We are Ghanaian fathers
Developmental psychologist: "African mothers are shocked by us"
Deutsche Welle: Many young mothers in Germany seem to be taking a different path today than they used to be.During the day, the baby is tied tightly to the body instead of lying in the stroller, at night it sleeps with the parents in the family bed instead of in the cradle. Where did the change in recent years come from?
Heidi Keller: Only a small group changed their behavior. This form of upbringing, like the so-called modern father, is a phenomenon of a very small group - often highly educated people who have only a few children late. This group deliberately deals with raising children, reads a lot and thus also receives new scientific findings. But that doesn't mean they are the better parents. And of course there is an industry that is very responsive to that. A look at shops and trade fairs shows that there is now an incredible range of slings and other accessories, for example.
Baby slings - now also popular with German mothers
Even if it only affects a small group so far: Does this look like the perfect start in life?
Keller: There is no general answer to that. Rather, it depends on what parents want to achieve with their upbringing. An example: In a typical middle-class family in Germany, the USA or Italy you can often see the mothers laying their child on the floor and then bending over them. This creates a lot of eye contact, stimulation and conversation. The mothers ask a lot of questions, verbalize the child's inner world. This creates an environment in which certain autonomy-oriented socialization goals can be achieved more easily.
In some cases, however, the bond is neglected. Because body contact is rather the exception: Even if the children are transported in a cloth or backpack, for example, in our part of the world, clothes usually lie on clothes. This might give the babies movement stimulation, but they would have it in a car too.
Differences in raising children: women in the country do it differently than those in the city
You have done research in many countries including India, Cameroon, Mexico, and China. To what extent does the care of mothers differ around the world?
First of all: It is not the country that is decisive, but the social milieu. This, in turn, is strongly oriented towards formal school education. It often determines when the woman will give birth to her first child and how many there will be in total. Middle-class families in India, Central and South America or in Europe see each other very similar in these points: Most of the time, the children come very late, the family remains rather small. Of course there are also differences - but there are more things in common with other middle-class families on other continents than with the village families in the same country. The city dwellers often do not understand how the peasant women behave towards their babies and find that completely wrong.
The other way round also applies: The village families in Cameroon, Brazil and India are again very similar to one another. This means: close physical contact, the mother is often not the main reference person, rather a network tends to raise the child. The babies receive a lot of stimulation. You should learn to sit and walk early in order to become more independent. Voice and eye contact, on the other hand, is rather subordinate. When a baby whines, it is immediately placed on the breast.
Family as a network: In Cameroon, siblings also look after the offspring
You not only examined the parenting styles in other countries, but also had "our" style assessed by mothers in Cameroon. What was the result?
The women saw videos of the mothers bending over the babies lying on the floor. They thought the women shown were bad babysitters and were shocked. In the end, they suggested that someone fly to Germany to explain to German mothers how to handle babies.
Lots of conversations with the child: Middle-class families around the world are similar
Communication also caused great irritation: Western mothers include the babies in dialogues, small communicative signals from the infant are interpreted as contributions to the conversation. When you show something like this to women farmers in Cameroon, they ask themselves: Don't they know what's good for a baby?
The idea of how to properly deal with babies is something that is very deeply anchored in our selves: what we think is right, we consider to be universal. And we are not the only ones who consider our attitudes to be the real deal. This also applies to the African peasant women. But they do not have the opportunity to convey these ideas around the world via UNICEF, the World Health Organization and similar institutions.
Heidi Keller is professor for developmental psychology at the University of Osnabrück. There she heads the "Development and Culture" department and works at the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies.
The interview was conducted by Stephanie Höppner.
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