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I grew up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK for short) having spent my childhood on three different continents - North America, Europe, and Africa. If you’re confused about what I’m talking about, A TCK is a person raised in a culture outside of their parents’ culture and usually outside of their country of naturalization (technical term for citizenship). In my experience I’ve noticed that more often than not, a TCK is born into an already multi-cultural home, further complicating the soup of identities surrounding the child.
I was born to an American mother and a French father, and I found my parents’ styles to be very different. In fact, their styles were polar opposite. And that is just dealing with two “Western” cultures.
Because I grew up as a TCK, I had the opportunity to meet families from all around the world and observe a variety of parenting styles. Not much phases me now when I see parents raise their children differently because I recognize how cultural differences affect the way parents choose to raise their kids. Still, there have definitely been a couple parenting traditions here and there that have stopped me in my tracks.
Here are 10 surprising parenting traditions from around the world:
1. Solapur, India
Baby tossing is a yearly, non-religious, festival in Solapur, India. Babies are thrown from a 15 meter tower (that’s about 50 feet for the non-metric amongst us) and ‘catchers’ hold a sheet below for babies to land on. This sounds absolutely frightening to me, but luckily there have been no reported fatal incidents in the 500 years they have carried on this tradition. Watch the clip above!
In Bali, babies cannot touch the ground until they reach 3 months of age. It is believed that the newborn’s purity can be defiled through any contact with the unclean ground. Finally, at three months, the family holds a ceremony where the baby sets foot upon the ground for the first time. Kinda Neil Armstrong-esque.
3. Eastern cape of Africa
In the Eastern cape of Africa, the Sifudu custom is practiced on the third day of life of a baby. Sifudu means “passing child through smoke”. This smoke is made by leaves, that have an exceptionally pungent smell, from the Sifudu tree. The baby is held upside down toward the smoke. Apparently the ritual is such a shock to the babies that they don’t even cry! This ritual is to ensure that that baby is never afflicted by fright, timidness, or shyness.
In Greece, it is custom to spit at a baby three times to ward off evil spirits, bad luck, and more specifically the evil eye.
Traditionally, Irish couples save the top tier of their wedding cake for their first child’s christening. The cake is served to guests and then a few crumbs are sprinkled over the baby’s forehead to bless it with good luck. Generally, there is a good amount of whiskey in the cake already, but couples often save some of their wedding champagne as well to use it to wet the baby’s head for good luck.
Kisii parents, in Kenya, do not make eye contact with their newborn babies as eye contact is a form of authority and they don’t want to bestow such power on a baby. Mothers carry their babies everywhere but do not indulge their young one’s cries.
Vietnamese parents potty-train their babies using a whistle. They are able to potty train their babies by nine months of age; almost a year faster than most “Western” children. That is at least a year’s worth of diapers parents can save money on! When the baby fusses or gives a sign that they need to go, parents hold them over the toilet and whistle. These babies are then able to control themselves by the time they can walk.
The Wolof people in Mauritania, believe that human saliva can retain words, so they spit on newborn babies to add blessings that stick. Women spit on the baby’s face and men spit in the baby’s ear. Then they rub saliva all over the baby’s face for extra good luck.
In Nigeria, the Igbo tribe take newborns to the family’s ancestral house. A well-spoken relative, chosen by the parents, chews alligator pepper, spits it on a finger, and puts it in the baby’s mouth. This is so the baby grows up just as well spoken and articulate as the relative blessing the baby.
10. Central America
Mayan women in Central America bathe their babies in ice cold water to calm and soothe heat rash as well as promote restful sleep. It is the norm for mothers to expect their babies to scream during this ritual. As the saying goes, a mother always knows best.
I’m not a parent and everything about parenting terrifies me, so why am I writing about this? Good question. When I was twelve, my youngest sister was born and my parents conveniently used me as a live-in babysitter. From changing diapers to being able to tell the differences in my sister’s cries, I learned a lot about babies. I also learned and observed that everything I did for her, I did because I wanted the best for her, just like other parents and guardians around the world.
All these parenting traditions, no matter how different, are for the same purpose—ensuring the well-being of children. Regardless of the ritual or the practice, the fact of the matter is that all these parents want what’s best for their children. This, I believe, transcends the cultural differences and unites us all in the mindset that children are our future. Additionally, we need to be proactive in ensuring that future. #Showyourselfie is our visual petition to bring the stories and faces of today’s youth into the spotlight. Use your voice, use your selfie, and stand up for our children’s future.
Add your signature to our visual petition for youth by uploading a selfie to showyourselfie.org or using #showyourselfie on Instagram or Facebook. We will hand over this visual petition to world leaders at the UN in September to demonstrate that countries must invest in young people's rights and needs!