The Language of Expectations

The Equuschick found in her midwife’s lending library this easy and pleasantly informative read, How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between).

Most of it was fun but not information that might necessarily be new or profound to someone already familiar with the concept that there are, yes, parenting practices in other cultures that are different from our own and these practices aren’t always inferior and sometimes (gasp) they are superior.

But the most surprising things can shed new light on the things you thought you always understood.

In the chapter on work and chores for children around the world, here is what we find out:

“Among the Giriama people who live in Kaloleni, Kenya, the term for a toddler is kahoho kuhuma madzi: ‘a youngster who can be sent to fetch a cup of water.’ The expectations of Giriama parents grow from there, reported anthropologist Martha Wenger. ‘A girl, from about eight years until approximately puberty is a muhoho wa kubunda, a child who pounds maize; a boy of this age is a muhoho murisa, a child who herds.”


Truly. Compare. Would you rather be known as a “person who toddles” or “a youngster who can be sent to fetch a cup of water?”

Is it any wonder that, with such pathetically low expectations, our children have depression and low self-esteem problems?

The Common Room folk ditched the non-flattering term “teenager” a while back in favor of the older and more respectable term “young adult,” but why start so late?

Toddler: A youngster who can be sent to fetch a cup of water.
Preschooler: A youngster who can clean out the bathroom sink and fold and put away his own underwear and show his sister where her clothes go.

“This whole notion of treating children as cherubs can, in effect, spiral out of control…At some point it’s no longer in the child’s interest for the parent to be so overprotective and involved. We are keeping our children in an infantile state much longer….and you have to ask, is that really a good thing?” David Lancy, author of the book The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings.

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  1. Heather P.
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    This is also a good read on society’s differing views on children: The Disppearance of Childhood. This book probably has a different tone and purpose, but I found the discussion of the evolution of the “teen years” to be very interesting. It’s been several years since I read it, but I liked it.

  2. Amy
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    That sounds like an interesting book that I’d like to read. I think that I largely think about what my children are able to do, but I never thought about saying those things to other people. It would be neat if, when asked the ages of my 5 boys, I could say, “I have one who can use the oven, one who cleans the kitchen, one who folds all the towels, one who puts laundry away, and one who can cover the whole living room floor with spit-up all by himself.” Or I might just keep calling the last one the baby.

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