The most reassuring part of learning how widely parenting practices differ throughout the world is the way it’s always a reminder that there are endless different ways to be a good parent. It’s not that it doesn’t matter if your baby starts snacking on discarded cigarette butts in the park the moment your back is turned, if only because you never want to ask, “do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” and mean it so literally. What it proves, though, is that whether you’re a die-hard attachment-parent, a proud free-range parent, somewhere in-between, or anywhere off the map entirely, the way you choose to parent will be right because it’s the right way for you, the right way for your baby, and right for the cultural context you’re raising her in. Parenting practices from other cultures can sound strange and even wrong when they’re taken out of context, but generally, the babies who grow up in them will believe they’re the right way to raise children strongly enough that they’ll raise their own children the same way.
In Scandinavian and northern European countries, babies regularly nap outside. This is supposed to accustom children to the cold and boost their immune systems, as well as expose them to the benefits of fresh air. Some parents who swear by outdoor naps also point out that they expose babies to vitamin D that they might otherwise be lacking, especially in winter, when they might not otherwise get much time in the sun. Outdoor napping in northern Europe has been fairly common practice for the past hundred years, and in 2011, a Finnish study from the University of Oulu found that babies who nap outdoors tend to sleep as much as three times as long as babies who nap indoors. These little polar explorers nap bundled up in wool, sheepskin, and down, in specially-designed baby sleeping bags and strollers designed to ward off the wind. Parents also generally don’t leave them outside for very long, or in temperatures colder than somewhere between 14 and 23 degrees F (-10 and -5 C).
One of the offshoots of this outdoor napping is that babies often aren’t very closely supervised during these naps, which can be controversial when parents who are used to these practices travel abroad. In Scandinavia, it’s not uncommon for parents to leave their napping babies in their strollers as they head in to restaurants or coffee shops, though they often stay close to the windows so they can look out and make sure their babies are still sleeping.
Japanese parents and childcare providers tend to lean towards non-intervention when children fight with each other, choosing only to step in when they feel children’s fights could put themselves or each other in danger of physical harm. The theory behind this, called mimamoru, involves watching over children to make sure they don’t come to any harm while still allowing them to work their problems out by themselves in order to help them gain confidence and problem-solving abilities. This means children as young as pre-school aged might fight on a playground, yell, or even play tug-of-war over a toy, while their caregivers stand by and watch without intervening.
A 2004 article in the Washington Post interviewing a retailer trying to introduce the stroller to Nairobi, Kenya’s busy streets was a boost to babywearers everywhere. The article, and the Kenyan mothers interviewed in it, explained that strollers come across as cold and alienating to mothers and babies who come from a culture where mothers habitually wear their babies on their backs until they’re ready to start walking around on their own. The retailer in the article explained that her only sale had been to a visitor to the country from Britain, and to this day, Kenyan classifieds sites and second-hand and swap boards are full of strollers for sale that are either listed as ‘used once,’ or ‘used for only one month,’ or are being sold by expatriates.