Preference in Self-Sufficiency

My husband and I were just doing some shopping and walking around the city. Since it was the middle of the hot season and being in the bustling city, we tried to go into each building. Looking at all of the clothes and trinkets were the bonus to getting out of the heat. My husband was holding our just under 2-year-old son, and I was holding our 10-month-old daughter.We had been in the country for about a month and had come to know how unusual a western family was in this Southeast Asian country. I was looking at some of the clothes and several of the retail workers came up to look at my daughter. Then it happened…much quicker than I anticipated…

One of the workers had reached her hands to hold my daughter and my daughter went right into her arms. As I turned to get her back they were walking out of the door. I did not even take the time to find my husband, I just followed!

As you are reading this story, I know your mommy radar is freaking out as mine was!

I get out of the door, and the worker holding my baby was showing her off to an older woman. They were going on about how beautiful she was, and I was described as her mother. I take my little one back, and these women just keep going on like nothing happened. For the rest of the trip, we made sure to be much more aware of our surroundings and always had one parent per child because our children were so little.

However, as our trip went on we started to realize why the women were not bothered one bit by what had happened.

I wanted to discuss how independent Americans tend to be. Our culture is often described as an individualistic culture, and what that means is that we are more concerned for ourselves as individuals than ourselves as a group. I am not talking about selfishness, though it can definitely come across that way sometimes. Individualism is more about how you look at your world. Our families here have a connection, but our families typically do not define an individual’s life choices.

Relating back to this article on dimensions of American culture, they mention a general “self-determination, self-reliance, and self-confidence” that are characteristic of western cultures. This independence, however, is not necessarily characteristic of other places in the world. Particularly Latino and Asian cultures tend to be more about the collective, or more interdependent.

Cultures that are more interdependent tend to take on burdens or successes as a family or group. Everyone is impacting everyone else, and it is your duty to help those in the group. It goes beyond decisions and can include “shared spaces and resources.”  In fact, these concepts can be so ingrained in the culture, there isn’t even a word to describe individualism.

The reason the women who took my daughter were not concerned with taking my daughter is because they treat child rearing as a collective in their culture. They took her because they thought she was beautiful and wanted to show her off. As the trip continued, we learned to just ask who they wanted to show our children to and we would happily show our children off. For many people, we saw they had not seen many white people, especially not as light skinned as we are. We learned how to respect their collective worldview in the context of how we as individuals kept her safe.

Sometimes it takes a Village

Mom Tribe, I am going to be honest… I wouldn’t mind more help with my children! I stay at home, and I am not going to shy away from the fact that raising an adult from infancy is quite a task! It takes a village, am I right?!

Although complex, life is simple. It is individual.

Living is the challenge. It is interactive. It’s collective.                                    -1 Minuto na Palma da Mão

Ultimately, again I want to point out, there really is no right or wrong here. Whether you favor being self-sufficient or interdependent, those are really just preferences. I found a wonderful article on challenging the negativity associated with either of these concepts. Even within cultures, there are deviants from the normal, and that is perfectly fine. Both views have positives and negatives, and both views are worth looking in to.

To be honest, I can be a little of both. I love having support from family and friends, and even my Mom Tribe. On the other hand, I am in favor of not being connected to a group so much that others outside of my immediate family depend on me for their livelihood.

My challenge to you is to go see firsthand this aspect of culture that you do not live in. If you are from the United States, go to Asia or try visiting a village. Let me tell you from experience, you will be treated with hospitality like you have never seen. Some of that may be because you are an oddity, but some of that is because they take care of those near them, maybe even those they do not know. Ask them their values and show your children the beauty in their culture. I hope you start to broaden how you see differences.