My family emigrated to the United States 23 years ago, so I grew up torn between wanting to be a full-fledged American and wanting to retain my heritage. In college I met a handsome American man and fell madly deeply. Eventually, and together, we created a multicultural mush of a family. I knew I wanted to raise our children with the same values I was raised, and my husband agreed. So, we parent our kids doing all the things Russian moms do that American moms should try.
No matter what anyone may believe, immigrants simply cannot fully integrate themselves into the American culture. That takes multiple generations. Immigrants have different values and ethics so deeply ingrained in who they are and how they identify themselves, they cannot simply stop living the way they believe is beneficial to them and to their families (and, honestly, in a "free country," they shouldn't have to). While my brother and I somewhat quickly assimilated to the American lifestyle, my parents mostly stuck to their Soviet cultural roots. I never denied or denounced my heritage, to be sure, but I often rolled my eyes at some of the idiosyncrasies of my culture. However, I am ridiculously proud of being born outside of this country, and in the same way I am proud to call myself an American and to be raising my children in this amazing country.
Americans born in the U.S. have their own set of cultural expectations and often cannot comprehend a different way of life. However, instead of being automatically resistant, it wouldn't hurt anyone to open their minds to the ways other cultures handle child-rearing. We see so many articles and books about the way Danish parents raise their children, or how the French feed their children, or how Italians discipline their children, so taking notes from other cultures can not only be beneficial, but also kind of fun.
They Make Sure Their Newborns Are Constantly Outside
If you've ever seen a stroller parked outside under a tree, the parents are probably Russian. Russians believe fresh air is beneficial for children and that it promotes a strong immune system and robust health. As a result, they make sure to spend as much time outside with their kids as humanly possible. While some have dismissed the health benefits of fresh air as an old-wives tale, Russians don't seem to care and relentlessly continue with this tradition.
So, in the winter, they bundle their infants up in multiple layers of clothing and walk with them for hours, and in the summer they strip their babies to a diaper and a shirt and park them in the shade. Russian also like the idea of outside naps, so they put their babies in the stroller and stick them out on the balcony. They believe fresh air is good for the soul and for sleep.
They Feed Their Kids A Ton Of Soup
That's right, soups are the staple of any good Russian meal. Soup increases satiety and makes the consumption of vegetables effortless for picky eaters. I often feel guilty because I know I don't cook enough soups for my family. If my grandmother only knew how infrequently my kids eat soup, I would probably be banished from the family tree. Moreover, chicken noodle soup apparently cures every disease known to man. I do make that one somewhat often (although probably still not often enough, according to my grandmother).
They Make Sure Their Kids Appreciate Family
Family is important, and us Russians value family more than we value anything else. Our lives are full of family birthdays, barbecues, and other festivities. It's not abnormal to spend every other weekend celebrating a distant cousin or the arrival of a new niece.
From the moment we are born we are told that family is everything that matters in this world and, as a result, we are all always tight-knit and unbreakable. When it comes to siblings, there's really no such thing as a "sibling rivalry." We are always told our siblings are the closest people we will ever have in our lives and we must cherish and take care of one another.
They Value Education Over Most Things
After family, Russians value education. By the time the child is 5 years old, he or she is probably already enrolled in three different activities. A well-rounded education is desired (and required) by most Russian parents. Thus, in addition to a regular school day, many kids also take music classes, play a sport, and go to enrichment math and reading classes. We aren't given much choice when it comes to whether or not we get college degrees, and many of us are expected to receive a Master's or above.
They Take Their Kids To The Theater & Museums
Theater and performances made specifically for children are at the root of Russian culture. My grandmother used to take us to a production or a museum as often as she could. Russians believe that a love for the performing arts, literature, and visual arts creates a well-rounded individual. Children are expected (and do) sit through 2-hour long performances, which usually last late into the evening. Weekends are usually spent visiting museums and galleries and doing other educational activities. Since Russia is so historically rich with talented poets, artists, musicians, and novelists, Russian children are forced into humanities from the moment they are born.
They Teach Respect For Teachers
Since education is so highly regarded by Russians, kids know teachers are to be respected and listened to without question. Teachers rank in the same class as doctors and other highly esteemed careers. Furthermore, in case of a disagreement, parents usually take the teacher's side over the children's. Russian parents put their trust in the teacher's abilities to teach their kids and, as a result, are much more appreciative of the hard work and labor that goes into teaching.
They Don't Believe In The "Kids' Menu"
Kids' menus are a completely foreign idea to most Russian parents. The kids are expected to eat whatever the adults are eating and whatever is given to them, without alteration or hesitation. Russian parents enjoy good food and introduce a variety of food to their children from a young age. They do not understand children who eat only chicken nuggets and grilled cheese. Honestly, that is considered blasphemous.
They Teach Their Kids Responsibility Early & Trust Them More
Older siblings often take care of their younger siblings. Children in Russian households are taught to cook, clean, and do laundry before they are 10 years old. Kids have set chores and the house runs smoothly because everyone knows what they have to do in order to fulfill their obligation to the family and the house.
Because the kids are more responsible and accountable for their actions, Russian parents tend to trust their kids more. The general belief is that if a child does what is asked of him or her, the child automatically earns the parents' trust.
They Don't Believe In Personal Space
One of my favorite moments in the movie Spanglish, is when Christina (the daughter) tells her mother she needs some personal space, and her mother responds, "There is no space between us." That moment meant more to me than maybe other moviegoers, because that is how Russian families tend to be. We have no concept of personal space. While such closeness can, at times, feel suffocating, it also promotes trust and helps parents understand and monitor their children.
They Make Sure Grandparents Play An Important Role
I grew up spending the weekends and often weeknights with my grandparents. At certain times in my life, we either lived with my grandparents or they lived with us. Russian families believe in closeness with the older generation, so it's incredibly important for us that our children form strong bonds with their grandparents. Grandparents are viewed as a second set of parents (that spoil a little more).
While there are plenty of things that Russian parents do that I find unnecessary, like over-bundling their kids in the summer and feeding newborns beef meatballs, much of the cultural ideals just make sense to me in terms of parenting. I love being part of a rich culture, and I hope to pass that love onto my children and grandchildren.