Next up in the series of The Global Differences of Baby-Making we head to the USA to hear about how a Polish Mama dealt with cultural differences, preserving her heritage and the challenges of making it work.
Tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from? How old are your children and where did you have them?
I write the blog Polish Mama on the Prairie, which is about Polish culture, history, food, etc. from a Polish Mama living in the Midwest. I also have written contributing articles for Polish Texans, foodista, and other sites and am working on becoming a freelance writer, as well as hoping to help Polish Americans reconnect with their heritage.
I was originally born in Wroclaw, Poland while Poland was still under Soviet Communism. When I was very young, my parents decided that for my future and safety, it was best to flee Poland and go as refugees to Austria, where we waited for US citizenship. While I grew up in the US, my parents raised me the way they would have in Poland, but did instill in me a love for both countries and a thirst for knowledge and intellectual debates with others by having them with me from a very young age. And I love them for it. Eventually, I met my American husband and fell madly in love with him. We married and had two beautiful girls together here in the USA. So now, they are US Citizens but I can easily claim their Polish citizenship, which is actually something we are planning on pursuing very shortly, so that all their options are open for them.
(Polish Prairie Mama has 2 daughter’s aged 1 and 5)
Why did you have your children abroad?
I live in the US now and while my American husband wants to live in Poland, he refuses to learn Polish, thus making it impossible for us to move back to my home country at this time.
What do you feel were the benefits to having children abroad?
The ability to be US citizens as well as Polish citizens is one nice benefit. I also have my parents and brother here so I couldn’t imagine leaving them yet. Plus, because I have been here for so long with hardly any Poles to interact with on a daily basis and many Poles I have met want to speak English to improve their host-country language, my Polish language skills are no longer on the level I would like. It’s something I try to work on at home by myself.
As an expectant mother abroad how did you feel?
On one hand, I would cry because I wanted to be with my family, such as my grandmother, during my pregnancy. On the other, the US is my home now. I never felt as torn as when I was pregnant the first time. It was a real eye-opener to the complete picture of what it is for me to be an immigrant and how to blend both cultures in my life.
Did you encounter any opinions that would have been different in your home country with regards to your pregnancy or parenting choices?
One thing that really struck me as funny during my pregnancy was that when Americans would find out I was pregnant, they would offer me cakes, ice cream, jokes to eat as much as I want and constant reminders to take my vitamins and not be lazy during my pregnancy and yet sleep a lot. The Poles would thrust green leavy salads and vegetables at me with extreme urgency and many reminders that I need my vitamins, not from tablet form, but from my foods. They would also tell me to drink plenty of water, relax, exercise gently, and to remember to teach my children that they are Polish and what it means, including the language.
Something that struck me as shocking was when I announced I was pregnant, a woman who I am no longer friends with asked me “So, are you gonna raise your kids to be dumb Polacks like you, or are you gonna raise them to be American, like your husband?” Considering I wasn’t very familiar with her, it was pretty shocking. The rest of the conversation was me being dumbstruck and asking what raising a child in each way entailed, and ended with my just walking to a different room and not speaking to her anymore.
After my children were born, my in-laws constantly shoved candies, french fries and junk food at my children and their favorite phrase was “One French fry won’t kill them!” with almost an angry tone. Many of my American friends felt the same way. I have one true girlfriend who would come to my defense and point out to people that I was teaching my children moderation and that the reason I was in physical shape so fast was because I did the same and that children did not need such junk foods. I really love her!
My husband for a while saw no reason for the children to go anywhere during the day. Many other “friends” would make comments that “I have nothing but time” since I “just sit at home with the kids”. I cook from scratch, it’s not an option, that’s how I was raised and that’s what I like to eat. I also believe that children should go outside a lot and that museums, parks, zoos, libraries, and other cultural resources are for children as well as adults and we go to such places very often. My house is always clean but we don’t sit around the living room all day long.
My grandmother-in-law told me not to teach my children anything and it’s actually something I have heard a lot. I should not teach my kids the ABC’s, numbers, how to spell their name, colors, shapes, etc. because I could teach them wrong, that “that’s what teachers get paid for”. I’ve never heard of such nonsense before.
I also used Elimination Communication with my older daughter and plan to with my baby, just as my mother did with me and all the women on both sides did. I use cloth diapers and am thankful to have an automatic washing machine and dryer, since my parents used one which you had to pour in the heated water yourself, crank, and drain and hangdry the diapers. I get told often that it’s “disgusting, a lot of work, not worth it, and the wrong way to potty train.” That somehow I will damage my children.
I also hug my kids a lot and hear that I will spoil them by loving them, such as when they are sick.
Sometimes, though, I think and hope that this isn’t an American vs. Polish thing, but rather, different parenting styles that have nothing to do with nationalities.
What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?Do what you feel your parents did right for you. Let it roll off your back but when you feel it can’t anymore, sometimes just telling people that we all have different parenting styles and that you are sure others criticize that persons parenting style and that in the end, all that matters is that the kids grow up healthy and happy, it’s all that matters.
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