After rumors spread around the web that African babies cry less than American babies, we decided to look into some traditional African parenting styles to see what we can borrow, or adapt to our own.
In Kenya, adults operate on the shared belief that it really does take a village to raise a child. When any adult sees any child in harm’s way, they feel just as responsible as the child’s own parent to step in and help, according to an article from InCultureParent.com.
While you might have thought that hired childcare is only available to the wealthy, in many parts of Africa, even those who work in the hired service industry have hired childcare at home, according to InCultureParent.com. It’s not viewed as an expense only for the upper class — everybody feels entitled to a little help raising their children.
Furthering the idea that it takes a village to raise a child, InCultureParent.com tells us it’s not uncommon in African communities for children to live for brief periods with families that are not their own. There is an understanding that sometimes a parent is overburdened and can’t be the best possible parent at the time, so friends or family take in the children for the time being, and the favor is usually returned when the tables have turned.
According to one article in blogs.Nytimes.com, in many African countries, children are given a lot of responsibility at a very young age, tending to housework and even taking on jobs that bring the family income. One story made it to the Oprah show about a 13-year-old Kenyan boy who invented an LED array to scare away predators from his family’s cattle. That might be proof that when given a little more freedom and not forced to only partake in “kid’s activities,” children can be capable of remarkable things at a young age.
One Kenyan mother remarks in her blog DrMomma.org that it’s very hard to actually see Kenyan babies because they’re so thoroughly wrapped up in blankets when out of their houses. She says, “babies are literally cocooned from the stresses of the outside world.” Every time we step out of our homes, we welcome in the energies of everyone we encounter, and sometimes those energies aren’t good. As adults, we can screen them, or analyze them to not find them so scary, but a baby can’t do that. We like the idea that a baby stays mostly focused on its mother when out in the world—a warm, positive energy.
The same previously mentioned blogger from Dr.Momma.org says that Kenyan mothers operate on a “needs-met symbiosis” and don’t bother with how often they’re told their baby “should” want to feed or what their baby “should” need. Instead they just stay tuned into the baby’s moment-to-moment needs; that might be the reason African babies cry far less than American.
Since extended family and friends play a large role in raising children, they also play a large role in disciplining children. For example AfricaontheBlog.com tells us in many African households, if a child gets in trouble, she not only has to answer to her parents, but also to her grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on. That probably gives a child a bit more motivation to behave.
One blogger from Chad shared his experiences growing up in an African household. Every morning, the entire family would gather around the father, who would assign each child his tasks for the day, and share his own schedule with the children. These morning meetings sort of give the feeling that the family is a small business: each person feels responsible for something, but understands every member is working just as hard. It could reinforce in the children’s minds that the family is a strong unit.
In most African communities, if the parents in a family die, the children go to live with aunts and uncles or grandparents, rather than with godparents or appointed friends.
In African families, dead ancestors aren’t considered dead, according to a writer on bmsworldmission.org. Their values and beliefs play just as big a role in parenting decisions as those of any living member of the family. So just because a disciplinarian grandpa may have passed doesn’t mean the rules no longer matter.