

When a parent raised one way sees their child interacting with children, and importantly, with adults raised another way, it can be emotionally challenging. Is the parent going to challenge the caregiver and risk being seen as an oddball? Will the parent just retreat to a 'home is one way', 'school another' modus, as described in research on Muslim emigrants in Germany? see more research on Germany

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