Parenting: Perception in the West v. elsewhere


This picture is from a website that has been circulating around and cross-posted in a million places that highlights the difference between German (blue) and Chinese (red) culture without words, and is the most appropriate picture for my post.

Lately, there’s been a lot of debate about motherhood online, particularly with Penelope Trunk’s post where someone criticized her on Twitter because she tweeted the following about staying at home one day with her kids:

No school today and the nanny’s on vacation. A whole day with the kids gets so boring: all intergalactic battles and no intellectual banter.

In response, the other person Tweeted the following:

sorry your kids are a burden, send them to OH, we’ll enjoy them for who they are

In response to that, she went into a rage.  She found out his phone number and called his work and his house, hoping to tell him off.  When she didn’t catch him at either, she wrote a scathing blog post that listed both his full name and where he lives. In a last bit of mercy, she didn’t publish his phone number.  I’m not going to link to the post, because I think it’s horrible what she did.  Her blog has a ridiculously high viewership and she has over 11,000 followers on Twitter, so naturally, he was Googlebombed, his reputation was ruined, and she got tons of hits on the site.  Let me pause for a minute here and say how crazy it was that she was going to publish his phone number, “just to teach him a lesson.”  This diminishes her credibility immediately.

In the blog post, she berated him for judging her as a mother because she wrote that she was bored staying at home with her kids, and that he as a father doesn’t know what mothering is like, etc.  She wrote that parents need to be able to express the fact that parenting isn’t always fun and games, and that at times, there are frustrations and problems.

No one has the right to judge her as a mother, especially not men.  And she admits that she wasn’t meant to be a stay-at-home mother.  But staying at home for ONE day with your kids leads to boredom and not enough intellectual stimulation for you?  So much so, that you have to put them down on Twitter in front of 11,000 random people by relaying that they are playing video games and you are bored?

This was the part that astounded me the most about this post,

And as soon as your mind wanders too far, something bad happens. For example, I took the kids on a hike yesterday, taking a coat for myself but not for them. Because I checked out. Because I wanted to think about things that are more interesting than coats. This is normal behavior. I mean, intellectuals need intellectual stimulation, and that’s not something kids give.

I understand being bored or making mistakes with parenting sometimes.  I understand stay at home moms being stifled creatively because they had to give up their jobs.  I can understand the stress of having to balance work, and kids and husband, and home. Those are all important things that SHOULD be under discussion and that moms have every right to talk about.

But forgetting your kids’ jackets because you wanted to think about things more interesting than coats? While you yourself are wearing a coat?   That’s horrible parenting.   I know.  I’m not a parent.  I have no right to judge.  But here’s what happened to me.

A couple days ago, as  I blogged, Mr. B and I were watching the cherry blossoms with family.  It was his aunt and uncle and cousin, his cousin’s wife, and her family.  Mr. B doesn’t like to wear coats. HATES coats.  He’ll wear shorts in January.  That’s the type of bad-ass man he is.  And pretty much me and everyone in his family is always telling him to wear a coat.  The fable of his non-coat wearing has spread, much like the legend of Maniac McGee.

When we went out to see the cherry blossoms, it was a little nippy outside. And on that particular day, I somehow made him wear a coat.   Mr. B’s aunt, his cousin’s wife’s mom, and his cousin’s wife’s dad (who we haven’t even been related to until his cousin got married)  all stopped and noted that he was wearing his jacket and were happy that he wasn’t cold so they didn’t have to worry.  THAT is the power of Russian Jewish parents.

I really think there is a cultural divide between expectations of parents in America and non-American immigrant parents.  Call me biased, but I know that something like forgetting a jacket would never happen among (sane and normal) Russian parents.  Mostly because it is COLD AS HELL in Russia and we’ve been trained to COVER UP YOUR HEAD all the time, or else you will never have kids.  And mostly, because relationships between children and adults are much different in the Western world and among other people, namely immigrants.  They are exactly like the picture at the top of this post.  Once the child is born, the whole world revolves around the child, because they are a joy to have in the house, a continuation of the family.  And parents sacrifice for their kids like hell.

The biggest sacrifice my parents (and Mr. B’s)  have made was to move to America, for me.  To a country where they didn’t know the language, or anything.  They just knew they had to get us out of Russia, for our sake.  They didn’t want to give up their friends, or way of life, but they sucked it up and did it for our sake.  When I was little and we didn’t have any money, my parents slept in the living room of our one-bedroom apartment and let me have the bedroom, because it was important for a kid to have private space.  When we first came to America and I got chicken pox, my dad walked about a mile in the snow in the winter (no car) to buy me a Barbie doll so that I could have something to play with, just like all the other American kids.

They paid for my college education (minus any scholarships I got and even though I did work 3 jobs in college to make some money), and they paid for part of my wedding (even though Mr. B and I protested and begged them not to).  My parents gave up a lot for me, including late nights staying up when I was sick, and worrying, worrying, worrying.  Which is why it is incomprehensible to me that someone could forget their chidrens’ coat. I hope that when I become a mom, I can always put my child first, too.

Here’s another gem I’ve found about motherhood lately.   I read Jezebel a lot.  I love the site.  It has a lot of strong, opinionated women who are snarky, just like me.  But it also sometimes has a lot of mean-spirited comments, such as this one, on a post about having children:


I think this post and others like it represent the essence of the wrong attitude about what is wrong with some womens’ perceptions of motherhood.  This commenter won’t for the life of her give up her pets for kids.  But really, that’s what having children is all about: sacrifice.  I know that when I have kids,  I won’t be able to go out to restaurants or take extravagant trips (like the one I’m hoping to plan for India next year), and will have much less time to myself.

But that’s the tradeoff.  The other side of the coin is that you are raising someone to replace you.   And I saw how important this was just recently.  My grandpa broke his leg a couple of months ago.  For a normal person, this would be a non-issue.  My grandpa is 77 years old, and therefore needs more time to heal.  Immediately, my aunt, who lives 20 minutes away, was over there making sure he was ok.  My mom took a day off work to drive to Philadelphia to spend time with him.  Aside from that, my mom calls him every week and visits twice a month, and my aunt is over there weekly.  Without his children, his life would be empty and he would be a miserable old man.  Instead, he has my aunt and my mom, and now, me and my cousin, and Mr. B, and plenty of other people beside to help him out.  That is the joy of children, the flipside of endless nights being woken up by screaming babies, boring 8-year olds, and flippant teenagers.

I’d like to think that my mom gets some enjoyment out of me, even though I mostly call her to bitch about how Mr. B doesn’t fold the towels the right way or how grapes cost more than $1.99 a lb here in DC. I like to think that I contribute positively to her life, and that, because of me, her life is a little more fulfilled.    (Did I mention I have a huge ego?)  Because of me, she got to experience college, high school, softball games, my wedding, and now has a son-in-law, who she considers her own child. Mr. B’s mom also considers both of us her kids now and our families are enriched just because of this.

So, to all the bitter, angry moms out there, just stop and think.  Stop thinking about yourselves, for a single minute.  I know my parents did, and their lives are better and richer for it, and I hope it’s something I can do as well as a parent in the future.

And to Penelope, I would say:




16 thoughts on “Parenting: Perception in the West v. elsewhere

  1. Thank you for this post. I am the child of distracted only intermittently attentive intellectuals, and I do not regret having been born or being their son. I am ambivalent about having missed the opportunity to have children, but in view of my aversion to remunerative activity that was never a realistic option. In one of my poems I refer to “the tyranny of practicalities.” Had I been a parent I don’t know whether I would have found such tyranny even more oppressive or a price worth paying.

  2. Wonderful post. With my mother dying the same day that my son was born I have been thinking a great deal about the parent child relationship the last 2 months. If there is one thing I learned from my mother it is you put your children first.

    I certainly hate to judge the whole by excerpts but from what I have read it is incredibly disturbing on so many levels. Publishing his info is way to troll like for my tastes. I am also so disturbed by her implications that I am some how less of a parent because I am a man. I’m intelligent, educated, intellectual and quite frankly a bit ADD and I have never forget to appropriately dress my children. I am not saying that I don’t completely understand the need for adult conversation and intellectual pursuits, but not being able to find any challenge and/or stimulation in parenting (especially for a day) means you aren’t doing it right.

  3. Sometimes the most intellectual thing you can be stimulated by and makes you think comes out of the mouth of young children. Too bad this Mom doesn’t see it that way, but then I suppose some people are made to be parents and some of them are not.

  4. @David Cooper Thanks so much for reading and offering your insight. The tyranny of practicalities sounds like an interesting way of putting it.

    @Corey J Feldman It’s very touching and heartbreaking that your mom died the same day that your son was born. It illustrates the irony of life oh too well. I think you bring up an interesting point in that P. states that as a man you are less of a parent, and I hadn’t thought of it from that angle before. As a parent, you have a lot more cred than I do, and it makes sense that if it’s boring, you’re not doing it right.

    @Paulina1 I agree. My relatives are constantly recycling a lot of stuff my cousin and I said when we were little because of how clever it is and how we thought to put sentences like that together, and I think the same is true for lots of parents. “how did they think of that!” is something that can only be true for kids, whose minds don’t have a lot of boundaries at that point.

  5. I love you, I am proud of you and I am sure you and Mr.B will make wonderful parents one day.I think your Dad and me got couple things right while raising you…. Your Mom.

  6. Unfortunately, I cannot get you a watermelon, nor can I promise an intellectual discussion. So I’ll do they next best thing and leave you a comment.

    You touched a topic my husband and I often discuss – Indian Vs. Western parenting. Or more to the point, parenting in old civilizations Vs. relatively newer cultures. I’m trying hard to resist rambling with my take on this – which will be nothing short of an entire post. Let me just remember my manners instead and say I enjoyed reading this post :)

    Got here from Twitter – on Neo’s recommendation for #followfriday. (You don’t blame me for being curious before I just follow a friday, do ya? :) ) Like your space; I see myself coming back (and yes, adding you on Twitter) :))


  7. @litterateuse Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting on Neo’s recommendation. I’m very flattered and intimidated. Hopefully I can live up to your expectations for stimulating dialogue WHILE eating watermelon.

    It’s interesting to know that other groups debate about this as much as we have in our household, and I would LOVE to read your blog post on it! I also LOVE that you don’t refer to him OR her in your blog. Rock on! Time to replace that nasty politically correct phrase.

  8. Hey Vicki,

    I really enjoyed your article, until it got to yet another cliched point about how Russians/Jews/Russian Jews do [insert some activity] more intensely/with more family members involved.

    I realize this blog is named after you and things that represent you, i.e. the sub-title of international economics and a [gasp]not Russian but French vodka, so naturally your Russian/Jewish/Russian Jewish heritage would be a recurring, if not the main theme. That being said, I could easily insert Indian/Italian/Paki/Polish/Southern Baptist/Chinese/Korean/immigrant/working class for some of your comments on family values like marriage and the role of children.

    And even that would be a gross injustice to the parenting jobs of all the WASP families out there. My mother’s definition of a sweater would be the article of clothing that I would have to wear when *she* felt cold. My grandmother saw me off on the bus for school, and my dad had the luxury of seeing me home. Well, that is, until he took a second job to start saving for my college expenses. In fact, both of my parents worked extra jobs while I was growing up, and yet I always felt surrounded by family.

    What ethnicity are we? My family is so white, middle America that it puts Sarah Palin to shame. Our surname is Smith. My uncle hunts, is a member of the Free Mason Society, refers to pasta and pizza as I-talian food, and sings in his church choir. My parents got married at age 23, and my two older, and might I add, quite non-religious and non-military brothers got married at ages 23 and 24 to equally non-religious and non-military women. My one brother’s wife graduated from Dartmouth and works as a consultant for Accenture. The other is a stay-at-home mom from New Jersey with a family even more inter-connected than ours in the sense that it was a huge drama for one of the daughters to actually move out of the state of New Jersey. My sister and I are the first women in our family to go to college, and my uncles and dad are the first generation of men to go to college.

    And they’re just as frugal as their parents. When my parents scrimped money to buy a cheap piano as a young, struggling married couple for my oldest brother, that meant that all four of us had to learn piano, whether we wanted to or not. My parents budgeted the old-fashioned way: putting cash in different envelopes for various expenses. When I was really young, they bought clothes from K-Mart and garage sales. We bought used books from library book sales for 25 cents, even when my family did better. My dad wore, and still wears, his sneakers until the soles almost have holes.

    Yet we weren’t poor by any means; my solidly middle-class parents just spent their money on things that mattered to them, like awkward family vacations to national monuments, museums, and historic landmarks or violin and piano lessons or soccer, baseball, volleyball, and field hockey gear or summer camps. Not only did all of these require monetary sacrifices and extra jobs, but also time sacrifices. My dad became master of the crossword puzzle while sitting in the car waiting for Mock Trial, Model UN, student council, whatever to be over. My parents still drove four hours round-trip to come to my college Baroque Christmas recital. And my only living grandmother is still active in my life by sending e-mails and clucking over my string of boyfriend woes and soothing me on my life decisions to move cross-country.

    Perhaps your comparison should be drawn along socio-economic lines rather than just ethnic and racial identities. Yes, extended family and even just neighbors are probably more influential in raising a child for recent immigrants, but that phenomenon is not particularly Russian, Jewish, or Russian Jewish. Out here in California, I hear stories all the time of comments along the lines of: someone’s cousin’s aunt’s neighbor’s co-worker made a comment about a friend’s bachelor status or weight gain or bad nose job at a wedding in the Armenian/Turkish/Indonesian/Korean/Chinese/Filipino/Mexican/Assyrian/Iranian/Lebanese community.

    Am I jealous a little bit of their strong ethnic community ties? Yes, it seems interesting and gives that warm, can’t-live-with-em-but-can’t-live-without-em feeling, just as My Big Fat Greek Wedding was interesting. But identity is more than just where your parents are born and what food they feed you. When I am in Californian, I feel as though I am more proud of being from the East Coast. When I am in New Hampshire, I am proud of having grown up in Central Pennsylvania. When I am in Switzerland, I am more connected to being American, and when I’m with Asian people, I’m more aware of my adopted Korean identity. Exploring your identity is more than playing up stereotypes for an easy laugh, although artful humor and commentary do have their place to celebrate all the people who help form, and sometimes jam, us into whatever shape we are today.

    Anyways, didn’t realize the rant was so long. And maybe you know who wrote this, if my whitebread, most common of all common plain-Jane names didn’t already give it away.

    Good to see that the Mister and D.C. life are both treating you well! And I do like reading your blog.

  9. Oh, and I apparently don’t know much about blog etiquette, given that my response is a blog entry in and of itself…eek. My bad. Feel free to delete…

    1. I won’t add much because your comment speaks volumes, except that you are right that there is a socio-economic aspect and that identity is more than what your parents are.

      Unfortunately, unique and multi-layered, complicated stories like yours don’t get explained on and expanded very well in blogs that I read (maybe I’m not reading the right ones) or middle-class, white Americans that I meet (maybe I’m not meeting the right ones or asking enough questions.) I was reacting to a specific post with specific experiences in my life that negate it.

      You are also right that community, etc are not unique to Russian Jews. But that’s just, as you said, the perspective I’m coming from, and hence, I will obviously be biased towards it. Other blogs explore more multi-cultural aspects of life. I love Bollywood/kebab/learning Arabic, but I can’t write about what Assyrian/Greek/Iranian families because I didn’t grow up around them-I grew up around my family. So that’s the frame of reference I’ll be coming from. This blog, while trying to be broad-reaching when I examine economic issues, is mostly introspective with respect to personal stories. Stories like what you wrote about your family are important to me in understanding American family structure.

      Btw, it’s VERY nice to hear from you again. Please keep the thought-provoking comments coming. Astra per aspera! ;)

  10. Shame, shame, SHAME!!! for lurking at my blog rather than commenting with witty, insightful stuff, especially since that meant that I only got your blog into my reader this morning.

    I’m a little too hyped up on caffeine currently to give an insightful response to the meat of this post, but I must say that I’ve never thought that particular slide of Germany vs. China was accurate. Having worked as a nanny in Germany, I think they’re pretty damn child-focused over there. Once the kid reaches 12 or so, though, the image is completely accurate.

  11. I’m late here, and missed a lot of the implications of this Penelope Trunk saga when it happened. She’s an interesting example of how to stir up controversy, and what happens when you do just that- criticism- so not, I think, comparable with the average mother who probably spends full days with her child quite often (weekends?) and who probably shares her private grumblings with close friends rather than 11,000 twitter followers.

    But mostly, thanks for everything you say about parenting. The “have it all” generation has been acting insanely by thinking that families are just another fancy product you get off a shelf to display with your granite countertops and eco-car, and I think you have hit the nail on the head with your discussion of sacrifice. How many people have any idea what is really involved in being a good parent, and when are we going to stop pretending that spreading the word on this doesn’t matter because new parents “don’t want to know anyway”?

    fantastic post, very glad I found it :-)

  12. As an immigrant child from another child-centric culture, this attitude boggles me. Do these people realize that there are parents who actually do this EVERY DAY? Some parents don’t have the luxury of nannies or even the occasional babysitter. Around the world, most parents spend every day with their own kids, with no paid caretaker to give them a break.

    I see this on blogs sometimes, where parents are just baffled at having their children home for a whole day. It seems that many Americans have trouble entertaining their children (or letting them entertain themselves, rather) if their day isn’t filled with scheduled activities. I once saw a post where the parent had a couple of days off with the kids and ran out of museums and zoos to take them too and just didn’t know what to do with them after the places ran out. Seriously? When I was a kid and my mom was a stay-at-home mom she didn’t see me as something to be entertained constantly (I think…mom?), but just as another person in the house with her own set of needs. I got a notebook and crayons and some dolls and was left to play by myself or with another kid.

    That diagram on the right side looks so much more familiar to me.

    Oh, and no intellectual stimulation from kids? I work with kids (speech therapy!) and I beg to disagree. Interacting with children can be stimulating, interesting, and satisfying if you approach it in the right manner.

    1. I love your comment. Thanks for stopping by! You are so right-on on the “other person in the house” thing. If kids expect to be constantly entertained, I think these are the ones that grow up spoiled.

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