Saturday, February 2, 2008

Kinder verteuern

This theme has been a natural background to my thoughts for the past nearly seven months, but has taken several steps toward the foreground in the last few weeks. I heard rumors that David C. formed many of his opinions about the way he wanted to raise his children while he was working as an au pair in France. I certainly have a different perspective now than I did before I came here. Previously, I assumed that I would be able to figure things out when I got there; that I didn't really need to work it all out right now; that of course, I'll basically just follow the pattern by which I was reared. I have also been theoretically aware that culture has a great and formative influence on our lives. This year is something of a cross between a training session, and an observation class in parenting, in culture, as well as in how the two interact. I have found the most dramatic representation of the difference between American and German styles of parenting can be demonstrated in the fact that spanking is illegal in Germany (as in many European nations). The reason I find this significant is because whether it is symptom or cause, it is representative of the German mindset regarding parenting. From what I have observed in both my guest family and other families I have encountered, German parents are very indulgent and maintain hardly any authority. Even the non-physical punishments that I have seen commonly applied in the US such as time outs, or revocation of privileges are virtually non-existent here. I find this harmful to both the kids and the parents because without authority and the freedom to enforce that authority, parents resort to trickery, manipulation, and yelling to coerce the children to obey. In turn the children learn to manipulate, trick, and yell. I awaken nearly every morning to the dulcet sounds of Carolin yelling at her mother because she doesn't want to do some thing or another; which sounds are generally repeated in the evening as Carolin fights against going to bed. Unfortunately, many of her sweet moments are also not particularly genuine because she has learned the art of manipulation is an effective tool in getting what you want, trumped only by crocodile tears. Really, it isn't spanking or not spanking that concerns me; the thing that is really saddening is the fact that I don't see the parents working to instill selflessness, kindness, and obedience in their children. It often seems that they are merely concerned with keeping them happy until they reach adulthood when they're on their own. All of these thoughts come at the tail end of nearly three quite difficult weeks and this space is severely limiting the scope and detail that this subject deserves, but nevertheless, I am learning to deeply appreciate you parents I know and see working so diligently to instill virtue in your children regardless of how difficult that task may be. Thank you especially to my own parents for working so hard and sacrificing so much for your children.


sufferingsummer said...

Wow spanking is illegal? Interesting. I wonder if they would arrest an american in germany for spanking? I'll have to remember that if we visit.
We don't use spanking much mostly because it hasn't proven to work real well with Indy's temperament as she is much more prone to respond to being taken out of a situation (time-outs) or having privileges taken away. I would fail as an au pair in Germany as it is so out of my nature to allow children to be indulged. I have seen it so many times working in day care and truth be told the indulged children show so many signs of insecurity and act out far more often for attention. I believe kids need boundaries and thrive on them so being indulgent is cruel on some level. You are wise to think of these things now and let them marinate until you face them with your own kids. What I learned in having my own is that it is far easier to work out principals for the ideal on someone else's children because you are not nearly so emotionally invested so when it comes to your own it will be easier to stand your ground in knowing what you want to give your children even if in the moment all your emotions want to do is indulge them.
How do you deal with discipline as the nanny in a house with such indulgence? When I nannied I had the parent's behind me 100% in setting boundaries for the kids and enforcing them. Without that I would have gone mad!

Valerie said...

Summer- I don't know what they'd do to you, maybe you'd have to take your kids to the consulate before you spank them :) I agree, spanking isn't always the best solution, I just find it symptomatic that it's not even an option here. As far as what I do? Beat my head against the wall in my room at night. Just kidding. I try to tell her with my voice and incorrectly parsed words that I am serious and that she needs to obey me, other than that... it's a constant struggle trying to figure out what to do or say. She is learning, however, that I'm not going to let her get away with so much, and that is very slowly making things a bit easier.