Thursday, December 31, 2015

Parenting month 62: Culture, community, and raising children

The major milestone this month was the passing away of my father.  As the funeral was in Thailand, I had gone without the kids. We also had a small memorial service in the city where I grew up, so we took a week there.  It is probably the most intensive exposure to Thai culture that my kids have had to date. (My son had gone to Thailand as a infant, so he would have been too small to remember anything.)
Robes for gifts
Robes for an offering
One problem with living in Pittsburgh is a relative lack of diversity compared to other big cities. And one consequence is that there are not many Thai.  One estimate I heard at one gathering that there were about 40 Thai families in the Pittsburgh region. (Not counting students, who are considered transient) and only about half interacted on a regular basis. So we have been essentially raising our kids as Chinese, where we would have a reasonable number of other Chinese kids around for our kids to learn Chinese together.

To prepare for the service at the Thai temple, we subjected our kids to a crash course in Thai greetings and courtesy via YouTube. One thing my son (an introvert) can handle is curtesy, so he picked up on that and handled himself as well as can be expected for a Kindergartener who does not spend time in a Thai environment. He greeting people with a wai, and when it was time to perform his role in the service, he did his part (doing things alongside daddy is also something he can do). My daughter is also well behaved toddler in public, and performed admirably for a toddler girl, presenting a charming and well behaved face to the world.
Remembering Khun Bu. Watering a tree
Wai before pouring out water
Remembering Khun Bu. Watering a tree
Watering a tree

The main result of the trip was a lot of time spent with old friends, mostly a mix of Chinese-American and Thai-American families, now with children.  And we talked about the raising of children (and sometimes grandchildren). We talked about choices that we make, our kids personalities, and how they are different and lead to different challenges and opportunities. While I do have conversations about parenting in Pittsburgh with other parents at our kids school, day care, activities, and with others in community organizations I'm active in, the big difference with living in the place you grew up and being part of the mobile generation like I am is that those conversations are lacking in much of the context that comes from growing up in a community.

The conversations I have with other parents tend to be about immediate issues.  Getting in school, participating in activities, dealing with health issues. But the things that I talk with my wife, long term issues of guiding our children's growth in the context of their specific personalities, affinities, and strengths is done just with ourselves. But returning home, the conversations include how the personalities of the children compare to the personalities of the parent (current and past). And the conversations are more long term. How our children's personalities will help or hinder them in the future, and how it impacts how they deal with the world around them. And how to prepare them, not just what can be done now, but over the years to come.

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