Raising children as a Russian mom in the United States can be interesting to the spectator, to say the least. Russian moms, who emigrated to the U.S. as children, have been raised in the same culture that raised their parents. The rich Russian culture and the words-to-live-by traditions have not only been passed down generation to generation, they seem to have ingrained themselves into the pores of most Russian households. As a Russian mom, I wanted to find out what other Russian moms wanted American moms to know, because no matter how Americanized Russian moms are (especially those who came here as young children), many of them still hold on to and embrace their own upbringing and carry it with them into their own child rearing.
Obviously each culture and ethnicity around the globe has its own way of bringing up children. Every culture has "tried and true" methods for potty training, feeding, nurturing, and disciplining. If you take a peek into the many secret Facebook groups designed specifically for Russian parents, you'd see them arguing about the best places to send their children to daycare (and it will most certainly be a Russian daycare), but they will all be in agreement over the fact that kids should wear hats and eat buckwheat. They may argue about politics, but will all put down their pitchforks when someone's child is sick and needs help. After all, Russian parents do have a "it takes a village" mentality and will help each other in time of need.
Some may find our parenting strange, or maybe a "little too much," but I honestly love my culture and wouldn't want to raise my kids any differently. Both of my kids went (and currently go) to a Russian daycare where most of the curriculum is taught in Russian. Both of my kids speak Russian (although the eldest needs constant reminding). We love our cured meats, our greasy foods, and our soups (even though many of us have made some dietary adjustments in attempt to be healthy, which drives many of our parents crazy). We mainly hang out with other Russian parents, too, because it's easier and comforting to stick to what you know without having to alter the way we speak to our kids.
When I asked fellow Russian moms about the one thing they would say to American moms, they were more than willing to participate. And as they all offered their advice, they all had a good, hearty laugh over the idiosyncrasies of our culture.
"As a Russian mom I want American moms to know that I'm throwing a huge first birthday party for my daughter not because I'm crazy, but because it's a big deal culturally and I have to."
Writer's note: Russian first birthday parties often mirror weddings. They are huge events, hosted at a catering hall or a Russian restaurant, and complete with invitations, centerpieces, photographers, favors, entertainment for kids and adults (live music, clowns, face painting, photo booths, characters, magicians), a huge dessert table, and food for days.
"We simply don't understand when in-laws and extended family don't want to help in raising the grandchildren/nieces/nephews/etc. I know it's not the case for everyone, but for the most part, it's a foreign concept for grandparents who live locally to see kids once every few months and on holidays. Though it could get overbearing, we fully expect over-involved grandparents, who are more than happy to take the grandchildren for a regular overnight stay, to stop by with more food than an army can eat, and give tons of unsolicited advice."
"On the playground [saying] "dai" does not equal "die." In Russian, that word means "to give."
Writer's note: I often felt weird speaking Russian to my children on the playground because of things like that. People look at you funny.
"Russian parents are truly doing what they think is best and they are not just being crazy loonies with their odd customs and their old-wives tales. I look at my parents and grandparents as crazy because their ways are so different than the Americanized culture I more closely relate to. And I have to remind myself they aren't crazy, its just where they come from."
"Soup is the first food group, followed by fruit and kasha."
"Kids should eat everything and not just be the chicken nugget generation, especially soup. Also it beats me why American families do not take off their shoes when they come into the house or even get into bed."
"Yes, we may seem a bit crazy at times, but we carry a lot of Soviet baggage."
Writer's note: That we do.
"Wearing a hat is pretty much a must until, probably, late spring. LOL. Especially if you are under 4 years old. Yes, our kids will stand out."
Writer's note: Yes, Russian children wear hats pretty much all year long. In late spring they switch from winter hats to summer caps. In the pool they wear SPF hats. Hats are, like, our security blanket.
"There is no such thing as 'ready' when it comes to potty training. There is actual literature and scientific proof that it's a made up concept. If you wait to introduce the potty and take off the diaper when they're 'ready' (also known as the most stubborn toddler years), you will be fighting an uphill battle. We were all potty trained by the age of 1 at the latest."
"Everything can be a hazard if you use it wrong, not because it is unsafe but simply because you are using it wrong. No need to recall every product that someone failed to use with common sense."
"If your child isn't wearing socks, slippers, or tights, any Russian who walks in your house thinks you are a neglectful parent."
Writer's note: Russian children are not to go barefoot in the house. Many Russian households have slippers for every member of the house and extra pairs for guests. (My family walks around barefoot, though, and we are considered blasphemous.)
"Never kick your children out. Never loan them money, just give it to them."
"Buckwheat kasha is real food. Yes, it's nutritious, yes, you can put it in almost any recipe, yes, we Soviet kids grew up on it, yes, you can eat it every day and yes, my kids love it. We have lots of 'weird food,' like, fish eggs [caviar] and liver pate, and yes, our kids eat that, too."
"Listen to your children. Talk to them. Respect them."
"We don't understand the concept of not helping your children. Our parents did (and continue to do) everything for us, so we don't understand American parents who refuse to help their kids because they want them to be 'independent.' We all have good jobs and run a household and many of us run our own businesses, so I'd say we are all pretty independent, but our parents still want to help in any way they can (even if it's buying some fruit and bringing it over because they want our kids to eat more fruit). We believe in caring for each other in every possible way. Parents help their children until they can no longer do so, and then the children help their parents. Any other way doesn't seem right."