It seems that North American and Indian parenting styles have many opposite features.
Lets have a little quiz just for fun. In which culture would you hear the following statements, North American or Indian?
- “Its the school’s fault that my kid hasn’t learned to speak yet.”
- “Just let him pee his pants in public, he will learn potty training from shame.”
- “I can’t go out because my child has exams this month.”
- “Its ok that he fell off his bike, he will get back up again.”
- “You are not getting any other kind of food until you eat your vegetables.”
- “Its bedtime.”
If you guessed the first three to be from Indian parents, and the last three to be from North Americans, you’re right!
To qualify, I’m making broad generalizations and comparing middle class North Americans to middle class Indian people. People who live in the village, who don’t have access to education, or on the other end are very wealthy can not be compared directly to the variety of flavors of Western parenting models available in the US and Canada. I’m attempting to compare one middle class segment to another.
General Principles which I find to be the most contrasted in Indian vs North American culture
1) Role of the child in the home
The joint family system creates an interesting challenge for parents in India. Grandparents, aunts and uncles living under one roof provide a hedge of protection and love for a child, but can also be confusing if there are not consistent rules and expectations. I’ve seen parents who try to enforce rules, which are then trampled by grandparents who have their own ideas. The child becomes the center of the home because of this power struggle between the elders and adult children.
In many North American families, the child is not the center of the home, the marriage and husband/wife relationship is. After that, comes the children, and other family relationships. There is little question of who is in charge of the child’s development and often times grandparents are cut off by adult children because they try to implement their own ideas or “push the boundaries.” The role of the parent being in charge is clearly defined and culturally accepted.
In middle class India, the child is the center of everything. Your world is dictated by the child. All grandparents, aunts and uncles circulate around the child’s school schedule, food desires and sleeping habits. Even professional offices are child-centered and allow flexibility for parents when a child is mildly sick or in need of extra care. This is simply not the case in middle class North America. There are other outside forces (careers, parents’ hobbies, husband/wife relationship) which dictate the center of priorities.
2) Role of parent vs role of school in behavior development
Teachers are somehow responsible for everything in India. I have actually heard people blame the teachers when their children get poor marks on an exam. In North America, this is a matter of personal responsibility for the child and parents.
To share a personal story, in my son’s school, there are people employed there to actually hand feed your child. There are people employed to change the pants of the child when there is a toilet accident. In the West, these are all the child’s responsibility to learn on their own and the school remains uninvolved in these matters. In the West, by the age of 2 or so, a child is expected to be able to eat on their own. Potty training is a personal matter and parents are the sole contributors to the process.
There is immense pressure to perform in school in India, yet kids somehow end up not learning as much as they could. Due to this pressure, parents often complete the school assignments for their child to “impress” or “keep up” rather than helping the child to really grasp the concepts. The end goal seems to be to “complete the assignment” rather than “learn the concept.” The goal is to impress the teacher, get good marks, not learn.
In North America, parents give more space for their child to try and fail. I don’t know of any Western parents who would ever complete a child’s homework for them. There is no concept of propping up the child to protect them from failure. You often find parents who don’t “push” their kids in school or who are pretty uninvolved in the learning process of their kids. Parents let their child manage their own workload and take responsibility for their mistakes, even if they fail.
3) When to enforce discipline
Discipline in studies is of utmost importance in Indian culture. But correcting bad behavior seems to be something which is reactive rather than proactive in the early years. The attitude is “when kids are small, they are bound to misbehave.” There are little efforts to proactively teach the child to behave properly. But when they start school at a later age, things somehow shape up and the kids turn out to upstanding citizens of society.
In US and Canadian mainstream culture, the behavior of the child is something that needs a lot of correction and attention in the early years. Discipline in studies isn’t a main focus, but making the child into a “good, well rounded person” is the goal. Discipline and consequences are often enforced in the early years. The goal is the make the child independent in the long term.
Westerns would call the Indian style of parenting “coddling” or “pampering” with no discipline whatsoever at home. Indians would call the Western model of instilling independence “uncaring” or “aloof.”
The issues of discipline, roles in the home are central to forming a culture at large. Observing these cultural patterns, can give great insight to the psyche and behaviors of a people.
This post isn’t meant to be a criticism of either culture, just observations from a parent who finds herself confronting these contrasts in her daily life.
5 thoughts on “East Meets West Parenting”
I find this comparison of different parenting styles to be very insightful, especially among different cultures. Keep up the good work!
Very accurate ! An ongoing cultural problem. Discipline should lie solely with the parents and in general we should be ok with the concept of failing. Good job.
Good observation. Discipline should lie solely with the parents and failing should be seen as learning in process.
This post is interesting – growing up in an Indian family in America the general stereotype is that Western parenting is more “coddling/pampering” with no discipline while Indian parents are stereotyped as harsher/more strict (the majority of my Asian friends and I got spanked if we ever “talked back” or misbehaved). I could see how the coddling could translate as “overprotectiveness” which is definitely a characteristic of my childhood anyway (maybe as an only child? like my parents being extra careful that I don’t go out with people they’ve never personally met).
But my experience is probably different from Indian kids growing up in India. I definitely agree with the “child being the center of the family” in Indian culture though. I think that’s part of the reason why “love marriages” aren’t as common and arranged marriages where both parents are well-off and can provide for their children are more common.
Also I do appreciate my parents getting involved in my school work. They never did the work for me but offered to help or to teach me if I didn’t understand the work. They also pushed me into participating in science fairs/math competitions/STEM related activities from a young age which developed my love for engineering.
Thanks for sharing your experiences! Yes one could say that the “child as the center” is a result of Dharma- or fulfilling one’s duty to the family. In theory, fulfilling that is more important than love or even happiness. What do you think?